Star Wars Battlefront II – Not A Trap, Actually

Crush the Rebellion. Commander Iden Versio leads Inferno Squad from the written novel page to a breakout cinematic gaming experience that has to be played to believe. Combining the solid variety of multiplayer and arcade game modes of the first next-gen Battlefront reboot, stunning top shelf graphics and the A+ story mode the series deserves, EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II is the game we were looking for. Or, so the developer had hoped.

With launch week marred by a few wildly out of control fans threatening individual developers over micro-transaction related features, the opening cry of horns and trumpets felt more like a disturbance in the force. I feel this was hugely undeserved and representative of an increasingly toxic culture within gaming that has soured the launch of many titles the last few years, and in this case, it was over mostly bogus information. Even today I see negative comments about the game tied back to an idea that you have to pay real money to unlock certain heroes, which is inaccurate in more than one way.

Edit 11/17 – Huge Update: EA removes micro-transactions, for now

Heroes unlock via in-game credit system, NOT from real-world purchased currency.

Star Wars Battlefront II has two forms of progression, one represented by experience points earned only through multiplayer matches, and another measured by “credits” earned through all activities, including a big handful for story mode and more via tutorials, challenges in all game modes, and based on merit in multiplayer. Game Revolution breaks down specifically how long they estimate it would take to unlock all of the heroes, but not counting the large chunk of credits you’ll have after finishing the story and some arcade (from which you can definitely get your favorite hero), it is reasonable to expect you could unlock a hero in a night or two of regular gaming. Furthermore, none of the “crystal” credits you can purchase with real money can be used to unlock heroes, and the crates you can buy with those crystals will not unlock a hero, so there is literally no way to unlock the hero with cash. This is a far cry better than the “time saver” bundles available to be purchased for other EA shooters, which actually do unlock functionally superior equipment and loadouts other non-pay-to-win players have to earn via advancement.

Edit: As mentioned in a release day statement (11/17/2017), EA has since turned off micro-transactions and disabled use of the “Crystals” credit option, which will be reintroduced at a later date following review of the feature.

As Game Revolution also points out, there are other potentially more valuable things to spend your in-game credits on, like upgrading the loadout for the base troopers and vehicles you are leveling up, which gives players more choices on how to advance and get an edge in fast-paced multiplayer.

My officer is almost level 15

Crates, earned for completing challenges, logging in daily or when purchased via in-game credits or crystals, do contain Star Card upgrades that directly improve your loadout in multiplayer, so there is validity to the idea that you can buy superior gear with cash, but you get these so frequently there is hardly merit to dropping your beer night monies into randomly drawn upgrade cards you already get multiples of in an average gaming night.

Bomber with an astromech repair upgrade Star Card

 

No, seriously, these are the droids we are looking for

I am actively recommending Star Wars Battlefront II to all of my gaming friends. The gameplay is a fantastic mix of the more serious, gritty Battlefield 1 it shares an engine with and the lighter-hearted arcade feel I associate with Star Wars titles. The various maps and game modes draw from at least all seven main movies, and includes additional locations and references to anthology and novel locations including Christie Golden’s “Inferno Squad”. Every aspect of the game from the breathtaking cinematics and rousing story to the frequently cheeky humor in multiplayer and kid-loose-in-a-toy-store flight combat shows the developers share a true passion for Star Wars and for great gaming. The actor capture and performances make it feel like you are in the movie, and I was left stunned at its conclusion.

I hope to see you online in a galaxy far, far away!

 

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For the love of unnecessary RPG character backstories

While diving through some old documents, I found a backstory I wrote for two of my Elder Scrolls Online characters. It reminded me, sadly, of an era of online RPG when you commonly ran into other players who enjoyed playing in character.

In his mind, it would have been raining as he stood at the bottom of the mage guild hall stairs, waiting for her to emerge. For a week on the trail here he had thought
through this moment, if she would recognize him, what he would say or if he would be harassed by the city guard before he could deliver it. His burden that had started as
light as a passing thought now dug into his shoulders with weight beyond the natural, a weight on his heart of what he had promised to do. Although by birth his word is worth nothing, for he was no fair-born orc, to him it meant everything because it was for her. She had given him a name.

