For Honor

For Honor is a very ambitious project, that of bringing three very different kinds of historical warriors together in a balanced manner. Pitting Nordic vikings, European knights, and Japanese samurai together is something many historians would scoff at. Somehow, Ubisoft has managed to pull it off.

My time spent with the medieval slasher so far has mostly been enjoyable. The only major issue being that many people struggle to find matches due to its odd online calibrations, myself included.

As For Honor uses its own brand of P2P connections rather than traditional server hosting. This means that many people sit for lengthy periods of time in search of others across the world. This isn’t such an issue if you’re in a place like Europe or America, but here in South Africa we really struggle.

The medieval world has gone completely bonkers

The multiplayer mode spans across a period or season of war between three factions, all vying for control of the world in an endless struggle for domination of what remains of a largely obliterated world. Each player individually commits wartime resources to conquering a certain region, the faction reinforcing a region the most taking it.

The buildings that host the bloody skirmishes within an occupied region are then decorated with the winning faction’s cultural regalia. So far, the samurai have often taken the lion’s share of the map, leaving the burly vikings and upstanding knights swamped by oriental invaders.

The Warden is probably the most adaptable and accessible character in the game, excellent for beginners.

Members of winning factions receive juicy rewards, such as new gear. Through battle, shopping and winning rounds, players can upgrade their heroes with all manner of armour and weapon upgrades. Each new item brings a change in your stats, generally upgrading one aspect of your being while lessening another. It’s a trade-off you need to think carefully about, tailoring each hero according to your strategy and general play-style.

There is also a massive cosmetic aspect to getting new stuff, the fashionable prowess of your heroes being very important. Outfitting your characters with gnarly bits and bobs also plays a big part in intimidation and the psychological aspect of the game. Seeing a hulking Scandinavian stride towards you all skulls and spikes is certainly fearsome.

The roaring Kensei, an absolute whirlwind when played right.

The level of detail and personalised attention that has been slathered onto each pauldron, greave, and blade makes for a stunningly majestic host of gleaming warriors. The game in general just looks amazing, with its global geography and architecture being playfully respectful to each region and culture it represents.

Many players have, however, been put off this game due to the microtransactions, which allow you to purchase an entire arsenal, effectively catapulting your heroes to supreme power in minutes.

The first thing any newcomer should do is start off with the tutorial, which grounds you in the game’s mechanics. For Honor employs a creative method for blocking and attacking. Using the right analog stick, players position their guard in different directions, deciding the automatic blocking stance, as well as which angle you will attack from. This mechanic is the meat of the game. Synchronising your stance with an enemy’s attacks is the key to staying alive. You will also need to mix up your stance and style in general in order to keep your opponent guessing long enough to deliver agonising blows.

There are various grizzly execution finishers for each character, as the Shugoki over here is demonstrating.

Much of the rest of the move-sets are relatively common to hack and slash games. Light and heavy attacks, dodging, stunning blows and sprinting.

The more advanced mechanics come with feinting and parrying, as well as the more tricky special moves in each hero’s repertoire. Feinting involves successfully deceiving an opponent with the suggestion of an attack, following through with an actual one from an unexpected angle. Parrying is deflecting an attack in a way that causes your opponent to stumble, rather than just a normal block, which you can follow with a punishing riposte.

There is a colourful range of special attacks each character can employ. From the unstoppable heave of a giant axe, to the sneaky, lung-puncturing poke from a dagger, to the disorienting pommel strike.

The 4v4 Dominion game mode is absolute mayhem. Here we have a Warden calling in a catapult strike.

Another big part of the game is throwing each other off cliffs or into fire or spikes. While many players consider this approach to be a shameful affront to polite head-splitting, I must recommend mastering both the employment and countering the WWF aspect of this game. Not only is it a very entertaining part of the game, it’s an essential ingredient for becoming the ultimate warrior.

If you manage to land a guard-break, which is basically a stun, you can follow the move up with a throw. If your opponent happens to be near a spiked wall or precarious precipice, you can choose to end them wrongly right there and then. Such tactics will immediately bring a sweaty, heated clash to a dreadful, immediate end, causing a salty eruption in someone else’s home.

