For Honor is the totally historically accurate tale of Knights versus Vikings versus Samurai. It’s a “complicated hack-and-slash” where the tactical mind is not only needed in your approach to a group of enemies but also in the middle of the fight. So don’t go into this game thinking it’s gonna be a cake-walk, oh no.
The combat system is the heart of the game, and looks deceivingly simple. You and your enemies have three stances from which you can attack and block incoming attacks: left, right and up. You have the faster light attacks and the high damage-dealing heavy attacks.
Each class has a different assortment of combos and disarming abilities. There are even different fighting styles between faction classes. The Knight Heavy can charge in from a distance and skewer enemies while the Viking Heavy can tackle you into walls and daze you.
When I say hack-and-slash, that is essentially the game, but you can’t just go in and swipe at people and hope for the best. You are constantly thinking and waiting for the opportune moment to attack.
Even against AI, it’s difficult to fight more than one enemy at a time, but thankfully AI enemies mostly back off and let you take them down one by one. Mostly. In the multiplayer, I highly recommend you stick with at least one other member of your team. In fact that is my highest piece of advice. Unless you are a pro-Genji, you will find 1v2 fights very difficult.
While the developers focused more on the multiplayer, there is also an extensive Story Mode. At first it feels like they didn’t try too hard and put a generic story on the multiplayer maps. But as you move through the first chapter the story breaks away from generic tutorials and into juicy, subtle character development. But more on that later.
The first parts of Story Mode were a bit meh, so I thought I’d just use it as practice for the multiplayer. After getting slightly bored with the tutorial missions, I decided to try out the “Realistic” difficulty, which is the hardest difficulty the game has to offer (and you don’t have to unlock it!). This is where the game suddenly shines.
Realistic difficulty takes away the three arrows that help you determine where your opponents are going. It also adds a bit of a Dark Souls element to it where if you die, you have to restart the entire mission all over again. This was going all right for me for a while (ie. I wasn’t dying), until I got to a guy named Thorfinn.
Okay, let me first say that in these sorts of games I usually take the rogue classes. In this particular chapter, you’re made to play a heavy class character. As a side note, I think it’s good that you get to play all the classes in Story Mode (except the hybrid, which is super hard to master), however, the heavy class is the exact opposite to my playstyle. I’m going to use that as my excuse for my inability to defeat Thorfinn. EIGHT DEATHS. Eight deaths to this guy, and that’s not including all the unfortunate fates I met as I raged all the way back to him in a flurry of frustrated missed hits. Missing strikes with the heavy, I’ve found, is very bad and indeed fatal at times.
In the end, I went down a difficulty and pulverised him with ease.
As predicted, I found the rogue (or ‘assassin’) the most enjoyable class. While in all the other classes you would stay in a (left, right, up) stance after a single flick of the right analogue stick, the rogue would revert back to a neutral stance after a short period of time. This means you have to change stance just before the enemy tries to hit you (if you have any desire to block them). I liked this a lot, as it gave the assassin gameplay a keep-you-on-your-toes vibe and the feeling that you were playing a character more wily and agile than the other classes. Which is exactly what a rogue/assassin is meant to be.
Even among the classes, there are variations between factions. The Samurai assassin is slower and stronger while the Knight assassin dances around you, wielding two knives. Since each class within each faction is different, this gives us 12 unique heroes to choose from!
By the last couple of missions in the first chapter of Story Mode, I was finally interested in the tale the game was telling me. The narrative doesn’t just take place in the occasional cutscenes, but also in the bits of monologue that the playable characters say while you’re slicing people up and the collectable ‘observables’ located all around the maps – so, pretty easy to miss. But once you have all the information the story starts to get pretty interesting, and it gives the characters a sense of agency, where one might question what they’re doing, for example.
Each chapter features one of the factions. First chapter is the Knights, then the Vikings, then the Samurai. I assumed they were all separate stories, like the chapters in the Battlefield 1 campaign, but that wasn’t the case. Story Mode is all one narrative told from the perspectives of multiple and defined characters (who just so happen to be of each faction and every class).
Once I understood that and stopped playing Story Mode like it was practice for the multiplayer, the narrative became more engaging. The further you got in the story, the more it was like the developers decided that they were going to make a proper single player campaign with longer missions and better narrative.
However, the point of the game is the multiplayer experience. Ubisoft did a great job in creating a fluid and changeable world where your prowess on the battlefield translates to land wars on the world’s map. When you win, you get war assets you can put anywhere there is battle, either to defend your faction’s territory, or to attack another’s.
At the season’s end, whichever faction wins which piece of land, their colours end up on the respective multiplayer map. What once belonged to the Knight faction was won over by the Samurai faction, and now bears the flags and banners of the Japanese warriors. In the next season, the faction wars continue and perhaps this map may be won by the Vikings, or redeemed by the Knights, or successfully defended by the Samurai. What happens in each season creates a history and narrative that is permanent in the multiplayer world.
I think this is awesome, and brings a whole lot of meaning to your progress. You feel like you’re a part of a clan, and you want to bring about that clan’s success. All your wins count towards the victory of your faction, including wins against AI, so if you don’t want to face the humiliation of losing to a twelve year old, you can happily get smashed by a computer code in privacy.
The great thing is, no matter what faction you choose (which you choose as soon as you open the game, by the way, just a warning there), you can still play any of the twelve heroes that are available to everyone. For example, I am of the Knight’s faction, but my preferred hero is the Orochi of the Samurai.
This is the thinking woman’s hack and slash. There ain’t no mindless running and gunning here, no siree! So don’t buy this game thinking it’s gonna be a chill zap the enemies and feel more powerful than Superman sort of game. Nope. This will make you feel powerful in the way that you out-combo-ed that noob twice over and hey, you properly deserve that win. Also, you will feel bad when you get totally smashed. It feels so bad, man.
Just a hint: don’t stand next to ledges. You will be charged off the map and into oblivion without even the slightest chance of you getting a cut in edgewise. *cries*