Review: For Honor

I’ve decided to take a break from some of my retro reviews to look at a brand-new title that I’ve been anticipating for some time; For Honor.  For those of you who have been living under a rock, For Honor is a faction-based, hack-and-slash combat game by Ubisoft. I’ve been watching this title with interest ever since it was originally announced and now I’m here to share my thoughts.

To start, let’s discuss what this game is all about: Battle. In For Honor, you fight. That’s pretty much it. Players can choose between three main factions:  Knights, Vikings and Samurai. Each faction has a number of different heroes to choose from. These are broken down into four “style” classes – Vanguard (basic fighter), Heavy (strong defense, tank type character), Assassin (agile, speed-based) and Hybrid (combines various styles).

When you first start playing against others, you will be prompted to join a faction. This sounds like a big decision, but in reality, it doesn’t matter which faction you choose. You can join the Samurai faction and play a knight hero. The choice only comes into play for multiplayer rankings. Ubisoft has decided to go with a “season” model for For Honor. So at regular intervals, battle results are tallied and recorded. Players assigned to the winning faction will receive large in-game rewards. But, before we get into the nuts and bolts of the multiplayer, let’s take a look at the core mechanics of the game.

The first time you start up For Honor, you will be prompted to take a tutorial. I highly suggest that you do. This will teach you the basics – and you’ll need it. For Honor plays like no other title I’ve ever seen. The whole focus of the game is essentially, hand to hand combat against others. So you will learn how to defend against attacks – and do it from different angles. When fighting an opponent, you will need to watch them to determine from what vector they are attacking from. If they swing from the right, you need to defend against an attack coming from the right. If they strike you from overheard, you need to raise your shield to deflect the attack from there, etc. When attacking, you can choose either a light strike or a heavy strike. Light strikes are fast, but weak. A heavy attack will deal more damage, but it takes longer to execute and leaves you open to an attack. So it’s often best to save these until your opponent is distracted or stunned, etc. Strategy is the name of the game.

Once the tutorial is out of the way, you’ll want to play through the game’s Story Mode. This mode of gameplay builds upon the tutorial and actually introduces all the factions and classes. By playing story mode from start to finish, you will get a crash course on every type of playstyle offered in the game. On top of that, completing the story mode actually unlocks the full multiplayer experience.

The actual story for the game is pretty simple. It takes place in unnamed fantasy world, perhaps even an alternate version of Earth. For ages, war has raged between the Knights of the realm, and the nearby horde of Vikings. Recently, a group of Samurai from a far-eastern nation have relocated to the outskirts of the realm as well. The three groups are manipulated into engaging in an endless war by a mysterious character known only by the name Apollyon. I’ll stop there, lest I ruin the details revealed in the story mode. But, as the lore of the game unfolds, it makes for a rather interesting backdrop to the game itself.

As you progress through the game story, and even as you participate in multiplayer. You will earn gear and acquire “steel”. Steel is the currency in For Honor. You can spend Steel on a number of things. You can use it to purchase blind grab-bags for weapons and armor, you can purchase emotes and vanity effects for the heroes, you can even use it to purchase “Champion Status” – which is a something like a premium subscription that you’d find in a free-to-play MMO. When you have Champion Status enabled, you will earn more EXP and steel through the various activities in the game.

Leveling up and earning steel are important to your progression in the game. As you level, you can unlock “feats” which are abilities and special moves that you can employ. Steel is important for the reasons described above. Of course, with today’s games being what they are, if you don’t want to sink a lot of time into grinding, you can pay real money for bundles of steel from the in-game store as well.

For someone first starting out, I recommend spending as much time as you can experiencing the Story Mode and replaying it at the various difficulties that are offered. Doing so is great way to earn steel and unlock Scavenger Packs (weapon and armor grab bags). Also, as you complete the various chapters of story mode, you can create or log-in to Ubisoft’s special club account and unlock various goodies that carry over to the game, such as banners and emblems, etc.  All of these unlockables are strictly cosmetic. In fact, so are the rewards that were given to beta testers and Deluxe Edition players. So if you missed out on the alpha or beta tests, preorder, or if you chose not to spend the extra money on the CE of the game. Don’t worry. Aside from a few free days of champion status. You have missed nothing. The game is an even playing field for all.

