E3 2018: Hands-on with For Honor: Marching Fire

Last year I was present at E3 for For Honor’s coming out. As a digital murderer, I’m usually bored with raw combat, especially in non-persistent, lobby-based games. However, what I saw from Ubisoft gave me hope. I admittedly didn’t buy the game at launch due to some personal issues at the time, but I’ve been following the news and still feel like it’s added to the online multiplayer sphere: simple combat design with deep mastery, fun gameplay, and yes, avatar gender and ethnic flexibility that still brings in people of other cultures to help respect the team’s modifications. It may not be important to everyone, but at the very least, the base game had well designed combat.

The Marching Fire update takes that and goes further. While it’s cool that we have the new Wu Lin faction and four new classes, what MMO fans might really enjoy is the new Breach mode, which plays like an action-oriented Alterac Valley, after the World of Warcraft devs streamlined it. And honestly, AV is still the PvP experience I use as a baseline for decent MMO PvP scenarios. While I enjoyed my hands-on with the new mode, I also got to sit down with Ubisoft Montreal’s Creative Director Roman Campos-Oriola to talk about cultural influences, bugs, and balance.

For Honor Marching Fire

Shaolin Viking Showdown

People around the internet have complained about the game’s inauthentic take on history and gender. Black vikings? Female knights that can stand toe-to-toe with a man? “Where’s the realism?” they ask. Campos-Oriola responds by asking how many times you find Samurai fighting vikings. It’s all fantasy anyway. The question is how to present it in a way players can enjoy, and enjoy they are. While dark corners of the internet may be brooding about their perceived loss of exclusive main roles in game stories, the people actually playing For Honor are actually pushing for more flexibility. When certain classes are restricted for a certain gender, the team does it for story purposes, but fans want Ubisoft to nix that. It’s something Campos-Oriola doesn’t say will happen, but he understands that players are passionate about wanting more freedom. Perhaps if people push hard enough, we can get stories for the other genders currently locked out of some of the class fun.

But story is important in For Honor. It’s not just lore but dictates how the characters come into being. The Wu Lin aren’t joining the fray because the team wanted a Chinese faction but instead because they picked out certain weapons and looked through various martial arts to see where it would fit the best. Once chosen, the team not only got cultural experts to help them tell the story, but practitioners and stunt people familiar with the martial arts to help Ubisoft build enough immersion that the game feels grounded despite obvious fantasy influences. Just the same, what’s refreshing to me about the series is that it’s still simple combat mostly grounded in reality. All melee, no frostbolts or darkflames whizzing by.

That being said, the game isn’t perfect. Some of you may recall that the game’s first tournament had an embarrassing exploit still in it that the champ used to win. While Ubisoft made the bug more difficult to execute, some of them still remain. The difficulty to execute them makes Campos-Oriola unfazed by their existence, but acknowledged that, yes, bugs do slip in, despite having internal and external people helping the team quash bugs, including fans. Some bugs are bound to slip by, but many more are caught.

Balancing the classes, of course, is another priority that fans sometimes have trouble appreciating. Campos-Oriola noted that there’s essentially two types of balance. One is actual balance, like with the Peacekeeper. It’s not just the developers thinking, “Oh, this is broken,” but looking at damage numbers, player statistic data, the meta, the pro scene, etc. As it’s been said, the Peacekeeper was overpowered, but it was also a one trick pony, in that most of its kit was useless compared to the overpowered aspects. Balancing that gives Peacekeeper players more tools and also makes the class less predictable to fight against, which is hopefully more fun to play against too.

Then there’s the perception of balance. Many people have asked Campos-Oriola when they’re going to revamp the Lawbringer, but in fact, it’s already one of the most balanced characters. This is a bit harder because you need to change people’s perception of the class. Hopefully, balancing the actual broken classes, like the Peacekeeper, helps make balanced characters, like the Lawbringer, stand out more.

Campos-Oriola couldn’t hint at any possible future factions, but I felt like he expected this question and didn’t want to give me too many details. We certainly won’t find out until Marching Fire’s been out for awhile.