It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t even cloudy, just a seasonally strong coastal wind of spring in Daggerfall on an otherwise sunny morning. His black hair whipped about
his face as he caught a scent of his own odor, his lips creasing into a frown. He looked around the square outside the guild hall, wondering how long he would have to wait. A
nearby guard patrolled peacefully, paying no mind to the outsider. Other travelers and laborers bustled about the busy cobbled streets, further down a cheerful din could be
heard from market square. The beautiful voices of hammer, anvil and bare metal sang in the distance. Then came the ringing of the guild hall bell, and the great oak doors
parted to a horde of young robed mages.

Arms full of books and eyes on the ground before her, she sped down the stairs and nearly passed him before he spoke. “Naya,” be tried to say, but croaked. He cleared his throat as she glanced up. “Naya,” the old orc said clearly as he forced a smile. She froze as disbelief painted across her face, her fellow students’ bootsteps fading into the distance. “Rom’tog?” she wondered, smile beaming as she recognized the orc. “You came!” With a lunge she wrapped both arms around him, fumbling her books. His heart leapt, he was certain she would feel it pounding in his chest. Or maybe she would faint from his smell. For a moment it didn’t matter, despite the lump in his throat.

“How did you get here?” she began, taking a half step back. “I had heard all paths from the north were ordered closed.” She shook her head to dismiss her own question, looking him over. “You look great.” Compared to how he had looked when they first met, she was right. Rom’tog was among the few mine bilge to survive to be sold before dying young, broken and nameless.

It must have been the troubled look he could not hide, as her smile faded and fears tucked safe away in the back of her mind came to the surface. “Something’s wrong,” she guessed correctly. “What’s happened?”

Again with the lump in his throat. “I found it,” he forced. “The one she was looking for”. Unshouldering his ruck, he untied the leather just far enough to reveal its edge to wide eyes. “She was right about where it would be.”

He wished he could read her thoughts behind the now stone eyes as she slowly looked up back at him, searching his eyes for the answer she wanted next.

“I saw her,” he blurted. “I saw your sister,” forcing himself to remember what he would say. “She’s still in there.” Naya fought back tears, face flush with anger and disbelief. Her mind was ablaze with unanswered questions.

“Your sister is still alive”

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Five Fortnite Tips I Wish I Had Known

We thought we were prepared for the storm until it got ugly. In the distance, we heard the bellowing roar announcing the arrival of a colossal mutant zombie known best as a Smasher. Down to the last magazines of ammunition and with weapons looking the worse for wear, there was little more than harsh language between the behemoth and the hastily boarded up wall around our objective. Epic Games’ Fortnite is a clever mix of quick thinking, base defense building, exploration and all out combat. Although it can be played alone it is geared towards play with a full team of four players, and the harder the missions the more extreme the challenge. Thankfully the game shines best when the zombies are at their worst.

Fortnite is an “early release” title but plays as well as most released games, although it is not without a few bugs, performance issues and potential imbalances that may be changed later. Below are a few things I learned “the hard way” that I wish I had known when I started.

Green is Good

We’ve been taught in other games with similar loot rarity coloring that grey and green items are generally trash if you have access to better. Although this is technically true in Fortnite, green weapons and traps are particularly useful in that they require only common materials found in abundance on any map. Given that all items break fairly quickly and traps are one time use in every mission outside the storm shield base, knowing when a green weapon is good enough becomes critical to managing rare crafting resources you might not find every mission.

To be more specific, it is unlikely you will find enough “rotating gizmos” to replace 2-3 Epic weapons as fast as those weapons wear out. In some cases I would say this is true of even one Epic weapon – which could require three of these gizmos each, enough for three Rare weapons that are just as durable and almost as powerful. It is business as usual to be completely out of these key materials, and probably when you need them most.

The bottom line is don’t discard, recycle or otherwise lose the only green schematics you have for key traps and weapons. I’d keep at least one for each class of weapon and level up that schematic to make it closer to par with a rare blue of the same sort.

Examine Apparent Duplicate Rare Items and Heroes Twice

Any two items of the same rarity might look identical if you examine only the base stats, but in almost every case the optional stat bonuses for leveling up that schema will be randomly different. This is true to some degree for survivors, defenders and even Heroes. Before cashing in that hero for quick XP or collection book advancement, check the perks, support squad bonuses, and other abilities they would get if you leveled them up. Traps especially have different abilities when leveled that could make a huge difference, like in the case of passive floor and wall spikes.