Once you’ve found a hero that enjoy the most, and you feel pretty confident in your abilities, then it’s time to dive in to the real meat of the game: multiplayer. Multiplayer is where it’s at. This is where the fun is. This is especially true if you actually have friends to play with, as you have ability to group with them. For Honor currently offers the following multiplayer modes:

Duels  (One-on-one combat)

Brawls (Two-on-two team combat)

Dominion (Team-based, zone capture matches)

Skirmish (Team based, point-per-kill matches)

Elimination (Team based deathmatch)

Blood Bath (Classic deathmatch)

When you participate in Multiplyer, you can choose to be matched up with random players or you can go in with a pre-made party of friends. (Premade parties are handled via PSN, Xbox Live, etc). If for some reason, the game cannot match you with other players, AI bots will inserted into the game to fill any gaps. Sadly, the multiplayer has been plagued with some connectivity issues that seem to pop up from time to time. Also, the PC version was found to be rife with cheaters and botters shortly after launch. Ubisoft’s steps to combat this actually resulted in some innocent players getting slapped with inappropriate bans, etc.  Not a good start…

As mentioned earlier, your performance in multiplayer is scored and ranked. Scores are tallied at the end of each round (X number of days) and factions are ranked accordingly. Once all rounds are tallied, and the multiplayer season has ended, rewards are distributed. It seems Ubisoft is hoping to enter the ever-growing eSports area with For Honor. Personally, I think the game may be unique enough to help them get their foot in the door.

For me, the attraction the game is threefold. First, I like the traditional fantasy setting. It’s rooted in reality. No magic, no high-fantasy stuff. It’s swords, axes, armor, etc. It’s dirty and brutal. Second, it’s non-traditional. Most MOBAs or deathmatch arena games involve guns and explosions. For Honor focuses on hand-to-hand melee. To me, this is a refreshing change of pace. Finally, almost every type of arena-multiplayer mode can be found here, which is not really unique in itself.  But when combined with the other two facets that I mention above. It makes for an interesting experience.

Finally, I want to mention one last thing about the multiplayer. Ubisoft made an interesting decision here, when it comes to the faction warfare. As expected, the game itself is not cross platform. This means, if you play on the PC, you’ll only be playing against other PC players.  But, at the end of each season, the results of the faction war will be totaled between all platforms. Ubisoft claims, that the results are not simply being recorded for rankings, but that they will influence the continuing lore and storyline as the game itself is expanded in the future. So, what does that mean? Well, if they are true to their word – let’s say the Knights sweep season 1 and make huge strides across the territory map. According to Ubisoft, this will influence how future seasons and storyline content are handled. I’m very interested to see how true to their word they will be and what exactly this will mean.  Time will tell.

So, if you’re tired of the WWII or futuristic shoot-em ups, or if you’re just looking for a unique multiplayer experience; For Honor might be something worth considering. For me, I love European knights and I love anything Asian. So this game was right up my alley.

Difficulty: Variable –  The story mode offers playable chapters in Easy, Normal, Hard, and Realistic. The first three a self-explanatory.  Realistic Mode is essentially perma-death, with no UI queues to indicate from what vector an opponent is going to strike.  Multiplayer is a horse of a different color. You’ll be playing with and against players of all different skill levels. So when playing online you’ll never know what to expect.

Story: A game like For Honor isn’t expected to have much of a storyline. But, surprisingly it does! The lore behind the game is explained in Story Mode, and it expanded on by players willing to hunt “observables” (points of interest that, when inspected, provide more detail behind the game world).  The game’s story basically provides a set up for the multiplayer combat. I’m curious to how or if, this might be expanded on in the future.

Originality: Competitive shooters and MOBAs are nothing new. But For Honor manages to take this tried-and-true formula and make it into something unique by using non-ranged weapons and a refreshing game world.

Soundtrack: The game features and minimal soundtrack. It’s very tribal sounding – perfect for the setting of the game, but not very listenable on it’s own. The voice acting in the game is simply top-notch.

Fun: For people who like competitive online games, and eSports style arenas, For Honor is a thing of beauty. However, in the multiplayer landscape one will always come across players with sour attitudes, those who attempt to cheat, and quitters. This is just the nature of the beast. If you’re not the type that enjoy friendly competition, or if you have trouble accepting that there will always be someone better than you, you’re not likely to have a very good time. – At the time of this writing, the game suffers from some pretty drastic balance issues between some of the heroes. I fully expect this to be fixed in the coming months. But for the time being, a great number of players do seem to taking advantage of this knowledge. New players not in the know may find themselves stomped pretty hard.

