I feel like it’s been a while since Ubisoft has launched a new triple-A IP, but that isn’t true. Sure, last year they released The Division but that game is a Tom Clancy game and to be honest, the gameplay is painfully like other open world shooters. For Honor, on the other hand, is bringing some truly unique gameplay mechanics to the table.
The main unique aspect of the game is the combat system. At first you see larger than life characters mowing through small grunts and it just looks like a gritty reboot of Dynasty Warriors. It’s not until you meet up with another hero character that things change for the better. A duel begins and you have three stances to attack and defend from. If your opponent attacks from the left, flick the right stick to the left and you block their attack. If you see your opponent defending from the right, you can change your stance to attack from above in the hopes that they won’t be able to change stances in time. Tense standoffs arise out of this rock-paper-scissors-esque mechanic. Minute movement and specific timing of weapon swings become important because every move you make could open you up to a punishing counter-attack.
What Ubisoft does well is take this tense core-mechanic and add fighting game elements on top of it. Each of the three factions (Knights, Vikings and Samurai) have four different characters to play as each with their own move sets. Each character class comes at this dueling mechanic in a slightly different way by boosting or lowering certain stats or changing how a character can attack or defend in certain scenarios. This means that when you enter into combat with another person you are raking you mind for any information you know about how that character plays in order to give yourself the best chance to attack them. It’s in this way that For Honor feels like a fighting game in disguise.
Ubisoft didn’t stop there – in many ways For Honor is a MOBA in disguise. The game’s main mode, Dominion, pits teams of four against each other on a large battlefield filled with AI grunts. The battlefield is split into three lanes with a control point in each. Help your grunts attack the opposing grunts to further your domination of the map until you win the match. It nearly blew my mind that Ubisoft basically tricked my friends into buying this MOBA and they didn’t even know it. I found myself strategizing in the same way I did while playing Heroes of the Storm with friends that I usually play Madden with. Bizarre to say the least.
Where the game falters is in its overbearing meta-game. Before you can play online you are inundated with tutorials explaining their over-world map, and after every match you earn War Assets to help your faction in the meta-game. Beyond that there is virtual currency called “steel” which can be used to buy different levels of loot boxes as well as experience buffs. The loot you get is hero-specific and it can be dismantled to get a secondary faction-specific currency that can be used to buy loot within that faction. Systems on top of systems on top of systems.
Luckily you can mostly ignore all this stuff and just have fun swinging swords at fools online but I think down the line it could become a problem. All the loot you earn has stats attached to it that boost your character’s abilities. So, if you don’t engage with this meta-game your characters are simply not going to cut it online at some point. To fix this they need to do a better job explaining these systems to people, or simplify them.
To me it feels like someone at Ubisoft Montreal created this fun, unique dueling mechanic and then the businessmen from corporate tried their best to monetize the fuck out of the entire experience. I’m sure this happens with a lot of games and that push and pull is surely something that developers must deal with often. It just seems like this time the business men might have gone a little too far.