So a Viking, a samurai, and a knight walk onto a battlefield…. While this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, it’s actually the loose premise of For Honor (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC), a third-person hack & slash action game that isn’t funny…but isn’t all that fun, either.
Set in medieval times, For Honor has the three aforementioned warriors fighting it out for dominance in both a story-driven campaign and in competitive online modes. Not surprisingly, most of your time is spent engaged in combat. But it differs depending on who you’re fighting.
When taking on a one of the stronger enemies in For Honor, you use the right thumbstick to hit them from the right, left, or with a downward swing. But if you hold down the left trigger, you’ll not only lock onto an enemy, but you can also use the right thumbstick to block incoming attacks from the same direction. You also have a choice of light and heavy attacks, as well as a combo move that has you swinging your weapon in wide arc, and can dodge attacks or knock enemies off balance when they’re trying to guard against your swing.
While strategy is required when fighting these stronger enemies, For Honor becomes a more typical hack & slash button masher when you’re taking on grunts. While you can still do any of the directional attacks if you want, you just don’t need to block or lock on your enemies, and they won’t block your swings either. You can just haul off and whack them.
Sadly, its during combat that you start to see the chinks in For Honor‘s armor, especially in the campaign. Because strong enemies often telegraph their attacks — I had one Viking who just stood there with his axe above his head, almost daring me to slice across his chest — these fights feel less like mortal combat, or even Mortal Kombat, and is more like playing such pattern-based games as Rock Band 4. Especially since this isn’t like Dark Souls III, Bloodbourne, or Nioh, in that every boss is different and needs to be deciphered to be defeated. No, they’re basically the same, some are just tougher.
While taking on regular soldiers in For Honor‘s campaign is less contrived, it’s also less challenging since they don’t put up as much of a fight. Instead, they try to overwhelm you by throwing a huge, and in some case a seemingly infinite, number of enemies at you. But this just makes these parts of For Honor feel like a Dynasty Warriors game, or that Dynasty Warriors-esque Zelda game, Hyrule Warriors. That said, these parts do sometimes have the added bonus of throwing some strong fighters into the mix.
There’s also the issue of stamina in For Honor. Swinging a sword is hard work, and so your warrior gets tired after a while. And not a long while, either. But not being able to swing your sword with abandon actually makes this feel tiresome. Granted, it would make sense if this mechanic only applied when you play on “Realistic,” maybe even “Hard,” but it’s just as annoyingly severe if you play this on “Normal” or “Easy.”
It also doesn’t help that the three warriors you play as in For Honor aren’t that different. Sure, they each have some unique moves. The Viking, for example, gets tired easily, but will also knee people in the face. Even different warriors within a type can vary a little. But for the most part, they’re basically the same.
Because of this, combat in For Honor — regardless of what mode you play — can get redundant rather quickly. This is especially true of the campaign. While there are parts designed to break up the monotony, some of them get monotonous as well. While fighting on a frozen lake that quite frozen enough made for an interesting encounter, letting me take control of a mounted crossbow would’ve been more interesting if I didn’t have an unlimited supply of bolts and an unlimited number of enemies.
But then, it also doesn’t help that the story in For Honor is boring and unmotivating. Or that there’s no way to stop the game from incessantly and repeatedly pausing the action to remind you what the buttons do, even though this begins with mandatory training. Or that the load times can be painfully long, while the checkpoints are sometimes badly spaced. Which is why, long before I finished the campaign, I wanted to quit it.
As for the multiplayer modes in For Honor, while they suffer from many of the same combat shortcomings as the campaign, they don’t work as badly. For instance, in the one-on-one fight in the “Duel & Brawl” mode, your enemy’s moves may still be telegraphed if your opponent is careful and strategic, but they can be far less predictable if your adversary is more aggressive and less thoughtful. And yet this mode still feels a bit low-rent, and more like Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat than Street Fighter V or Tekken 7.
These issues are a bit less noticeable in some of the other multiplayer modes, if only because instead of going mano-a-mano, you face off against teams, including numerous easy-to-kill grunts, which means you might get tag teamed or surrounded by enemies. This is especially true for “Team Deathmatch,” since the additional combatants make these battles feel larger and more frantic. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the control point mode “Dominion,” which just feels like a slightly less predictable version of the campaign.
Multiplayer in For Honor also has a macro game that’s kind of like what they did with the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3, except it has no impact on your campaign progress. But since the individual multiplayer modes never really grabbed me, save for “Team Deathmatch,” I didn’t find myself getting too involved in the larger scenario.
Plus, the announcer in multiplayer sounds like the Sovereign from The Venture Brothers, and that’s just unnerving.
In the end, For Honor had the potential to be an engaging and exciting hack & slash action game, but instead it squanders its potential by being repetitive and shallow. Which may not be anything to laugh about, but it’s not that fun, either.