Graphics: For Honor is a beautiful game. Everything from the landscapes, to the detailed textures themselves are gorgeous. In fact, I play this title on the PS4 simply because my PC does not meet the minimum requirements to run it. (This is the first game I’ve encountered where that’s been an issue…  TIME TO UPGRADE!) When playing through the story mode, take time to explore and admire many of the breathtaking landscapes. It’s that good.

Playcontrol: This is where some will struggle. The controls for this game are very non-traditional. Now, that doesn’t mean they are bad. In fact, the controls are very responsive and actually make a lot sense. But, they are just not typical. This is where the tutorials come in. A little patience may be needed to get your mind wrapped around the controls. But, once you have it, it becomes second nature.

Downloadable Content:  Yes.

As mentioned in the review. Most of the free DLC already available consists of vanity emblems, armor designs, etc. Players can purchase steel, feats and wardrobe items. Future DLC will be released on a schedule coinciding with the multiplayer seasons. As seasons start and end, Ubisoft will release new heros, gameplay modes, and maps. Currently, the plan is to make these free for all. But players who are willing to drop money on the season pass, will get access to this content early. So, by the sound of it – everything is free. But those willing to pay will get early access and some exclusives skins.

Mature Content: Violence and gore.

Value:  Currently, the base game is retailing between $50-$60. A Deluxe Edition with features some skins and other vanity fluff sells for $70. Finally, the The Gold Edition, which features the season pass and the Deluxe content will set you back $100.00 – Knowing that the future DLC will eventually be free for all diminishes the value of the gold edition in my eyes, but this really up to personal preference.  I’m not sure I feel that the base game is worth $60. But I fully expect to see this price come down in the future.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – For Honor is an example of a game with massive potential, that seems to suffer from today’s “micro-transaction” culture.  It has vision and atmosphere. However, the multiplayer portion (which is the main draw), has shown some early signs of instability. On top of that, the unlockables are lackluster and seemed way too overpriced for what you get from them. To me, this is an example of the game dev’s dangling the carrot just far enough that a large number of players will take the easy way out via their credit card. Despite this, there are certainly some positives with this game. The graphics are stellar and the combat is innovative and fun. I’m certainly no stranger to online mulitplayer in many of it’s various forms. I used to play Doom and Quake back in the old days, but in recent years I haven’t dipped my toe in many of the “MOBA” games that become popular. So, in some ways For Honor is my first foray into the world of ranked-eSports, if you want to call it that. And for a large part, I’m thoroughly pleased with what I’ve seen here. But, I feel that For Honor needs quite a bit of polish if it wants to hold the attention of gamers for very long.

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Review: ZombiU

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Finally, the first Halloween review is here! We start off with ZombiU. This a title that has intrigued me for a while. I grabbed this back when the Wii U was released but I never got around to playing it until now. First, let me start by saying that I really had no idea what this game was actually going to be like. For some reason, I had it in my mind that this was actually some type of on-rails shooter like those House of the Dead games you see in the arcades. I was very very wrong.

ZombiU is actually one of the most true-to-type survival horror games I have ever played. Here we have your typical zombie apocalypse scenario. You play as a survivor in a zombie-infested London. At the beginning of the game, you are rescued by a mysterious individual known only as “The Prepper”. The Prepper has taken meticulous steps to prepare and defend against this very scenario. From a fortified safe house, The Prepper doles out various tasks to you. For example: retrieve X item, scan X area, etc. As the game progresses, more backstory details begin to unfold, ultimately revealing a surprisingly detailed plot.

Naturally, as you undertake these tasks you have to try to survive the infected (zombies) lurking about. This amounts to a great deal of sneaking around, and carefully planned attacks against the roaming ghouls. Where the game gets interesting is when you actually fail and are killed by one of the zombies. In this game, you do not simply start over from a previously saved checkpoint. Instead, you begin the game over as a totally new survivor. All progress made by your previous character remains, and you now have to undertake whatever task they were working on when they were slain. The twist is, they are now one of the roaming dead… This means that you can and mostly likely will encounter your previous characters as your proceed in the game. When you manage to defeat one of your former incarnations, you can loot their body to retrieve your previous possessions.