For heroes, there are both support squad roles they can take and expedition seats to fill even if they aren’t among your favorite to play. In the case of the latter, expeditions become an important source of crafting materials and survivors later but require leveled up heroes – ones you spend XP on but can’t actually play while they are out on expedition. It makes sense to keep a deep bench of talent rather than retiring heroes for this reason alone.

Blue Rare Schematics may be better than Epic ones

Another way that rare crafting materials shapes the economy of the game is when you compare a Blue weapon and a Purple of the same type, and consider the cost of keeping your favorite weapon replaced once it is worn out. In almost every case I have examined, a Rare Blue schematic leveled to 10 is much better than a level 1 Epic Purple, but may cost half or a third the key materials. Sure, the level 10 Epic Purple weapon would do more damage but unless the perks included dramatic reduction in wear and tear, you aren’t getting “three times the weapon” out of it. The comparison gets even more comical if the Rare weapon has the wear rate reduction perk instead, also at the cheaper cost of materials. That blue sword will be more than just “good enough” long after the less durable purple one breaks.

Use the Outlander Pathfinder to gather.

All heroes do almost every task equally as well as one another – specially at the start of the game, with a few exceptions. Soldiers do get bonuses to ranged weapons, and in some cases stacking bonuses to a specific type of ranged weapon, but no one can hold a candle to the gathering mastery of a Outlander Pathfinder. Once you have “focused acquisition”  and “in the zone” perks, along with the ability to create Loot Llama supply drops the Outlander is significantly faster and better at locating and gathering treasure. The difference isn’t slight, even the 6% chance to find double loot is noticeable over the course of a single mission. Level up your Outlander further and you can see loot through walls and floors and even how rare it is. Given how often you will need to restock on materials needed to make ammunition and traps, the speed boost and faster pick-ax of “in the zone” is a welcome ability indeed.

Never overbuild.

Traps and any section of building count towards the build limit objective in almost every mission in the game. The limit and associated penalty for overbuilding is shared by the whole team, and is the highest weight penalty for end of mission scoring next to complete mission failure. Very few other objectives are classified as “gold” objectives, and most are ones you obtain through exceptional effort (rescued all bonus survivors, etc), rather than one you “lose” by being careless. Watch the build limit when you are setting up defenses or using stairs to reach loot and survivors. I try to stay under half the limit just in case zombies create an unexpected route to the objective or additional traps / healing pads have to be made in the heat of a fight. If your teammate looks like they are working on a masterpiece of excess mats, hold off on putting down floors or traps in hopes that they stop before they hit the limit.

Another way to help reduce build time and stay under the limit is to use perimeter walls sparingly – imagine funneling the zombies into a few open sections of the outer fence rather than trying to build a solid barrier. Save your fortress construction passion and skill for the more critical objective walls. Perimeter knee-high walls are easy to shoot over and will usually direct zombie traffic to a different (or less defended) entrance point, which is a great place to put a few key traps without needlessly carpeting the entire area in spikes.

 

Fortnite is a lot of fun, and is quite addictive. The early missions do a good job of introducing key mission concepts like building under a time limit to precise specifications under pressure, customizing structures and dealing with attacks from multiple directions, as well as effective exploration of an area for loot and survivors. The harder missions will test your teamwork, but these are also the best parts of the game. I hope the above tips make a difference in helping to keep you in gear when the hordes descend on your base, and enough ammunition left to drop that Husk Smasher. I hope to see you online!

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My picks for best of E3 2017

A Way Out (Hazelight, EA)

My pick for best of show is Hazelight’s “A Way Out”. This story driven tale requires two players, and was designed to play split screen on a couch. It is one thing to create a great single player experience with optional multiplayer, but this flips the assumption entirely when the story is specially crafted to be told from split perspectives simultaneously. Given the variety of gameplay shown and innovative story telling on par with a good movie, I feel this will be the breakout title of 2017.

Anthem (BioWare, EA)

Shrouded in mystery, this new IP from Dragon Age and Mass Effect creator BioWare looks like a solid challenger to the “Destiny-esque” throne when it is released in 2018. There are a few moments in this trailer that remain my favorite from all of E3 – there is something magical about the perspective of putting on power armor and arriving at the jump point prior to heading into the wilderness. The flight mechanics looked like a Iron Man dream come true, but with even cooler heavy weapons.

