For Honor Review

Image for For Honor
★★★★★

Sure, you can pick Ubisoft's new historical brawler apart and find hints and whispers of other titles – the precise, tactical, one-on-one melee combat of the Dark Souls series and the hack-and-slash marathons of Dynasty Warriors being the two most prominent – but nothing else packages so many play experiences into a cohesive package quite like this.

A sort of ahistorical fantasy, For Honor is set in a world where Vikings, Knights, and Samurai have been forced into each others' backyards and spent a thousand years at each other's throats (possibly fighting over a puddle, if the slightly hyperbolic opening is anything to go by). There is a story, centred on the god of war Appollyon, but the 10 or so hours you'll spend on the campaign serve mainly as a glorified tutorial for fighting styles and character classes.

The Samurai faction feels most out of place, its eastern influences awkwardly juxtaposed against the European aesthetics of Knights and Vikings. In practice though, all three groups are nicely balanced, with enough character classes and specialised skills to match any situation.

It's worth playing the story though – not only because you'll see where a few notes have been taken from Assassin's Creed, but because combat in all its brutal intricacies is the heart of For Honor. Attacks can be made or guarded against from three stances, and learning to read your enemy's movements is vital to victory. You'll learn to parry, master breaking opponents' guards, take up arms against multiple enemies, and use perilous environments to your advantage. Then, you'll test those skills against real people.

For Honor is at its strongest when played online.

For Honor is at its strongest when played online. Taking all the influences and play styles introduced in the single player, it then squeezes in even more – battling over territory in Dominion mode feels like a savage take on Call of Duty's base capture battles, while Brawl offers 2v2 survival matches that almost feel like beat-em-up bouts. The methodical nature of combat takes on a new level of tension when you're up against another human, turning into a fraught game of martial brinksmanship as you size each other up and try to get your blows in. Few other games compare, and it's a far more visceral experience than merely shooting someone in the face in any given FPS – although brutal execution moves that prevent teammates resurrecting you can prove more frustrating than head shot kills after a while.

Where For Honor begins to stumble is in its metagame. Faction War sees you choose one of the three factions to represent, your actions earning points to claim territory on the world map, and earn in-game rewards doled out every few weeks. However, this seems unbalanced – Samurai already has a disproportionate membership – and participation feels mandated, rather than a cool extra.

There's also a lot of grinding to get through. Although every character class is playable from the off, customisation is restricted to those you've fully unlocked. Even then, acquiring the virtual currency of steel, required to buy upgrades, necessitates fulfilling sometimes laborious daily quests, or digging into your pocket to purchase more steel through microtransactions.

Yet while its edges feel rough, there's plenty to enjoy and the game rewards dedicated, skilled players. For better or worse, there's little else like For Honor.