Don’t just hammer buttons in a frantic craze. This game requires a cool head and steady hands.

Some characters, such as the gigantic Lawbringer (that looks like a Dark Souls boss, rather than something you’d see climbing up a ladder in Jerusalem), excel at bullying their opponents, tossing them about like unruly children with one hand.

Successfully stringing these mechanics together takes a while to master. The journey from squire to knight is undoubtedly filled with much trial and error, as your brain and hands begin building the necessary connections needed to master this tricky game.

After practicing a bit in the tutorial it’s straight into global war. My first duel was a thrilling baptism into cyber medieval martial arts. I decided to try the one-on-one duels first, using the basic knight, the Warden (one of twelve available characters). My enemy chose some kind of samurai. We then found ourselves standing at opposite ends of a corridor in a snowy castle. I approached him cautiously, trying to remember the controls and mechanics. We honed in on each other, and then the hacking began. Fast and unforgiving, For Honor forces you into a locked state of fidgety concentration as your hands work furiously to keep up with a person on the other side of the world in the exact same state.  I often find myself leaping out of my chair with excitement when a long and tense series of duels reaches its climax.

Slamming the butt of your sword into an enemy’s chops is an excellent way to throw them off balance.

The single-player campaign, while well-written and involving, didn’t hold my attention for long. Although I would like to see how such an intriguing spin on world history would pan out with such lovingly fleshed out groups, it’s basically just the duels and battles seen in multiplayer with bots. I’d much rather bash about (or be bashed about) by real people.

That’s not to say that playing with bots isn’t an integral part of the game. Practicing heroes you are unfamiliar with against AI is a great way to get to grips in a calm and collected manner.

Bring out your personality and taste through the lovely level of character customisation available.

The online community in For Honor stresses an unofficial code of honour. You are expected to be chivalrous. Greeting your opponent with an emote, resisting throwing them off cliffs or executing them with a shaming decapitation are the requirements for becoming a 21st century Sir. While I generally try to be as proper as possible, I can’t help being Iago every now and then.

This is, after all, a video game, not The Hundred Year War. Childish antics are all part of the fun, something well-known to well-seasoned multiplayer veterans.

Whether you’re a medieval enthusiast, or just like the idea of whacking people with giant swords, For Honor is a very enjoyable game. It has an often-times frustrating skill curve you need to overcome if you want to cleave your way up the ranks. Despite its connectivity being something of a joke, it’s a great game.

8/10

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Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Treyarch (who make the quirkier Call of Duty titles) have delivered a loaded sci-fi barrel of laughs with Black Ops 3.

With the explosive campaign, boosted online and classic zombie mode, there is a lot here to keep you busy.

In other words, the people at Treyarch have looked at different sci-fi games and selected some cutting-edge parts to upgrade the CoD-machine with.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Robots and spaceships and stuff. Oh, and archery!

The campaign is set 40 years after the events of the previous Black Ops, in a world devastated by natural disasters, forcing humans to consolidate in massive cyber-cities.

You take on the role of a special operative, who after being dismembered by an evil Chappie, is mechanically rebuilt into a cyborg supersoldier.

Being a supersoldier means you can now jump onto a wall and dash along it before jumping back onto the ground or a parallel wall.

You can also thrust into the air for a short period (thanks, Destiny). This introduces a fun platform element to the game, an effort to dilute the repetitive run-and-gun drudgery seen in every Call of Duty for far too long now.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Go online for some speedy, acrobatic salt

The protagonist is also jacked into the Direct Neural Interface, a kind of matrix which allows one to manipulate and communicate with machines as well as other humans connected to this system.

Players can now hijack instruments like turrets and drones to lay waste to dozens of enemies around.

There is, thankfully, a 4-player max co-op mode in the campaign, zombie mode and online multiplayer.

The usual corridor-shooting has been swapped for impressive and expansive stages that look a lot like the various planets’ designs in Destiny, such as the snowy industrial complex on Earth and the ruined city claimed by greenery on Venus.

The Destiny influence is so strong I actually wouldn’t be unreasonable calling Black Ops 3 a fun Destiny.

