For Honor Alpha Test Impressions!

by on September 25, 2016

                I’ve
been craving for a video game with medieval combat ever since Dark Souls 3’s non-magic
combat got me riled up, but this craving is bound to go unsatisfied, at least
for a while. Looking at the bright side of things, the close future might be
holding what I’m looking for with the upcoming releases of Mount & Blade
II: Bannerlord (I’m holding my hyping inner demon in check!), For Honor, Of
Kings and Men and even Mirage: Arcane Warfare.
On that note, last week’s For Honor Alpha test was an
opportunity I didn’t want to miss and since there was no NDA I’m going to share
some of my thoughts about the game’s multiplayer aspects.
                Right
from the tutorial I could tell that For Honor is at an asymmetric meeting point
between Chivalry and Dark Souls with various elements borrowed from other
games, but enough elements of its own to stand out in the crowd.
                For
Honor is an online medieval combat action game which will feature a
singleplayer campaign and an online multiplayer component. Contraire to the
latest multiplayer titles from Ubisoft, For Honor isn’t a team based game per
se and it’s rather focused on duels with teamwork being on a secondary plane. This
is most likely a result of the combat system which has all the qualities for
awesome skill based 1v1 fights, but not enough functionality when things get
crowded.
                The game
has the players picking a class from one of the three available factions: Knights,
Samurais and Vikings, with each faction’s classes play slightly different even
if they have the same traits. As expected from any online game of today’s
gaming era, For Honor comes with an extensive customization system which is
split in two parts, an appearance customization and a skills and gear customization
which has a direct impact on the gameplay and the player’s performance.
The appearance
customization is your day to day vanity fair. As each class can be leveled up,
new cosmetic options become available and can be used to change the appearance
of various parts of the hero’s armor.
Prepare for microtransactions?
The
skills and gear customization has a bit more depth to it providing players with
gameplay options and a more meaningful progression system. Each class has four
slots filled with default skills, by leveling up these skills can be changed (to something more ridiculous) as
more options are being unlocked allowing players to create their own small
builds. On top of that, the game has a gear system with items being rewarded
after matches. These items can be equipped in various armor and weapon slots
increasing the combat capabilities for that class. There is even some sort of
crafting involved as unwanted gear can be destroyed and used to improve other
items. These kind of game mechanics sound like they could kill any chance for
this game to be competitive, but there is a catch.
The game could do well without this…
…or this.
                In this
Alpha Test there were three game modes available: Duel (1v1), Brawl (2v2) and
Dominion (4v4). Dominion is an objective based game mode in which two teams
fight to take control over three objectives while being helped by continuous
spawning waves of AI soldiers that push through the middle objective and fight
each other in an eternal battle that waits to be scaled by the player’s
actions. This game mode felt like a frivolous attempt to provide the players
with some sort of team play. The maps were too small and the objectives too
close together destroying any attempt of tactical play and leading to some
chaotic fights between groups of players highlighting the limitations of the combat system.
Even if focusing on team play and objectives, the ending of the match is usually
decided by combat and the tides of battle can be swiftly shifted as comebacks
are allowed way too easily.
The above mentioned gear and skills play a role in this game
mode and could possibly give you the edge against other players, but
considering the chaotic nature of Dominion I didn’t feel all that bothered about
this. What I thought to be interesting and might be a foreshadowing of
Ubisoft’s interests with this game’s multiplayer was the fact that the Duel and
Brawl modes do not allow the usage of gear and skills. Players start on an
equal ground and the only thing that will make the difference in these modes is
personal skill. This could mean that Ubisoft might be trying to make something
competitive out of these two modes or they are just designed to make sure the players
have a fair fight. I guess only time will tell.
The pretty colors tell me that I’m doing my job!
                As
mentioned in the numerous presentations videos, For Honor’s most interesting and
innovative feature is the combat system also known as the Art of Battle.
The Art
of Battle is a combat system created with target locking as its primary
mechanic and all the good and bad that come with it. Locking onto a target
opens up an interface which allows the players to control the direction of
their swings and blocks by moving the mouse in one of the three directions
available and automatically setting a stance. The combat is extremely reactive
as each player engaged has to pay attention to the opponent’s stance and match
it in order to block incoming attacks and swiftly switch to a different stance
to have a chance to hit. In theory it is nothing too laborious, but in practice
everything is much more complex as there are multiple options that enrich the
core mechanics. Aside of the expected light and heavy attacks, players have the
ability to counter-attack after well timed parries and can even attempt to
break their opponent’s guard opening them to deadly combos. Mobility is
important and dodge provides an additional option to avoid attacks and
reposition or simply disengage from an unwanted fight. In addition to these mechanics,
each class adds extra layers of complexity to the combat system through different
play styles bound to stats, abilities and a unique set of moves which aren’t all
that easy to pull off.
I keep forgetting them!
                The
multitude of combat moves which make each fight look spectacular and unique have
to be used thoughtfully as each action has a price in the form of stamina.
Stamina is limiting each player’s combat actions pushing them into strategic
thinking through careful resource management as each move could cost more than
it could provide. Spending stamina wisely is one of the keys that open the
gates to victory, while depleting it could be a certain path towards perdition.
It’s just you against me!
                What I noticed as soon as I jumped into online
matches was that the gameplay is faster than it looked in the showcase videos.
The first few matches I had were a bit confusing if not infuriating because I
felt like I didn’t have enough time to adapt, but as I played more I got the
hang of it and the combat system grew on me. Knowing how to move and reposition
when necessary, timely parry and how to attack efficiently while properly
managing stamina dramatically changed the pace and the way each fight unfolded.
With time, fights went from a panicky mashing of buttons to a spectacular
battle dance that could only be interrupted by the common treacherous backstabs
seen in Dominion and sometimes in Brawl (where is the Honor in that?!).
                The learning curve is pretty steep, way beyond my
initial expectations, with each duel being a certain mix of speed, skill and
mind games. The options are many, but using them towards your advantage comes
with training. Players can trick one another into different moves to force
wasteful spending of stamina and properly using the move set of each class
could make a huge difference. There are plenty of tricks to be learned and I
believe this Alpha Test wasn’t enough for anyone to truly master the combat
system.
Get used to be cornered, in For Honor this is (ironically) called team play!
 
