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

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

The latest hooded, rooftop-prowling Assassin’s Creed takes place in 19th century London during the tailgate of the industrial revolution.

Being set in a city which was the forerunner of mankind’s evolution into mechanised economic renovation, expect all of the grime and cruelty your hateful history teacher lectured you all about.

Child labourers being beaten by bloated managers, cavernous factories and crowded working-class suburbs are all common sight in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
M’lady – a stunning rendition of industrial age London

London is also, however, extremely beautiful. With golden spots such as Hyde Park, the Royal Palace and the River Thames, a gloriously flooding contrast between gritty squalor and imperial glory becomes your sandbox.

This time the evil Illuminati-like Templars (we still haven’t managed to topple after a thousand Assassin’s Creeds) have seized on this booming progress, capitalizing on poor little urchins and unfair labour practices.

I must confess; I actually don’t even know just what the hell is going on story-wise anymore in this series.

Assassins Creed is a franchise I drop into every few games or so, just to see how it has progressed, but the story always seems confusing and roundabout to me.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
The beatdowns in this game have been excellently and brutally designed

At some stage in the series, I was chatting to some Annunaki star people, there are some glowing orbs that give its holders untold power that everyone is scrambling after, and history is members of the future’s playground thanks to some pseudo-science fantasy

Ignoring the plot for a moment, Ubisoft always make such grandly accurate environments, paying loving homage to whatever era they are simulating. London circa 1868 just looks too real, with its billowing factories and majestic landmarks still present today.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
The twins are building an army, yours to command

You’ll spend a good amount of time up high just admiring the scenery, and the intrepid tourist will seek out as many of the iconic buildings and streets as possible.

This time you play as two rascals known as Evie and Jacob Frye, assassin twins hell-bent on taking London back from the Templars, one borough at a time.

Together, you will become heroes for the salt of the earth, a dreaded knife in the back of heartless, industrious tyranny.

Each twin comes with their own fighting style. Initially, Evie prefers knocking bowler hats off mutton-chopped heads with her cane, while Jacob relies on his brutish brawling skills, punching the cranberry sauce out of enemies.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Stealth killing Mary Poppins style

 

You can of course mix and match methods of brutality, with a myriad of abilities and equipment at your disposal.

Both have the hidden blade and can flash death before an enemy’s eyes before he or she can say ‘Cor Blimey!’

Both twenty-somethings make Jack the Ripper look like Jack the Real Estate Agent. The twins will keep you satisfied with a wide variety of very painful-looking yet entertaining killing animations typical to this series.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Your gang is filled with different classes of colorful rogues

 

The Templars have subordinated a widespread gang known as ‘The Blighters’, the muscle they use to quell any opposition from bleating workers and would be rebellions. These brutes will be constantly patrolling the streets and buildings in swathes.

In response, Jacob and Evie start their own gang to match The Blighters called ‘The Rooks’, which somehow instantly becomes highly populated with miscreants. Members can be recruited like in GTA: San Andreas to back you up in skirmishes reminiscent of Gangs of New York.

This feature definitely mixes up the gameplay, which by 2015 is now becoming rather mundane.

Just standing still and watching your soldiers bruising the other team is delightful enough.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
This time you’re a working-class hero

 

Speaking of Grand Theft Auto, I laughed hard at the fact that Syndicate is in many ways a 19th century GTA. You can actually hijack horse-drawn carriages and perform a drive-by with your primitive pistol.

Even more hilarious is ramming your horse head-first into other carriages, its mighty cranium demolishing them and sending its occupants flailing in all directions.

After all, London is a big place; parkour just isn’t going to cut it as your sole means of transport anymore.

Comical archaic road-rage aside, the combat and free running feel pretty much the same as every other Assassin’s Creed before.

I’ve been playing these games since I was about sixteen, and each one honestly feels like the same hood, different hunk.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Become a dashing force to be reckoned with

 

The thing that keeps me funding this franchise after all these years is just how great the killing and climbing looks and feels.

Nonchalantly shanking someone in a passing fashion with your hidden blade so fast they stumble in shock for a few seconds before keeling over is a wicked approach I never tire of.

Stalking someone from the rooftops like a seriously pissed off pigeon before plummeting several stories onto their spine is my dream method of taking out someone.

Being a bit of a history nut, I love nothing more than exploring every intricate map Ubisoft has created, immersing myself into the architecture and culture of times gone by.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
It takes a bit of observation before taking the leap

 

An expansive skill tree has been set up which can be shamefully climbed in no time through the power of microtransactions. If you don’t have the time to grind, or have the funds to skip jumping through hoops, you can buy experience point boosters.

You can also buy crafting schematics, treasure maps, and in-game currency.

It’s as if Illuminati-Templars now run the gaming industry, providing shortcuts to success to rich Swedish children.

Purchasable cheats aside, the skill tree does not take the exhausting effort you’d think the implementation of costly XP boosts would push you towards. The time-friendly player will have plenty of exciting new moves in no time.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
There are some very viciously tasteful weapons available

 

Both Jacob and Evie have their own skill tree, but XP is shared. Earning a skill point allows a purchase in both their sets of augmentations.

The skills involve standards such as learning to jab two baddies at the same time (which should be called Double Penetration) on the ground or after leaping off from a roof, but Evie and Jacob come with their own tailor-made sets of abilities.

Each twin has three branches to navigate under their own respective tree. For example, Evie can learn how to become invisible whilst standing still (TEEMO!) and Jacob can earn significant beefiness to health and defense.

Free running has become unnecessarily tweaked. You now have to hold down the X button to climb and hold down O to descend, meaning you have much less thumb access to panning the camera with the right analog stick.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
The environmental changes due to the weather systems and day and night cycles are art

 

I don’t know if developers thought they were being innovative here, putting a spin on age-old controls, but this is a cumbersome change that seriously hampers gameplay and forces me to do funny things with my hands to be able to jump about and look around at the same time.

Another thing that annoys me about the free running is how the character will often bounce in the wrong direction commanded, a lot of the movement suffering from quite a lot of jerkiness.

While much of the architecture seen in Assassin’s Creeds set in older periods is a lot simpler, the mechanical nature of many settings now requires a more calculated approach as machinery and modernised metallic structures are harder to climb than more historical creations.

A crafting system has been implemented, and by looting the multitude of chests scattered across London you can gather materials necessary to craft a plethora of weapons and items.

 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate
The grappling hook thing is great for escaping a jam, as well as cutting down cumbersome climbing

 

Fun new toys have been introduced to the game, such as the Rope Launcher – Assassin’s Creed’s version of a grappling hook – something I adore to have in any open world game.

While you can fast travel, the hideous loading times means the Rope Launcher is a preferable alternative to speedily navigating London.

Love it or hate it, Assassin’s Creed is here to stay, and it is now more powerful than ever.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is undoubtedly a very impressive game on the surface, but enjoying the meat of it all depends on whether you can stomach anymore of its exhaustively tried and tested rigmarole.

Score: 7.5/10