Noble ideas of chivalry are chopped down by griefing.
Griefing was a huge problem in The Division and it’s only been the recent updates that have finally brought back balance to the game. So why are we seeing the exact same problem in For Honor?
For Honor is Ubisoft’s upcoming melee-based combat title that is full of fresh new ideas. Knights, vikings, and samurais clash in epic duels to the death against a backdrop of medieval castles, lush forests, and snowy forts.
Listening to creative director Jason VandenBerghe gush about the Art of Battle system and how they’ve “finally cracked sword-fighting” is like hearing a siren song that will have you reaching for your wallet. But for all of the tooting-of-horns and back-slapping going on, Ubisoft seem to have forgotten that there’s an even more popular game that people like to play. It’s called silly buggers.
Ubisoft Massive found that out the hard way with The Division. The pvp Dark Zone was introduced in a slick E3 gameplay presentation; a team heads into the area, devising strategies on their comms about extracting loot and how to handle another team of agents that might go rogue. Unrealistic banter aside, the concept was flawed from the get-go because people are gits. Griefing was a huge problem and it’s only been the updates in recent weeks that have managed to finally bring some balance back to the game.
So why in the name of all that is holy are we seeing the exact same problem poised to play out all over again?
Since it was announced at E3 2015 Ubisoft has shone the spotlight almost entirely on the 4-vs-4 Dominion mode where the player’s objective is capturing points, slaughtering AI soldiers that are about as much of a threat as a puppy tasked with licking you to death, and battling other heroes in 1-vs-1 skirmishes. The Deadliest Warrior-style concept of dueling champions is what the game has been selling itself on for the last year and a half, but watching the gameplay demos, I get the niggling suspicion that each encounter has been engineered to paper over a glaringly obvious problem; group fights are seemingly nonexistent. 2-vs-1 scenarios last for mere seconds before the tides quickly turn and it’s back to a one-on-one fight.
If you managed to get any hands-on time in the closed beta this weekend, or the alpha at the end of last year, you’ll more than likely have been at the sharp end of a brutal team beatdown. Or found yourself in a fight only for your opponent to turn tail, mid-drubbing, to nip back to their capture point to replenish health or lead you into an ambush.
If you’re lucky enough to get into a lobby with like-minded individuals who resist the urge to pile on, or have enough friends who will pick up the game to round them up for a spot of Dominion, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time.
The combat system is easy to pick up and slightly harder to master, with each faction having a selection of classes with their own movesets, specialities, and abilities. You can customise your character and upgrade your equipment with loot from the battlefield. And let’s not forget the persistent cross-platform metagame that bestows rewards on each season’s victors.
Despite looking like a shallow QTE set-up at first glance with flashing indicators used to telegraph your enemies next move, giving you time to match their stance and stave off their attack, more skilled players can feint, parry, and guard-break their way to victory, using the map and the environment to their advantage. At its heart, For Honor is a surprisingly deep fighter, meant for intimate struggles, not chaotic brawls.
The notion of what the game was envisioned as on paper is already at odds with how it’s panning out in reality; game designer Bio Jade has talked about changes to scoring in Dominion and the addition of the Revenge mechanic as a means to deal with feedback that there were “too many group fights, not enough duels.”
The tweaked scoring system acts as an incentive to break up a team and spread them around the map. One of the major changes is that when standing in a captured zone, you’ll double the amount of points you get per second. Refocusing on scoring points to stop people ganking each other represents the kind of compromises they’re going to have to make to account for real world scenarios. “It’s never only about points, it’s always about fighting,” said Jade last year, but points are being used to reign in unruly players that would have the multiplayer devolve into the kind of mess we saw in The Division.
The Revenge mechanic is a monument in itself to the harsh realities of re-balancing a game to account for berks. The newly added meter fills up when you block or take damage. When it’s full you can unleash it, knockback enemies, and gain a temporary buff to all of your stats.
It’s essentially a button you can press after you’ve been mercilessly wailed on that gives you a brief window to go mental and dole out some sweet justice. It had to be implemented out of necessity because getting ganged up on happened frequently enough to warrant the need for it.
The design vision seems to be entirely divorced from reality. The player base is a mixed bag whose inner warrior is whichever class is OP. They aren’t going to patiently stand by while their comrade engages in a sword fight. It’s a savage free-for-all.
For a title that’s lauding the realism of its battle system, this feature seems out of place, and isn’t to be found in the two duel modes precisely because of that.
These changes are actually pretty significant, aiming to assert some measure of control over a rowdy portion of the playerbase, but ganking is still as rife as ever and we’re only a couple of weeks away from release. We’re going to need to see more opportunities for buffs, perhaps penalising gangs with debuffs, or simply more incentives for team members to split off from one another. That, or another get-out-of-jail free move like Revenge.
Harking back to 2015’s ‘Vision’ trailer, VandenBerghe waxing lyrical on how the selection of your faction will have less to do with your preference for a viking over a samurai, and more to do with your “inner warrior”, should’ve set alarm bells ringing.
“When I say knight, viking, or samurai, I’m not asking you what your favourite is. I’m asking what you value… it really is this statement about what do you believe in, which is just incredibly powerful. So that’s the basis of the whole thing.”
His vision seems to be entirely divorced from reality. The player base is a mixed bag that will inevitably include obnoxious kids and adults alike whose inner warrior is whichever class is OP. They aren’t going to patiently stand by while their comrade engages in a sword fight, waiting to see if they need to step in to fight the victor. It’s a savage free-for-all.
The Art of Battle system was engineered for chivalrous duels. “I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating,” wrote poet and playwright Sophocles. If you share that noble sentiment, you’d better prepare for an ass-whooping, because there is no honour to be found in For Honor.