                The problem with For Honor’s
combat system is that it is great as long as it is used for duels. Engaging
into group battles immediately surfaced some of the bigger issues that stem
from its undecided core design.
                First of all, the game was
clearly created with the controller in mind and those like me who prefer mouse
and keyboard will be at a disadvantage. The controls are just not smooth enough
and the transition between stances can’t be done as swiftly as it should be with
the mouse leading to a delay that could prove fatal in combat, but this isn’t
even the worst part. What I found most troublesome is that the combat system
was clearly built for duels and it was forcefully transitioned for team based
game modes without being properly adapted for them. As a result, each team
fight is a chaotic mess where the targeting system proves futile and its ties
with the Art of Battle interface make everything even worse. There is hardly
any skill, strategy or proper control of the character involved in team fights,
everything turning into a dizzily attempt to deal with a situation the players
aren’t equipped for.
Tactical gameplay!
 
                In what can be considered a
desperate move to compensate for the uneven group fights and the lack of
functionality of the combat, players were given the Revenge ability. Revenge is
a comeback mechanic that comes in handy when fighting multiple enemies at once.
When activated it gives players increased combat capabilities and a (magical?!)
shield allowing them to stand a chance against larger groups. Ironically
enough, an ability that should fix some of the combat problems creates more as the
players under the effect of Revenge can take down entire groups of enemies in a
cheesy fashion that is not suitable for the game’s skill based gameplay.
When the sword isn’t enough, just switch to magic!
 
                The more I played the more it
was becoming clearer that Ubisoft has a weird manner of hindering For Honor’s
good mechanics through a cumulation of questionable design choices. Besides the
functionality problems of the combat system, there is an entire array of small issues
that build up on the annoying. It begins with the game’s interface
, which is so big that it can be spotted from another room
(clearly accommodated for TV play) or it blends perfectly into the game’s
environment becoming unreadable. The chosen color scheme for the in-game UI is
weird to say the least, as the environment is so saturated, the interface can
be hardly visible at times and players might not be able to get any information
out of it in the heat of the battle. It is a tiring endeavor to stay focused in
this game and not because the mechanics require a high amount of concentration,
which they do, but there is a growing sense of vertigo when watching the
environment mixing with the UI in a swirl of strident colors (the menus aren’t
much better).
WTH is with all these colors on my screen!
 