To make your task easier, The Prepper has provided you with a special tool called the “Prepper Pad”. The Wii U gamepad actually becomes the Prepper Pad as you play. It serves as your map, there’s also a radar (used for detecting nearby zombies). You also use the pad to accomplish certain goals such as scanning objects, hacking keypads, etc. All of this is done with the Gamepad itself. You can raise the pad and move it around in the real world to scan the in-game environment, in augmented reality. This provided a level of immersion I was not expecting.

The game also takes advantage of the Nintendo Network. This functionality is somewhat basic, but is actually pretty well done. In ZombiU, you have the ability to leave markers/notes in the environment as you play. When you spraypaint a marker on the wall, it can also be seen by other players. This means as you play, you’ll encounter plenty of notes left by others. Some of them are helpful, some of them may be tricks. Also, along with encountering the zombies of your own previous characters, you may encounter the walking corpse of another player who met an untimely death…

Needless to say, this game really takes full advantage of the Wii U hardware. I think it is a shining example of what a Wii U game can be when the developer uses the unique benefits of the system to their advantage. Gamepad aside, the game itself looks great. As expected, it’s a very dark game. As a result, it can sometimes it can be difficult to see what’s in front of you as you play, this is by design. For this reason, I do recommend playing the game in a dark or low light setting. Not only does it help you see things better, but it also helps set the appropriate atmosphere.

Yes, this game is scary. There are jump scares, sure. But most of the what makes the game frightening is your own apprehension. You never know what’s around the corner, and you expect to be terrified at any time. This game managed to keep me on edge, expecting encounters that often never came. In a nutshell, this game psyches you out and makes you into your own worst enemy. Also, I should mention, this game is tough. It is no walk in the park. I died frequently. Sometimes frustratingly so. Be warned!

Difficulty: Very Hard –  There are two modes in ZombiU – Normal and Survival mode. Both difficulty settings are the same in terms of actually game-difficulty. But in Normal mode, if you die you get to start over as a new character. In Survival mode, if you die it’s game over. – That being said, either way you play is going to be difficult. This is a pretty tough game. Other players that I’ve talked to on the Miiverse community have likened it to being on par with Dark Souls.  I tend to agree with this.

Story: Yes, this is your typical zombie apocalypse survival horror game. But there’s actually a surprising bit of backstory included as well. A lot of this is given to by The Prepper as you play, but there are some other characters that pop up later on that shed even more light on the scenario.

Originality: It is true that the zombie genre has been done to death, but ZombiU manages to keep it fresh by taking full advantage of the special Wii U hardware. The gamepad combined with the unique online experience really makes this title feel brand new..

Soundtrack: The score for this game is brilliantly done. The music is very dynamic. It ebbs and flows with the events of the game resulting a great amount of apprehension. The ambient noises and everything else is pretty much top notch as well.

Fun: If you enjoy horror/survival games, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here. If scary games are not your thing or you are easily frustrated you might not have a very good time with ZombiU.

Graphics: Ubisoft has done a wonderful job visually here. The graphics are as crisp and sharp as any other current-gen title. The lighting and particle effects are excellent for this type of game and do a great job creating a sense of foreboding. Like many games of this type, ZombiU is very dark and can sometimes be difficult to see if playing in a bright room.

Playcontrol: The playcontrol is a real mixed bag here. Because of the unique nature of the game, the gamepad plays a special role. Actual game-responsiveness is not much of an issue. But menu navigation the overall control scheme takes a little getting used to. My biggest problem with this game was deciding what to pay attention to. The main game takes place on your TV screen, but there’s a lot to do with the gamepad screen as well. I’d find myself watching the gamepad and ignoring what was on the main screen. This resulted in a lot of accidental deaths. I suppose on one hand you could look at this as a bit of a flaw. But on the other, it’s also very realistic. The gamepad exists in the game, as a tool used by your character. When you are looking at the pad, for the most part so are they… so despite being annoying it actually works.

Mature Content: YES- Gruesome violence. Language. Horror elements.

Value:  This game originally retailed for $40 when it was released. A fair price in my opinion. Especially if you like zombie/horror games. These days, it can often be found new for $20 or less. A good bargain.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – There’s a lot to like here if this genre is one that appeals to you. Even if it is not, this game is a great example of what the Wii U is capable of. In all honesty, I was impressed by ZombiU, but a little put off by the difficulty. This is an example of a game that “is what it is”, and makes no excuses about it. When you play it, you’re either going to love it or hate it. But it’s very easy to appreciate what it brings to the table.

Currently available on: Wii U