Ubisoft’s Knights-versus-Samurai-versus-Vikings combat game For Honor releases today, but you’ll notice there aren’t many (maybe any) reviews up. Despite containing a full-length singleplayer campaign, it’s clear Ubisoft considers For Honor multiplayer-centric, and thus aside from the weekend’s open beta reviewers didn’t get access to the game until Monday afternoon. Even then, the multiplayer servers were mostly dead, with only press populating the various modes.
And so we don’t have a full review today. I agree with Ubisoft—this is a multiplayer-centric game, and I’ve said as much in our past preview coverage.
I did however play the majority of the campaign yesterday, which is enough for me to give you some impressions both on it and on For Honor's general PC performance. Look for our full review later this week, probably.
Serving with distinction
First let’s talk performance, since I’ve no doubt that’s mostly what you care about. Again: I haven’t tested the multiplayer component, at least with full retail code. I’ve heard very valid worries about the game relying on peer-to-peer connections instead of dedicated servers. In a complicated sword-and-board combat game that relies on split-second reactions, P2P seems like a huge misstep—the host always has a slight advantage, given the nature of the connection, which somewhat undermines the idea of high-level play.
Now, whether you at home will ever notice? That’s harder to say. I’d expect only the best of the best to be really affected. But suffice it to say in a competitive game like this, especially when encounters often boil down to one-on-one fights requiring pinpoint accuracy, P2P is a needless point of failure—one Ubisoft should have avoided.
As far as local performance though, For Honor seems solid. On my system (with an Intel Core i7-5820K and a GeForce GTX 980 Ti) I’m typically seeing frame rates between 80fps and 100fps, running at 1080p with all the settings maxed out. Aside from some awkward face animations the game looks beautiful, and it supports Nvidia's Ansel supercharged screenshot technology if you're using a compatible graphics card. Even with a massive crowd of soldiers battling it out on-screen I haven’t noticed any precipitous frame rate drops. I have noticed a few stutters here and there, seemingly as a result of new areas loading in, but it hasn’t affected any fights.
Not that there aren’t problems. One boss battle late in the second act (the Vikings) caused me to mute all dialogue because the boss repeated the same two barks over and over and over for the entire fight. After dying to him a few times it was either mute the dialogue or break my desk in half listening to him say “You’re a raider! Legendary!” like a broken record.
And the enemy AI could use work. Oh, it’s fine once you’re engaged in battle—not quite up to par with a real human, but they tend to feint and counter and stun-lock you enough to feel like a decent challenge, especially on the harder difficulties.
Outside of battle they might as well be plastic action figures, though. Entire groups will just stand in place waiting for you to approach, even as you shoot their nearby buddies with a ballista. I’ve also found you can easily disengage most enemies by just walking out of their zone, causing them to return to their initial position and ignore you again. It’s very artificial feeling at times.
Not to woo honor, but to wed it
Anyway, we might as well talk about the campaign a bit. I’ve completed the Knight and Viking campaigns at this point, representing about five hours of game. With one campaign, the Samurai, left to go I expect around eight hours total. Not too bad considering how hard For Honor is leaning on its multiplayer.
It’s hard to overstate how dumb For Honor is, though. In case you’ve missed the setup: There was some sort of earthquake/timequake called “The Cataclysm.” It swallowed up entire portions of Earth from different points in history, brought these pieces to a new dimension or something, and as a result there’s now an eternal battle between Knights and Vikings and Samurai.
It’s Deadliest Warrior, except instead of residing in the realm of the purely hypothetical Ubisoft has tried to lend the idea some semblance of credibility, of respectability. Knights behead their Viking foes, Samurai slice through Vikings, and all the while a sad aria plays in the background, a voice moralizing about war and its place in the human condition. “Ah yes, the Cataclysm” you think, trying not to focus on how silly the entire kid-plays-with-action-figures concept is from the start.
But I’m not even mad. Sure, it’s dumb, but I’m kind of happy Ubisoft leaned into it? The story is a needlessly-serious affair about a Knight named Apollyon—not-so-coincidentally the Greek translation of “Abaddon,” Angel of Death. Apollyon is upset the various factions have lived in relative peace for a while, so sets out to start a three-sided war.
Each faction gets a six-mission chapter, and the main failing is that there’s just not much to do. Missions are all some variation of "run in, kill a bunch of enemies." That’s it, and while the scenes that play at the beginning and end of each mission are spectacular, there’s not much eye-candy within each mission. For Honor’s minute-to-minute action lacks the sort of badass memorable moments you’d expect from, say, a comparable shooter campaign. You just trudge forward and swing your sword a lot.
There are a few exceptions, including a storming-the-beach-at-night section in the Viking campaign that’s stunning. But 5-plus hours in, I’m just not very impressed. Characters are paper thin, the story is even thinner, and it just doesn’t have enough “Wow!” to it. Mostly it just reminds me of playing Ryse, another perfectly-competent-but-also-so-very-boring hack and slash game.
The best thing I can say about the campaign here is it will prepare you for multiplayer, especially if you go through on the higher difficulties. There’s plenty of opportunity to get familiar with For Honor’s rock-paper-scissors style combat, the full range of character classes, and the myriad complexities particular to each faction (like unique stuns or blocking maneuvers).
I feel pretty confident saying that’s my final verdict on the singleplayer, though perhaps the Samurai campaign will change up the formula and impress. I’m expecting three more hours of the same, however.
Don’t write For Honor off though. Not yet. Sure, the singleplayer’s not great, but I never expected it to be.
For Honor is a multiplayer game. I strongly recommend waiting for formal reviews regardless, whether ours or someone else’s, especially on account of the aforementioned peer-to-peer connections. Oh, and a whole lot of microtransactions.
But the feeling of wading into combat, of singling out an enemy and going toe-to-toe, mirroring their every move and hoping you’ll come out on top—that’s the feeling that impressed me in previews, and it’s what I’m looking forward to testing more this week. We’ll keep you updated.