                The
balance is another factor that fills the pot of grieves. There was a visible
performance difference between some of the classes available in this Alpha with
Orochi usually coming on top. It’s also worth noting that despite having a
stamina system, For Honor doesn’t penalize well enough the button mashing, sometimes
allowing players to spam multiple attacks without severe negative consequences.
Last but not least in terms of balance issues is the difference in speed in and
out of combat which makes it extremely easy to disengage when losing a fight
without being caught, something I found extremely annoying, especially since
recovering lost HP happens in a matter of seconds.
                The
last on the list is an issue that Ubisoft is notoriously known for, the
connection problems. For Honor Alpha had a peer to peer connection which is
laughable for an online game in 2016. Some would argue that it was intended to
save money during Alpha testing, which could be true, but nevertheless
annoying, as a test environment should have the proper tools for testing. Yet,
after The Division incident and the countless deaths due to netcode in Rainbow
Six Siege, it’s hard for me to believe any of this. While all the problems
above are in a dire need of being fixed, the connectivity comes above all of
them as a competitive PvP game cannot be properly played while facing the
problems that arise from poor connection.
So the client based stats fiasco wasn’t enough?!
 
                Overall,
the gameplay of For Honor is a mixed bag of good and bad and I’m not sure which
takes precedence over the other. There is enough time to change things for the
better, but my latest experiences in this matter have left me more skeptical
than I ever was before. And that is not because I think the developers don’t
want to improve their games, but because these games are always surrounded by
huge groups of apologetics that defend any flaw starting from the game’s early
stages, preventing the developers from improving them. I hope this is not the
case, because the gameplay of For Honor has the qualities to be something worth
playing, but it needs more work and refinement.
                There
wasn’t much into graphics settings and it is safe to presume that’s because of
the Alpha state of the game, but there was enough environment variety with the
three different maps to form an opinion about the graphics.
                For
Honor looks pretty good, nothing mind blowing, but with enough details to be
visually pleasing. I might not have been impressed by the texture quality or
the quality of the effects the game had in store, but I did find the artistic direction
captivating. The landscapes looked great, with each map presenting an
environment that was part of a different culture associated with one of the
three playable factions. The armor design was also something worth praising
(knights ftw!) and I can’t wait to see some of the cosmetic options available
at release. But this isn’t all, returning to the technological part, the
AnvilNext engine shows once again its high class level animations with a motion
fluidity which when combined with the unique set of combat animations for each
class is becoming a true feast for the eyes. There is production value in this
game and the animations show it more than anything else, but it doesn’t stop
there if the players have the eyes to see it.
Look at my character dancing with that blade!
                The
game did have the annoying problems that usually accompany an Alpha Test
including long loading screens, unstable fps and rare stuttering. On the list
of annoyances I could also add the inability to turn off motion blur which made
my attempts of capturing any good screenshots a nightmare. But I hardly think
any of these problems will make it into the final game or at least they
shouldn’t. What could make it into the game and ruin part of the experience and
the immersion are the annoyingly glary visual effects that should remain part
of action arcade games and never make it even in the Alpha stages of a serious
title like For Honor wants to be.
Were these effects really necessary?!
I wish I could explore that!
                I wish
I could talk in detail about the sound, but there wasn’t much to hear in the
beta aside of the battle sounds with the metal clanking of weapons hitting the
hardness of armor, the battle cries of those fighting and the engaging but not
varied enough music because this was just a slice of the actual content. For
Honor Alpha sounded pretty good and I’m expecting the same if not an improved
level of sound and music quality for the full game, but at an increased scale.
None shall pass!
That’s gotta hurt!
The victory party!
                In
conclusion, despite my need of a medieval warfare video game I wasn’t
mesmerized with For Honor. I liked some of the game’s features and found some
of the mechanics extremely promising, but the issues I’ve noticed were quite a
turn off. I might be undecided now, but I’m glad I got to test the game in its
Alpha stages as I can better follow and evaluate its evolution when the
developers respond to the issues at hand.

 

                There
is great potential within For Honor for both a competitive or casually entertaining game, but a lot of that potential is hidden
behind walls of problems that require a lot of work to be torn
down. I’ll be waiting for the Beta Test to see how many of those walls are left
standing.
Nodrim

Comments

Great article. I can't wait to play For Honor game, since it looks so realistic and well done. The graphics, gameplay – everything looks so nice 🙂 Maybe you could also tell the release date of For Honor?