As a fan observation, I thought a few things here reminded me distantly of Mass Effect 3. The design of the lead narrator’s helmet, a few NPC that appeared to possibly be a familiar non-human race, and ruins of a giant ringed structure and storm that to me resembles a mass relay. No word yet if this world exists in the same universe as the Mass Effect series, or if the art style is just a nod to their prior work.

image credit vg247

Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Square-Enix, Deck Nine Games)

We had heard some chatter from developers that a new content in the Life is Strange setting was in the works, but I didn’t expect to see a trailer for it at E3, nor how soon its first chapter would be released. I was also unprepared for how emotional it would be to see these characters again. The story appears to be told from Chloe’s perspective prior to the events of the original series over the course of three new chapters. I’ve cleared my schedule for the day these come out, and look forward to these more than any cable tv series.

Edit: Corrected development studio to Deck Nine Games.

Ori: Will of the Wisps (Moon Studios)

The debut Ori and the Blind Forest was a masterpiece of difficult precision platform exploration puzzles that hail to an era of gaming I grew up with. Add to it gorgeous graphics, heartwarming story and a breathtaking musical score and you have Ori. Seeing Ori’s return in the 4K “Will of the Wisps” is very exciting news.

image credit vg247

Sea of Thieves (Rare)

Once you’ve seen actual Sea of Thieves gameplay footage from people who aren’t actors you immediately understand why they choose to use a typical gameplay scenario as the E3 trailer. This is a game that demos better than you could explain in as many words. Comedy, ingenuity, exploration and PVP mayhem. Oh, and Pirates, obviously. I can’t wait to play this with friends.

image credit Ubi Blog

Beyond Good and Evil 2 (Ubisoft)

A trailer for the long awaited sequel to Beyond Good and Evil was the big close to Ubisoft’s E3 show and was my favorite from the publisher this year.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Fortnite – Although it did not get a lot of screen time, Fortnite looks like an excellent twist on team survival defense games. It also has very interesting premium bundle pricing, the most expensive comes with two additional full copies of the game to give to friends. Given the team first emphasis of the game, it should do very well.

Forza 7 – It would be a rare show that didn’t have a Forza title to show off, but between the flagship Motorsport series and the openworld racing in Horizon, Forza enjoys a full lap advantage over the competition. Every iteration of the game improves on the last, and there is simply no other racer that compares to it in terms of pure driving enjoyment and vast range of features – nor one that looks half as good in 4K. It’s almost unfair.

Ashen – Beautiful water-color style cell-shaded graphics on what appears to be a co-op (?) dungeon explorer with freakishly awesome bosses not unlike those of Dark Souls. Can’t wait to see more on this.

image credit vg247

Mario Rabbids Kingdom Battle – an unlikely mashup of Nintendo’s Mushroom Kingdom and Ubisoft’s Rabbids, this tactical RPG-ish game packs signature crude humor and characters from both franchises into what looks like a riotous good time. I expect it will be a big hit.

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Seven Tips for Mass Effect Andromeda Insanity Mode

captured on xbox

One hundred seventy five hours and eighty two levels later, I completed a second play through of Mass Effect Andromeda on Insanity Mode. The combat in ME:A is a fresh new look for the franchise, and gets even more fun when you turn up the heat. Hardcore mode was very satisfying, but I could not resist the ultimate challenge of Insanity mode. It was well worth the effort. Below are a few tips that helped me.

New Game Plus

Even if you’ve completed the prior Mass Effect trilogy on Insanity mode, I do not recommend attempting Andromeda on Insanity mode the first play through for reasons that have nothing to do with skill. Once you have finished it on normal or hardcore, you can choose “New Game Plus” mode, and keep all of your skills, gear, upgrades and squadmate skills except for specific abilities unlocked via story. You also keep your research, rare consumables, and other critical resources. If you take your time and get the most out of your first play through you could be upwards of level 60 with multiple profiles at maximum rank, with squadmates at the level cap. This makes that first return to Eos on Insanity mode a lot more do-able, and will better prepare you to tackle the boss fights later on.

Use Multiple Profiles in the Favorites Wheel

The critical stat bonuses provided by the top ranks of each profile are useful in different situations, and quite frequently in the course of the same fight. Shielded heavy ranged opponents require a different approach when you find your cover compromised and with only three moves you need to be able to switch between maximum damage output and maximum survival on the fly. Experiment with the favorites wheel and different profiles to find out which work best for you depending on combat situations. I kept profiles for optimal sniping via Infiltrator, well rounded close quarters combat with Adept or Sentinel, and variations of each optimized for high damage output or immediate shield recovery with key tech and combat tree skills.