Stages, character model design, abilities, gameplay and overall look and feel have been emulated from the Bungie epic.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
This guy enjoys slamming his power tools into the ground, causing a shockwave

The campaign quickly became boring. The momentum-based movement system doesn’t help break the monotony of advancing through swarms of enemies, neither do your various cyber-abilities, which let you immolate robots (who are actually a lot of fun to shoot to pieces), release a hive of machine fireflies to burn humans and various other cyber-spells.

It’s just not enough, CoD campaigns are the reason why so many people have become desensitised to murder and war.

A realistic difficulty mode has been added to the campaign, in which one measly bullet will kill you.

The campaign has a few recognizable actors in it. With Christopher Meloni as Commander John Taylor, Rachel Kimsey as Rachel Kane, Katee Sackhoff as Sarah Hall, Tony Amendola as Dr. Yousef Salim and Sean Douglas as Jacob Hendricks.

Sports fans might recognize Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch who makes a cameo as a villain.

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Zombie Mode has been very nicely fleshed out

There is an individual experience-based leveling system in all three modes – campaign, online and zombies – which gives you access to more weapons, perks, customisation, and upgrades.

This means three ladders to climb and a lot of hooks to keep you glued to the controller/mouse trying to augment each character as much as possible.

I haven’t properly played a Call of Duty game in several years, but the basic formula remains for the multiplayer.

The basic movement and procedure of a round feels pretty much the same, despite all of the handy augmentations.

A lot of bells and whistles have been added, mainly inspired by Destiny, from what I could gather.

The standard game modes remain, such as Team-Deathmatch and Free-For-All as well as the Pick 10 system from Black Ops II.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
With your robot arms you can now lift Gundam guns

Don’t get me wrong, sameness isn’t always a bad thing; the multiplayer is highly enjoyable and smooth.

Despite many hard-core gamers discounting this franchise as a run of the mill, low-skill shooter for the masses, it is intrinsically a solid FPS.

Of course, a lot of work has been put into making multiplayer feel varied and evolved.

The whizzing acrobatics described earlier translate well to the multiplayer gameplay. Having short aerial-battles reminiscent of The Crucible in Destiny and running at each other along a wall all-guns-blazing is great.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
It’s an honor getting the final kill, can’t say the same for being the final kill

Online there are various classes one can choose from called ‘Specialists’, each with their own back-story and abilities.

The 9 Specialists include characters such as a hooded archer that can shoot explosive arrows and scan the area around them, to a sniper that can shoot chain-lighting which bounces from foe to foe.

There are a few Specialists that can only be unlocked at higher levels.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Find the class that best suits your skills, but don’t forget to try them all out

A kill streak affords the usual map-scanning and artillery functionality, as well as a class-based special move that is unleashed using the top two shoulder buttons – just like in Destiny.

These range from slamming the ground causing an instakill shockwave (just like in Destiny), to scanning the area around to reveal enemies.

A swarm of killer robot bees can be unleashed on a victim and you can split yourself into several illusions.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
Lethal cybernetic upgrades needed to survive in scary robot dystopia

As for Zombie mode, two stories have been introduced, Shadows of Evil and The Giant.

Shadows of Evil introduces a new tale and characters whilst The Giant continues the previous Black Ops’ zombie mode story with the same characters.

Zombie mode was a big part of my teenage life, so it’s nice to see the fundamentals have been left unchanged in this installment.

Zombies spill out of ruptured plank-defences as each round revolves around eliminating all undead pursuers.

New areas are unlocked by paying the toll at each gate, each newly-opened area exponentially increasing the chaos and number of attackers.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
One of the most enjoyable cooperative experiences

New touches include being able to temporarily transform into a tentacle-ridden monster that can easily crush surrounding enemies, gumballs which provide perks and again an experience-based system that allows you to purchase more guns and upgrades.

All-in-all, I was very impressed by how much quality entertainment has been brought to the table this time, despite the mundanity of the campaign.

Call of Duty tried hard this time with Black Ops 3 to address its cookie-cutter existence, and largely succeeded in a rather borrowed manner.

Score: 7/10