Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.
It’s been a while since I’ve come across an addictive RPG.
Beyond the connection issues (please fix it, sirs and madams) Ubisoft’s February release, For Honor, is a delight to play. The game is heavily focused on online multiplayer brawls, letting players choose different modes of PvP matches. It’s quite an investment, let me tell you that. With other campaigns such as Global Events and Class Dominations in play, the formula is solid when it comes to encouraging players to explore and stay in the game as much as possible.
Myself having a technically thorough gaming pattern however, this review will focus on the Story Mode of the game. Perhaps in the future, I’ll write something for the Multiplayer Mode as well. Keyword: perhaps.
War from a humanistic perspective
War, humanity, cynicism, valor, and honor — this game tells the tale of how different factions have come to face an age of war, nonetheless a man-made one, that forces each and every one to face their own demons.
“So much of warfare is about walls. Gates. Hills. Doors. Every day battles are won and lost on the choice of battlefield alone.”
Action-packed and violent as it is, For Honor is surprisingly substantial. Its script is one of the many impressive components of the game, making the story raw, romantic, hurtful yet hopeful all at the same time.
“Once you cross swords with someone, you know their heart.”
The monologues and dialogues will make you think about how we, as humans, work; what our personal purpose looks like within the realm we live in; and an overall refresher of the fact that everything we do affects a bigger landscape. It is a story of people stuck within a system, forced to make a choice that can change their future, for better or for worse.
A Systematic Foothold
I’ve always wondered how a good RPG can roll out a single, unifying story to play. Most of the time you just get to play a certain character, with 70% of the story focused on someone’s perspective. If you get lucky the developers will try their best to balance out character plays, like what Persona 4: Dancing All Night did with their Story. (Yu Narukami still populated a little more of their story, though.)
For Honor seemed to have done their homework on this. The story’s map focuses on the 3 different factions: Knights, Vikings, and Samurai.
The interesting thing though, is each faction is interlaced with the others. When I first got an overview of this mode, the impression was that a chapter will focus on a faction’s story of how the warriors came to be. It is partly true: there will be a unique story behind each faction but there is a plot twist — there is much more to it than just that.
What I did not expect was for them to connect each faction’s story with each other, all the more giving the player a glimpse of every type playable — Vanguard, Heavy, Assassin, and Hybrid. They created a storyline that not only made beautiful sense but more importantly, opens up the mind of the player to what is available to them upon entering Multiplayer Mode. To call it a holistic approach in unfolding the game is one, brilliant marketing strategy is another.
There are only a fixed number of characters you can choose to play as, depending on the style a player is more accustomed to, e.g. a fast-moving, heavily offensive Samurai with low defense is the Orochi.
One significant thing about this game, which was previously talked about in Kotaku, is how they’ve managed to get female armor correctly. A lot of games today still bank on sexualizing costumes of female warriors, leaving them with hardly any clothing on. For Honor got this right. The game barely differentiates between what a male and a female character wears, with only subtle hints giving you a semblance of who is who. This goes to show that regardless of gender your character is about to fight a war, and proper defensive clothing is needed.
Players are free to create their own insignia but customizing characters comes with a limit. Historically, humans collect remains and show them to signify their success in battle. As a treat, For Honor found a way to reinvent this old custom by unlocking better and more uncommon elements for the player. The more difficult levels you complete and the more battles you win, the better items you’ll unlock in order to customize your characters.
For someone who likes arcade games better than RPGs, this one really captured my attention. The gameplay is confusing at first, with a comprehensive 360-camera function and different move sets depending on the type you are controlling for you to get a grasp of in the least amount of time. I played this on Normal difficulty but eventually changed to Easy; I’m now replaying the chapters in Hard mode. (Yes, that’s how good this game is. I wouldn’t mind replaying it all over again even when I’m not the biggest RPG fan.)
Despite its initial complexity, the gameplay is friendly to both beginners and veterans. Because you will play different types from different factions, there will be various guides and tips that will occasionally pop up before mission objectives (see screenshot above). Chase and I also noticed that the UX posed a sort of experiential approach, asking the player to hold a button to indicate they understood a screen that need extra attention. This is a good way for a fast-paced audience to let significant information sink in even for just a few seconds.
Objectives are clear, simple, straightforward. The gameplay doesn’t change much regardless of the difficulty you play in, apart from the elements and strength of your opponents. This is an impressive approach. It’s common knowledge for players that the higher the difficulty of the game, the faster and stronger your AI opponents are, but the fact that they included a changing of elements when playing Realistic difficulty — the difficulty beyond Hard — is another good way to differentiate the levels.
Although you can customize the way elements appear, there is a fixed set depending on the difficulty you choose. They also let you choose the difficulty per subchapter, indicating that the Easy mode is mostly for the story alone; the rest are up to your taste in combat, giving the player flexibility every step of the way.
Ubisoft has quite solidified its mastery in 3D art through this game. For Honor has impressive cinematography, an abundance of details and expertly colored scenes, making cut scenes seem like real film, and the gameplay itself an immersive one.
Brotherhood, Honor, Purpose
More than just an RPG, For Honor brought substance back into the concept of war games. It heavily talks about the why of brotherhood and combat much before it wants the player to carry out the how. It allows both the heart and the mind to work together when in play, blurs the lines of morality, forces actions that question honor, and brings up the main question time and time again: what do you truly fight for?