for honor

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I’ve heard a lot of people claim that FOR HONOR is like no game before it. A statement this loaded, of course, is only a partial truth; FOR HONOR is similar to many games, but not in the way you’d expect. It borrows from a broad range of genres, from arcade fighters, action RPGs, and team-based shooters, and mixes their elements to create its own enigmatic niche in multiplayer gaming. This is hardly the first time I’ve made this statement, which only serves to demonstrate the ever-increasing measures developers are taking to innovate gaming, but I really think that it will be quite some time before anything breaks the mold as much as FOR HONOR.

For those who’ve been locked in a dungeon for the past year, FOR HONOR is Ubisoft’s latest flagship online title, following 2015’s exceptional RAINBOW SIX: SIEGE. Playing as Viking, Samurai, or Knight warriors, you’re able to duke it out in a variety of game modes, from 1v1 duels to 4v4 battles where teams lead hundreds of NPC soldiers against each other. True patricians will exclusively play as the poleaxe swinging Lawbringer, but there are a total of 12 characters in the launch roster, with more promised to be added in the months to come.

for honor but serious

But seriously, this guy is all you need

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While FOR HONOR very superficially resembles CHIVALRY: MEDIEVAL WARFARE or DARK SOULS, the actual combat is closer to NIDHOGG, of all things, than anything else. Rather than focusing on timing attacks around animations, FOR HONOR utilizes the newfangled “Art of Battle” system. Players can choose to shift their stance to the left, right, or top of the screen, which determines which direction both their attacks and blocks will focus on. This emphasis on outmaneuvering your rival’s guard while also protecting yourself from their attacks makes button-mashing wholly unreliable, cementing FOR HONOR as a “thinking man’s fighter.”

While universal fighting staples (speed, power, reach, etc.) must be taken into account, the classes in FOR HONOR are far more than simple variations in stat values. Certain characters use variations of the Art of Battle, such as shieldbearers who can block in all three directions at once, or lightweight assassins who can’t hold a stance for very long, but are consequently much harder for opponents to read. Others utilize exotic weaponry or boast special perks, ensuring that no two classes play the same. Though vast in options, combat is incredibly easy to pick up, but takes hours of practice to master. In this sense, FOR HONOR joins OVERWATCH in achieving that rare combination of a shallow learning curve with a high skill ceiling, but gets extra points for tackling a genre less saturated than the first person shooter.

for honor feud

Feudal Japan is for the Nords!

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What that genre is exactly is up for debate. Two key factors that prevent FOR HONOR from being labeled as a pure fighter are the 3D maps and the (mostly) team-based structure. The castles you fight in are some of the least OSHA-approved fortifications rendered in gaming, brimming with lava moats, spiked walls, and flame pits that opponents can be flung into for an instant kill. Additionally, players at higher elevations can plunge into enemies beneath them for decapitating strikes, and traps and artillery can also be fielded to eliminate foes before they can even spot you. When you consider all of these dirty moves with the fact that players can be ganged up on by several opponents at once, there is ironically very little honor to be found in your typical FOR HONOR match.

The presence of these tricks isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With the exception of a handful of truly broken items, such as the Orochi’s bow and arrow, most of these tools serve to tip the scales in favor of outmatched fighters, preventing any situation from becoming unwinnable. On the other hand, the omnipresent temptation to “cheat” makes abiding by the unspoken online code of chivalry feel far more fulfilling, which along with the flexible emote feature is where the real Souls connection exists. As a more materialistic incentive to play nice, the most desirable cosmetics are locked only to players who rack up many “honorable” kills, or to those who are willing to drop the dough for microtransactions, which is also a pretty apt simulacrum of warrior nobility when you think about it.

for honor obvious

Obviously 2v1 would be unfair if I was alone. They’d need more help

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Unlike SIEGE, FOR HONOR also features a surprisingly robust singleplayer campaign. The plot is about as dumb as you’d expect a game pitting Dark Age Vikings, Renaissance Knights, and Tokugawa Samurai against each other to be, but this is far from bot-match multiplayer practice (although there are rather capable AI bots in the multiplayer as well). Boss fights on top of burning siege engines, chases through the woods on horseback, and pseudo-stealth segments provide a cinematic recontextualization of the core multiplayer mechanics without compromising what makes them special, which is more than what many full packages can claim. While it commits the crime of distracting players from the often transcendent experience that is the multiplayer, the campaign is a welcome change of pace nonetheless.

for honor intern

Pictured: Crossfader’s bi-annual internship orientation

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While the ethics of requiring an internet to play traditionally offline content are muddy, and the quality of the servers at launch is about as bad as it was with SIEGE or WATCH_DOGS 2, Ubisoft’s business model with FOR HONOR deserves special commendation. Where EA and Activision continue to split their player bases with paid multiplayer DLC, Ubisoft has shrewdly chosen to continue their bold experiment (read: what every multiplayer game pre-2007 did) of making DLC maps and characters free for anyone who owns the game. Cosmetic items will still cost a pretty penny, but as SIEGE has demonstrated, that is still an effective and justifiable way to make a profit off of an online game over a year since its release. Where annual franchises like CALL OF DUTY and BATTLEFIELD will run a consumer about $130 for what amounts to a year’s worth of an active online community, FOR HONOR aims to deliver a similar experience indefinitely, and for half the price.

Ubisoft proved themselves a serious player in the multiplayer market with SIEGE, and with FOR HONOR, they have cemented themselves as the king of the castle. FOR HONOR is truly unique in premise and execution, equally enjoyable for a casual afternoon or for an intense competition. I don’t see this game getting old anytime soon, and I look forward impaling many a knave on my halberd throughout the year. We may only be halfway through February, but FOR HONOR is already a safe pick for best multiplayer title of 2017.

Verdict: Recommend

Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC.

Ed Dutcher is the Video Games Editor here at Crossfader. The last time Ed had a meal that wasn't microwaved, George W. Bush was president. He only learned to read so that he could play Pokemon.

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