For Honor Marching Fire

Into the Breach

While I certainly enjoyed talking shop with Campos-Oriola, it’d be a mistake to not address the hands-on demo I had with the Breach PvP mode that Marching Fire brings to For Honor. I had quite a few demos this year, but I don’t think my fellow press or demo guides were more enthusiastic about any other match I played this year.

The demo started off fairly basic. I was allowed to practice a bit with several characters on the roster, including the new Tiandi and Shaolin Monk classes. The Tiandi I played was the standard soldier class. I’m no For Honor veteran, but it very much felt like a default character, which isn’t necessarily bad. The Shaolin Monk, however, was quick, able to weave about a bit, though it’s power attack still felt slow and left me wide open. When it came time for our Breach, I went with the monk in hopes that it would be more useful for doing objectives.

Think of Alterac Valley. Now cut it in half and make one side attacking and the other defending their keep. The defenders have infinite lives, the attackers only have so many. The objective for the defenders is to use up the attackers’ lives, while the attackers need to breach the castle and kill the enemy lord.

I started the match on defense, manning the ramparts. I had several NPCs helping me, and enemy NPCs came in to attack. It kind of felt like Dynasty Warriors on hard mode, in that the enemy NPCs fell easily enough, but they could do some real damage if I wasn’t careful. This always was significantly more obvious when a player assisted them. For those unfamiliar with the series, you choose to attack or defend high, left, or right. If both of you choose the same area (high) for example, you can’t damage each other. A blocked attack leaves you open, so you need to figure out where to attack your enemy and when to do it so as to not get blocked and leave yourself wide open. Is simple sounding but is rather difficult, especially given combos, nearby NPCs, and possibly having to fight multiple people at once.

While I was trying to repel the invaders, my teammates were down on the ground floor trying to destroy the enemy battering rams. Of course, they’re also guarded by NPCs and players. Our guide tried to help coordinate us a bit, but my main issue was I simply didn’t know how to find the healing station for a while, and that was good, since coordination mattered. Going into even a 2v1 fight is quite dangerous, as I learned a few times when I got to my ally just when multiple enemies had finished them off.

After losing the outer walls, we fell back to ours lord in classic Alterac Valley fashion. We needed to keep our lord alive and make sure they died enough for the match to end. While this sounds simple, at this point, we had another big issue: we didn’t have the environmental advantage to stop our enemies from resurrecting their dead anymore. Revived characters don’t count as a death against the attackers, so not only did we have to kill them, we had to make sure they didn’t revive their allies, which is difficult when you’re also trying to guard your faction NPC.

No moment better highlighted this than when I got caught unaware while trying to revive my teammates behind a not-so-secret piece of cover. As the last man standing, my death gave the enemy a window of opportunity to really hit our lord hard. Except that, well, we’d already chipped away enough damage that our lord was able to finish them off. Both teams and the demo guides were floored, as it hadn’t happened in previous demos. It was a tense moment, but also one where we’d made a good dent in their available lives.

We rode that small victory through several more waves of attacks. By staying near our lord, we were able to intercept the enemies quickly and wear them down so the lord could finish them off. The enemy zerg attacked, racking up their own deaths. It took them a few waves to reorganize and come in as a group again, but we were within two full wipes of winning the game. Everyone was hungry for a victory. Both teams were trying to make use of cover, NPC allies, healing stations, revives, everything. We had no discernible way to heal our lord, and visually he looked wounded without even needing to look at his health bar.

In the end, there was a final stand. A lot of people on both sides died. When the match ended, it took everyone a few seconds to process what had happened: our lord fell. We’d taken many of them out, but they’d won by a hair. Everyone, on both sides, both press and Ubisoft employees, cheered. It was a fun match for everyone involved

I can’t promise that everyone’s match will be so thrilling, but the game’s combat already felt, well, fair. Breach, however, is a familiar kind of PvP for MMO players, and combined with For Honor’s basic gameplay combines into something that feels accessible, deep, and familiar all at once. If you haven’t bought the game yet, you may want to consider trying it out when the new update arrives later this year.

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