For Honor had a terrible launch.
Interest in the game was massive, and preview play sessions within controlled conditions were positively gushing. It was, and is, a well-designed medieval combat game.
But it was built on a complex, unique peer-to-peer system similar to what fighting games like Street Fighter use. Despite all the proclamations from Ubisoft developers that it should work in 4v4 battles with swarms of AI fodder soldiers, it didn’t — and a large portion of excited fans simply couldn’t play the game.
We recorded a video shortly after launch that encapsulates the early For Honor experience. Lots of loading screens, and then this:
Fast-forward to now, and Ubisoft has overhauled the network architecture to include dedicated servers on its PC version. It’s a full year after launch at this point. Ubisoft is being very loud about the improvements. For a game that purportedly didn’t need dedicated servers to operate, they’re now playing a large part in the game’s PR push.
But has it worked? For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on the technical aspect — have dedicated servers fixed For Honor in a technical sense? Is the game playable to those who couldn’t play it before? Is it free of the desynchronisations, lag, and other bugs plaguing it?
In a nutshell?
‘For Honor’ Actually Works Now
As far as test cases go, we’re probably the best there is. By that we mean, we literally could not play For Honor when it launched.
On the rare occasion when we’d get a match, we’d see the loading screen for many minutes before watching the introductory cutscene and promptly desynchronising with the rest of the players. A later update would detect a desynch and replace all the enemies with bots. It was a poor substitute for a real fix, but at least it let you finish a match for some experience and gear.
Compared to the new, updated game? It’s like night and day.
We joined games, we stayed in games, we completed games without fault. We had fun! Not only that, it seemed like For Honor now works well enough for anyone to take part in the finer points of the game.
While not as fast as Street Fighter, you still need to be able to react to your opponent’s feints and telegraphed haymakers. Switching your grip to block an incoming attack has its own animation frames, so you need to input the direction ahead of time to account for the slight delay.
Perhaps the happiest part of our dive back into this game was seeing these quick-reaction mind games realised. Enemies would try to fake us out by feinting up, right, and left before committing to an attack, and we could adapt in time without fear of lag deciding the outcome for us.
We still had to wait for a while, and the matchmaking very quickly expands its search criteria to find anyone in the world it can.
But we only experienced one desynch in a day’s play — which did kick us out of the match, but this was very much the exception.
Skill Floors and Gear Gaps
It is, of course, hard to jump into a competitive multiplayer game after its dedicated community has been honing its skills for an entire year.
There are very clearly some meta builds and combos that we weren’t privy to, and they can be brutal to go up against. We’re familiar with basics, and certainly had a few moments of glory. But wow, did we ever get owned.
On top of the actual skill gap is the fact that this community has been building up its collection of gear (which does affect character attributes), and practising with DLC characters like the Centurion and Shinobi. If you plan to unlock those as a new player without paying money, you’re looking at quite the grind.
I’m glad that For Honor’s earned gear isn’t outright better — you’re always boosting an attribute to the detriment of another one — but in combination with certain combos and feats, it allows you to target highly devastating playstyles.
It’s not a small effect. You feel it.
Is ‘For Honor’ Good Now?
It’s clear that there are some aspects of its launch that For Honor will never recover from. There’ll never be an even playing field. Player populations will never be as they could have been. Hype for the game plateaued when Youtubers and Streamers slowly figured out a large portion of their audiences just couldn’t join in.
But after a year, Ubisoft has come good on this title. Credit where it’s due — not only does it work, it works well, and it’s fun. This is the For Honor experience I was so excited about in February of last year.