For Honor is going to be released this Tuesday, (February 14) and I thought it would be helpful to share my impressions from the open beta. While they’re calling this an open beta, in reality this is just a demo. So, when the disclaimer pops up and says “this doesn’t represent the finished product”, I’m not entirely inclined to believe that. From a marketing standpoint “open beta” makes people think they’re getting exclusive access to a game that isn’t released yet, whereas “demo” makes people think of a lame, neutered version of the complete product. In the case of For Honor, I feel like the problems present are not a result of the game being unfinished, but poor design decisions.
Let’s start with the good. For Honor does several things right, and in some cases, extremely right. The visuals are great, the sound is well done, and the combat can be some of the most satisfying that I’ve experienced in a game. When you’re up against someone of similar skill and you’re quickly blocking their attacks, dodging, counter-attacking, and trying to find an opening before crushing their skull with your flail, it can be absolutely thrilling. Knowing when to be patient and when to be courageous can make all the difference, and the urgency of this decision is amplified when there are other enemies around. I recall one time in particular when I smashed an enemy player with my shield to stun him. Just as I was about to deliver a killing blow, his teammate pushed his way through a crowd of NPC warriors and brought his two-handed sword down into my shoulder to take me out. Even though I died, it was cinematic, it felt believable, it was awesome.
There’s a surprising amount of depth here as well. You can unlock items to customize your different characters, there are special moves and combos similar to a fighting game, and there are several game modes that you can participate in. Overall, I think I was expecting a more simple game that would be fairly repetitive, so I was pleasantly surprised.
When For Honor is working well, it’s tremendous. Unfortunately, there are times when it totally falls apart. I think there are two main issues that contribute to why this happens, and why people seem to get quite frustrated in this game. First, there’s a very steep learning curve. If you want to fight competently, you’ll have to learn the basic game mechanics, the moves and strategy for your particular character, and the moves for characters that you aren’t playing if you hope to counter them effectively. A lot of it comes down to anticipating your opponent, watching for what they’re going to do, recognizing when you can strike safely, when you need to back off, or when you should throw caution to the wind and try to strike them down in a blood-crazed rage. When you’re relatively new to the game, this means that you will frequently be killed in a way that leaves you feeling frustrated and powerless. Once you get it though, you’ll feel accomplished, powerful, savage. Because of this, I suspect that the longer the game is out the harder it will be for new players to join, which could be a real problem for maintaining a playerbase. This situation wouldn’t be unbearable by itself, but when you combine it with the second main issue, it makes it very difficult to want to keep playing For Honor.
The second main issue is the ability to cheese. The mechanics in the game are inherently supportive of encouraging cheesy behavior. The fighting works well, when people fight. But what happens if they decide not to? Many players will simply sprint away when they see you. Sure, you can sprint after them, but you’ll never hit them because if you stop to swing, they’ll be out of range. This is made worse for example, in the Dominion game mode. Two of the three capture points in this mode will regenerate your health if you stand near them while your team controls them. It has become a fairly common occurrence that if someone takes damage, they will sprint away to the closest capture point that they control and literally run in circles until their health is full. If you follow them, you’re already at a disadvantage, and they will likely do this until another teammate of theirs shows up. I’ve also seen people sprint around a map as the last player alive, with no hope of winning, just to waste everyone’s time. Another point of contention is the ability to resurrect fallen teammates. This can be frustrating when you have someone that is constantly just running around the map and refusing to fight.
The entire way that the Dominion game mode works could use some tweaking as well. The basic idea is that you’re trying to get your team to 1000 points, and you earn points more quickly by holding more capture points. However, whenever the other team captures a point, they gain a flat point boost, and your team loses points. So, you’re constantly losing points that you’ve already earned, and when your team does reach 1000 points, you don’t even actually win. The other team goes into a sudden death mode where they can no longer respawn, so you still have to kill all of them. When you add all of these things together, the running away, the resurrecting, the health regen capture point cheese, the constantly losing and re-gaining points, it’s enough to make you want to scream. It makes the idea of learning the complexities of combat seem like a waste of time. Why bother going to all that trouble when people are just going to cheese through every game? It’s like when you fight an extremely annoying boss in a single-player game and you find yourself yelling, “Would you just die already!?” – and when they finally die you don’t even feel good about it, you’re just mad that they would put that in the game to begin with. Some of these problems are not as bad if you’re playing team Elimination, or dueling 1v1, but that’s kind of a shame because those game modes are much smaller in scale and more repetitive.
In its current state, I wouldn’t say For Honor is worth $60 USD. It feels more like a $20 or $30 title to me, but even at that price I wouldn’t purchase it myself. I simply can’t find the motivation to be good at the game with the current issues that it has. If they were to overhaul Dominion and change the sprint mechanics to encourage people to actually fight, that would go a long way. It may not sound like a long list of things to fix, but the whole game is centered around this compelling combat, so it needs to work really well, and right now it just doesn’t. It almost does, in certain circumstances, but it’s just too easy to cheese and leave you feeling disappointed.