There's a single-player portion in For Honor, Ubisoft's upcoming slice 'em up (and you can see some of it in the gameplay clip directly above), but in our opinion it feels a little tacked on, like something that has been added to the mix so that fans don't complain. However, we really can't imagine players being dissatisfied with "just" the multiplayer in this instance. This game, which is defined by intense sword fights where you need to read your opponent's intent if you're to emerge victorious, is, quite simply, a multiplayer-experience that does things a little differently.
Multiplayer is more than just picking a "mode" and playing with your friends. In For Honor you need to choose who to fight for. The three factions - Knights, Samurais and Vikings - fight for every square inch of the land, in what is called "Faction War". Should you, for example, win a battle of Dominion, your victory will give points to your faction, which will give you a bit more of the land you seek. It's an excellent feature that makes every fight count, not only for your progression, but for your faction as a whole. Should the Samurai manage to take a lead - yes, this reporter has already chosen his faction - then the Samurai logo will appear around the map, as if to underline which side is in the ascendancy.
The logo on top of the flags is not the only thing that changes. The temperature can change as well. A map in the north, where the Vikings reside, will be snow-covered and freezing, just like the Scandinavian warriors like it. Meanwhile, Samurai live in huge forests where the leaves in the trees cover the ground in shadow. Lastly the Knights are more accustomed to sun and clear skies, where they can see enemies approaching from miles off. The temperature doesn't affect a warrior's ability to fight, so a Viking doesn't get stronger when he's in cold weather. It would have been a brave move to have different temperatures confer specific effects on the factions that you could use to your strategic advantage. But multiplayer has to be fair, and giving the three different factions the same conditions to wage war in is pretty much the definition of a fair fight.
Besides Faction War we got to try a new multiplayer mode called Elimination. It's something of a mix between Dominion and Dual. If you remove all NPCs from Dominion and add the one life from Duel, then you're left with Elimination. You're fighting 4v4, five rounds, where you need to kill all of your opponents. If you die, you're dead until the next round. It's possible for a companion to pick you up and dust you off if you haven't taken your last breath, so if you manage to beat someone it's often a good idea to guard their body until they're completely dead. The strategy quickly changes for both teams when we started playing this mode. Instead of storming into battle when you see an opponent, players often decided to flee until they've found a companion. Fighting two against one is simple and often winning strategy... even if there isn't much honour to be found.
It still annoys us that the three factions fight side-by-side in multiplayer. Especially now when Faction War is introduced and everyone is fighting to bring honour to their own team. It makes sense from a gameplay perspective; if your friend is a Knight and you're a Samurai, then it should still be possible for you to play together, but it doesn't make sense from a story perspective. Maybe it's not the most important part of a multiplayer-centric game, but it kept jarring against the immersion as we played. Luckily the three factions are separated in the campaign. Here you see the conflict from every side, which can be explored to reveal a compelling story; because in war everyone thinks they're fighting for a just cause. Everyone believes in their own side of the struggle, and if the developer manages to make the player sympathise with every faction, then we'll consider it a success.
So there's the possibility of there being an exciting story, but we're not sure that they'll manage to deliver on this front. The first mission we played saw us infiltrate an enemy camp, which consisted of us fighting against weirdly placed guards until we reached our destination. We don't even think that there's an option to sneak past enemies and, honestly, the gameplay really isn't that much fun when viewed through the lens of single-player. For Honor is about beating another player by reading their attacks and breaking their defence. Hitting that perfect balance between offensive and defensive is a tough but satisfying balancing act. That intensity disappears when you're fighting AI-opponents. Here, every fight feels identical because every enemy uses similar tactics. Fighting against the fleet footed enemy? She'll speed to kill you which can easily be blocked when you know what's coming. Fighting against a huge opponent with a two-handed sword? He'll use his strength to beat you, so a quick jump at the right moment will open him up for a counter. When you can read the game, the satisfaction disappears. Whereas no two fights feel the same in multiplayer, in single-player they all feel the same.
Some games don't work well when played solo, just like some don't feel right in multiplayer. It's only natural. For Honor feels like it might be a victim of the times, where fans complain if both a campaign and multiplayer aren't present from the very beginning. Single-player is limping halfheartedly along, but we're not complaining. Let us instead thank Ubisoft for giving us the option, before we then go back and get stuck into another match of Elimination. Rather than focus on the negatives, let's enjoy the strengths that For Honor has to offer; and believe us when we say that there's plenty of those.
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