Ubisoft’s Attempt at Redemption – For Honor Closed Beta Review (XBOX ONE)

After a brief time with the For Honor closed beta, Ubisoft has finally given me a breath of fresh air. With the tiresome releases of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, For Honor is a diamond in the rough for the company so uncertain about its own future. As Vivendi increases its shares in Ubisoft, company officials are vocalizing their opposition to a hostile takeover.

For Honor – or at least the Closed Beta – showcased its solid combat system, which combines fluid fighting-style, counter-heavy combat with traditional hack-and-slash gameplay. Choosing between the factions of Knight, Samurai, and Viking, players are thrust into a war history buff’s dream come true. In one-on-one encounters – intuitively called Duels – against both NPCs and other players, knowing when and where to strike, counter, or grab quickly changes the tide of battle. During my short time with the game, I was able to redeem my own personal follies on several occasions by getting in one grab and throwing the enemy conveniently off of a ledge as I was on the brink of death. Players are captivated during these fights with a combat and counter system that relies heavily on intense focus in congruence with quick reflexes. Looking away or blinking often spells doom for the guilty party when the enemy is able to switch stances and land a punishing combo. Adding a roster of 9 characters (12 confirmed for the game’s launch) with unique abilities and combos, a subtle loot system, and variable load outs, For Honor creates an approachably complex system that feels both responsive and empowering. There is also a “Brawl” mode, which is the same as a Duel, but twice the fun and with the added perk that if one hero Duel ends first, the winner can rush to help their teammate. It was my preferred mode while playing.

The game’s take on territories, titled Dominion, introduces the hack and slash element into For Honor. Waves of NPC soldiers run toward the center point, fighting each other for control. Any “Hero” – the name given to the player-controlled fighters – stepping into the battle can use light and heavy attacks to take out dozens of enemies in seconds, freeing up the space for their own troops to control the field. Killing enemy troops and heroes earn some points, but capturing and holding two or three areas is the objective, rewarding the advantaged team more heavily. At 1,000 points, the game becomes akin to that of cat and mouse. The team poised to win must eliminate all four heroes of the losing team without losing majority control of the map or all of their heroes. While the losing team has the chance at redemption, I’ve never seen the tide change that late into the game.

Lastly, there is a “War of Factions” meta-game inside of the Beta “tests”. Every victory to a player’s pledged faction provides points that can be allocated in a number of ways to help a faction gain advantage. This, to my knowledge, doesn’t change the tide in individual games, but is more of a bonus function designed to push initial game sales by offering rewards to the winning faction for the full game following its release. Much like my presence in the democratic process I pledged to a faction, but did not actively participate.

Despite the game’s complexity and variety, alongside the overall “fun” factor, For Honor has several issues already causing uproar amongst fans. As a game relying heavily on the appeal of its multiplayer, connectivity trouble guarantees desertion faster than any other problems that may creep up after the full game’s launch. Minor server issues aside, the closed Beta on the XBOX one appeared to be poorly populated, which may have been due to issues users had with accessing the game. Ubisoft got increased backlash by going back on their promise of same-console multiplayer for offline modes (more commonly referred to as couch co-op or split-screen). That decision may have been influenced by Ubisoft requiring an internet connection at all times, citing shared progression between multiplayer and story modes.

While several of Ubisoft’s decisions have rubbed many the wrong way, the new IP For Honor was overall an enjoyable game that provided experiences I’m still dwelling on far longer than anticipated. I recommend this game to anyone interested in something fresh, but particularly that anyone who likes fighting games to participate in the Open Beta from February 9-12. And to the lovebirds looking to duke it out on the battlefield: For Honor comes out on Valentine’s Day.