You all remember For Honor. That game that put samurai, vikings and knights in an arena, tied them together with a intricate melee combat system, and invited you overcome your opponent with skill, reflexes, and tactics. If you’ve ever wanted to have a proper axe, katana and longsword fight in a game that didn’t reward the best button-mashing, this was it.
And then you are swamped in a 3v1 and killed immediately, and probably tea-bagged by a Nordic shaman for good measure.
Despite selling way beyond expectations, at least on Green Man Gaming, For Honor has suffered like any other competitive game that is hard to learn, hard to master. It wasn’t helped by constant disconnects and lag, snowballing game modes and characters with abusable skills. Indeed, For Honor’s attempt at a break-out esports event was ruined back in August 2017 when the winner was accused of using an exploit to defeat his opponents. Not a great start for the game with so much potential.
Despite this, August saw the biggest spike in For Honor players since launch, reaching 11,359 concurrent players. Compare this to the previous month’s 1,941 peak, and you could argue that the pull of For Honor is still a strong one in the mind of the gaming world. We want it to work, we want it to be good. We want to be good.
A similar, and more successful tale is For Honor’s big brother, Rainbow Six: Siege. After a middling launch, it went through a similarly brief moment in the spotlight before variety streamers and gamers moved onto the next big thing. And yet, two years after release, it is regularly the most viewed FPS after Counter-Strike. RSS sees big tournament action, regular content updates and patches, and last month had an average player count of 68,796. If you look at the lifetime stats of RSS, it is a continuous upward trend, something that goes against everything we think about games. Normally a multiplayer game has a small window to smash onto the scene, or die. Lawbreakers, Paladins, and many others didn’t make the cut.
Whilst For Honor hasn’t caught up with RSS, it’s numbers have been creeping up in the last few months. Both games have the chance to be successful because they have a unique prospect for gamers. Where else can you abseil down a building with your mates, knock out the wall with your sledgehammer, work through the rooms taking out terrorists with myriad gadgets and weaponry? The same goes with For Honor, just how many other games give you mastery over medieval melee combat?
Whilst For Honor’s esports scene is limited, as the character’s move-sets are not extensive enough to offer Street Fighter levels of god-like performance, it also means that you, average gamer, can get relatively good at For Honor much faster than Street Fighter. Blocking damage is about reflexes, not so much skill, so take a heavy character and you’ll survive a long time in a fight. Take a shield and it’s even easier. From there you can start attacking and testing out combos, and there’s only a few combos you’ll need to know to start with. And they’re normally ‘left click, left click, right click’ or similar. Then you can start looking at parrying, guard blocks, knocking people off terrain and character’s special moves. It reminds me more of a game of tennis, trading blows and adding in a bit of misdirection and moves to get an edge.
I’ve been playing For Honor for about a month, and it is the almost chess-like approach, combined with massive swords and cool viking characters (I’m also currently binge-watching the series Vikings), that keeps me coming back. I don’t normally like 1v1 PvP but in For Honor I don’t feel overwhelmed, and I know that I’ll be rewarded for picking a favourite character and really mastering them. I like how each character is very different and shows the personality of the player. I’m sticking with the Raider (the big axe-wielding viking) because I find her strong and I know the move-set, but I’m also gravitating towards the shaman – a quick and feral viking who jumps on people and spins her hand-axe and knife around. It’s like trying to master a character you like in League of Legends, but much easier and actually fun. Losing, so far, hasn’t felt unfair. I just want to get better.
So what is the future for For Honor, and is it a success for Ubisoft? The latter question entirely relies on what Ubisoft consider a success, but if they look at this and Rainbow Six: Siege as carving out unique segments of the gaming scene, I think they’ve done very well. They offer experiences that no other developer is offering, and The Division and The Crew shows that they’re committed to that even if it doesn’t go so well. Let EA and Activision do the war shooters that practically feel the same, I’m glad someone with the resources to improve and support their games over time is offering titles like For Honor and Rainbow Six.
As for the future of For Honor, Ubisoft will continue to bring more content and more seasons to the small but passionate community. And I like the community. This is coming from a community manager, too. There are players who, above all else, crave honour in their game of…For Honor. They are the edgelords in their trench coats who will offer to 1v1 anyone who complains about perceived balance issues; they’ll wait for their ally to finish their duel before interfering in 2v2; and they’ll avoid the most unbalanced characters. It reminds me of the Starcraft community, that respect and sportsmanship is very hard to find in the more popular multiplayer and free-to-play games.
So pick it up if you want, and come 1v1 bro over in the community if you have any comments.