‘For Honor’ (PS4) review: An honorable complication

“For Honor’s” fighting system is intensely complex

Let it be known upfront: I’m terrible at fighting games. Don’t ask me why, I just am. So I viewed my coming time with Ubisoft’s “For Honor” with a bit of trepidation. Was I going to like the warrior-style fighting game? Was I even going to be able to play it effectively enough to warrant reviewing the game? Would I even be able to finish the campaign mode, much less hold my own in multiplayer?!

After battling my way both mentally and physically through the game’s single-player missions and multiplayer options, I discovered two things: One, I’m still terrible at fighting games, no matter how much fun I’m having chaining combos together. Two, I was never going to be good at “For Honor’s” fighting mechanics because, despite a simple premise of slashing away at your opponents, this game is surprisingly complex.

Mixing the brutal and gory violence we’ve come to expect in these types of games with the in-depth mechanical prowess of a “Street Fighter” game, “For Honor” comes with a caveat: If you’re not interested in learning the nuances of this game, if you’re unable or not willing to invest time into honing your skills across multiple character types, this game might not be for you. However, if you find yourself wanting to watch beautifully rendered carnage unfold before you, knowing it was your skill that brought about your bloody victory, you won’t find a more satisfying endeavor.

Now, let’s get this out of the way: The campaign mode, all five hours of it, is only worth playing as a tutorial for the far more interesting multiplayer modes. (I’m getting tired of saying this. I’m looking at you, “Battlefield 1.”) There’s some message about the futility of war, the cost of death, or something like that, strewn across half-a-dozen hours that serve no better purpose than to introduce you to the fighting classes you’ll be using later on. To say much more about the struggle the characters go through on their quest for … whatever it is they fighting for … would ruin what little satisfaction there is to gain from the campaign mode.

I will give it this much, though: As a glorified, gore-intense tutorial, you could do worse. By the time I finished the three main sections, each with six individual chapters, I felt I had a basic handle on how the classes function. So, there’s that.

“For Honor” comes with three main factions: Knight, Viking and Samurai. Each faction breaks down in four classes with their own distinct play style: Vanguard (the all-purpose player), a Heavy (the brute who moves like a tank), an Assassin (lightning quick and deadly, but defensively weak) and a Hybrid (more long-distance and utility-based). Which faction and class you choose is simple preference (I tend to stick to Assassin no matter the faction), but you’ll want to have some basic knowledge of each of them if you want to be able to combat them effectively.

You won’t find any overpowered faction or class, either, which adds for more variety in both who you choose and who you end up fighting against. None of this “Everyone’s playing the same character with the same weapons” nonsense you find in other games. Now some do perform better in certain multiplayer situations, but you’ll be able to play who you want and find victory if your skill allows it.

As for fighting itself, the idea is simple to start off with. When you enter the “combat mode” against another player (think of it as tunnel vision against a single opponent), you’re taught to try to read your opponent’s moves so you can guard against him from whichever way he strikes. In turn, you want to attack whatever direction he’s not guarding (left, top or right). However, the simplicity ends there. What follows are increasingly complex counters, guardbreaks, throws, evasions and more. Oh, and you can perform executions if you use certain moves. Just in case you wanted some “Mortal Kombat” in your fighting sequences.

If you have the time and desire, there’s a wellspring of tutorials and modes you can play to learn even more about the classes. And since each mode comes with AI targets, you can practice as much as you want without showing a real-life person your terrible button-inputing skills. (Please don’t judge my terrible button-inputting skills …)

The online modes pit certain numbers of players against each other. To give you a quick summary, multiplayer in “For Honor” shines best when it’s just one-on-one (Duel) or two-on-two (Brawl). Basically, these modes offer the truest sense of actual combat, pitting your skill against your opponent’s head-to-head. It feels the most natural in this game type, and win or lose, at least it comes down to who was better. (Brawl offers ways to balance the fight if your teammate is killed off, which is a nice addition to the mode.)

When you enter the four-on-four (Dominion, Elimination and Skirmish) modes, however, it’s not so much about skill and nuance anymore as just breaking the other team down as quickly as possible so you can win by sheer force. In effect, the first group to lose a teammate is more likely than not going to be the team that loses.

To note: The online components run on peer-to-peer connections, which can really be hit or miss. However, in “For Honor,” I didn’t find this to be a problem. Lagged inputs sprung up from time to time, but the connections stayed consistent through every match I played. Except when the host drops out of a game; then the game can stutter as it connects to the next host. It’s just something to watch out for as you play.

You upgrade your characters using Steel, the in-game currency earned through match completions. However, be warned: It doesn’t come easy, and the upgrades don’t come cheap. It’s a grind fest for those you want the most impressive outfits and accessories for their hero of destruction.

In the end, “For Honor” has its charms, but it’s far too technical a game for most gamers to fully appreciate. But for those who do crave a complex fighting system that rewards dedication and hard work, then you’re not going to find anything better on the market right now. There are no shortcuts in this game; you have to work for every gain you get. But, that’s the honorable way of doing things, isn’t it?

Three “How do I block again?!” stars out of five.

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