Ubisoft’s online-battle-arena-meets-medieval-fighter, For Honor, had a rather tumultuous 2017. Initially receiving a ton of hype from E3 2016 – including several award nominations – the brainchild of the original creative director, Jason VandenBerghe, showed significant promise. In a world of tight online game genres, For Honor appeared to be the breath of fresh air many gamers longed for. Boasting both team-based dynamics and a rich combat system, it was the unlikeliest of hybrids in the best of ways.
As time drew closer to its release date of 2017, the influx of promotional and gameplay videos only increased its appeal. It looked phenomenal, played like a gory party and had an excellent concept. Drawing inspiration from past games which pitted warriors from different cultures and time periods against one another, it brought an amazing clash of worlds: Knights versus Vikings versus Samurai. With bated breath and quivering anticipation, the gaming world waited for this unique and ambitious title to finally get its release.
And then, it did. And the ensuing disappointment that followed could only rival the sequel to The Boondock Saints in magnitude.
To the chagrin of gamers the world over, For Honor employed peer-to-peer connectivity, a rather unheard-of choice in fighting games, where the loss of a half-second could turn the tide of a match. This was compounded by less-than-optimal net code which resulted in players disconnecting from games at alarming rates, often after having already made significant progress.
Collecting “steel” was irritating. The in-game currency, used to unlock additional heroes, upgrade gear, and purchase cosmetics, came primarily by completing various tasks during a match. Frequent disconnects while players were working these tasks, called Orders, only amplified the frustration felt by the community.
Add character balancing issues, steep microtransaction costs for cosmetic items, and scarce communications from Ubisoft, and the game lost a staggering 95% of its player base less than halfway through the year. Concern for the game eventually reached a boiling point, resulting in a community-wide boycott.
While it seemed like this ambitious would-be eSports hybrid was destined for a sunset, what happened next was a true rarity in game development these days: Ubisoft listened to the community, and they delivered.
In addition to considerable content additions, including a new game mode, constant changes to gear and cosmetics, and new heroes, the Montreal-based developer launched a complete overhaul of their net code. The game received dedicated servers and open beta testing of the new servers garnered a very positive response from the community.
Ubisoft began running special events on a regular basis, releasing game modes with unique objectives that allowed players to compete for new gear and cosmetics. To improve communication with the players, the For Honor team started a weekly “Warrior’s Den” live stream on Twitch. Players could tune in to learn about what the team was working on, and what they were planning for the future.
Most of all, what they gave the community was hope. In a recent Warrior’s Den stream, Ubisoft assured its player base with the real reason the company is working so diligently to turn the game around: For Honor is their passion project.
All of these factors combined have resulted in a wild turn-around for the MOBA-fighter in recent months. Millions of players – new and returning – are logging into the game to take up a Gladius, a Dane Axe or Naginata. The player base has reached all-time highs, and the community is more bustling than ever. The hype for the game is only increasing as well, with recent E3 2018 news promising “exciting stuff” for the future of For Honor.
The team now releases monthly roadmaps, packed with events, content releases and development changes. In addition to this, Ubisoft has cracked down on character balancing issues. They’ve reworked many heroes and added new combos and abilities to bring the considerably diverse cast of fighters closer together in terms of equality and viability. All this spells some considerable excitement for a game which, at one point in time, was referred to as “For Goner” by popular YouTubers who covered its progress.
Ubisoft has announced a plan to rework most of the cast in an effort to even further elevate the already-complex combat mechanics to a new level. They also just released an all-new event and game map.
Against all odds, For Honor once again appears to have a bright and long future ahead. It still has some kinks to work out, and there is certainly more to improve on, but such a turn-around for a game that showed merely 1300 active Steam players at one point, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
As of February of this year, the number of active users had leapt to 1 million and the game continues to grow rapidly. While it’s too soon to tell whether it will reach the point of tussling the big dogs of eSports, its combination of unique and challenging gameplay offers a truly one-of-a-kind multiplayer experience. For Honor will challenge the most seasoned gaming vets at its best, and the potential to become a true competitive title is definitely there.
In a world of shooters, clickers and mashers, this is a game that allows you to charge a castle with your friends and look like a total badass doing it. If For Honor has ever had the potential to charm the world of esports, that time is now.
Programmer. Writer. Digital media specialist. A competitive gamer in the sense that I’m competing with the constant urge to throw the controller across the room.
Check out more of my work at bradballanger.com