Stack Anti-Shield Attacks

By a large margin, the hardest part of Insanity mode are the blue-shielded heavy opponents. Not the bosses, not the big hairy armored beasts, but the quite common “normal” shielded foes like the Observers and Kett Heavies. Because shielded opponents fully regenerate their blue bar if you cannot sustain enough damage to deplete it in a timely manner, they recover while you waste ammunition. On Insanity mode that definitely will take a turn for worse fast. My main profile stacked three skills out of a handful that can be upgraded to do quite a bit of shield damage. Overload is a signature anti-shield move that can be charged to also hit other enemies nearby even if they are in cover. Pull from the biotic tree can be upgraded to do reasonable shield damage, has a quick recharge and doubles as a super effective knock-down on unshielded opponents. Energy Drain does great damage to any target including shielded ones and is the best self heal in the game. There are other anti-shield moves, like Lance, but I find they are not as well rounded as the above three for most situations. For any of these moves, be sure to pick up passive bonuses from the skills at the bottom of the biotic or tech trees, which could boost your damage or defenses significantly.

Tactical Cloak

It wouldn’t be Insanity mode if you didn’t find yourself neck deep in melee critters, flanked by half the Kett marksmen club and low on ammo with squadmates dropping. This is business as usual in several parts of the story no matter how good your aim or approach is. One of your favorite profiles should have tactical cloak. If you are careful not to uncloak on accident you can interact with terminals and revive teammates without being seen. There are numerous opportunities to hack turrets that you can get to at the start of a very tough fight only if you use tactical cloak, turning a nightmare encounter into a fun one as the turret wrecks their heavies instead of your squad. Tactical Cloak is also a life saver when you need to make a big position change for new cover or fresh ammo/health boxes during a long fight.

DIY Armor and Weapons

Another big benefit from starting from New Game Plus is keeping all of your research data and progress, and higher end crafted gear and enhancements are substantially better than the random loot you’ll find or vendor bought weapons. A tier VIII or higher crafted sniper rifle like the Widow or Black Widow with max mod slots and proper level mods may be the most valuable piece of equipment you’ll ever carry. Use AVP to unlock as many Science and Market options related to special merchant inventory (for rare mods) and crafting as possible to make the best gear you can and it will keep you in the fight.

Know Your Consumables

When push comes to shove, the boss fights and encounters with monsters like fiends can demand more than you have to spare in a pinch. Ammo consumables like Incendiary or Cryo rounds are too rare or expensive to use constantly, but are amazing in specific encounters. A Cobra RPG can turn a surprise ultra encounter around, and Incendiary rounds can cut the time to kill a fiend in half. Cryo rounds are best when combined with an AR against a swarm of unarmored foes like Kett Chosen or Raiders, as they will snap freeze your targets long enough for you to reassess cover or close for a melee kill. Finally, Overcharge boosts a few key stats and instantly recharges your current abilities so they can be used, which can make the difference between death and narrow escape if you needed a Tactical Cloak or Energy Drain right now. This trick saved my bacon in at least one of the tough fights towards the end of the game, and prevented a frustrating reset to the last auto save spot.

Bring More Ammo, Not Less

Some mods, including tasty fusion mods have a negative trait of reduced ammo or clip capacity. Insanity mode will push your ammo conservation and recovery skills to the limit. Avoid tempting critical hit bonuses that trade for reduced ammo, as most encounters are quite capable of expending all of your ammo and anything to be found in crates no matter how good you are with headshots. With proper investment into crafting you can choose mods with reasonable damage bonuses without penalties or trade-offs.

In conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised at how fantastic the combat would be in Mass Effect Andromeda, and thrilled at how well the fun scaled with the challenge. I found I enjoyed the game even more the second time through.

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Reinventing the Iconic – Mass Effect Andromeda

image credit vg247.com

Undaunted by the gravity of their own legacy, BioWare forges a new path forward. The premise of Mass Effect: Andromeda mirrors the new life of the franchise in more ways than one. Putting behind them one of the most epic science fiction sagas in video game history and all of the characters we had come to love is no small feat, a challenge other industry giants have avoided or outright failed at. Despite the rose colored lens through which the original, decade-old Mass Effect is viewed by many, Andromeda does just this.

Enter Sara and Scott Ryder, youthful recruits who along with their father joined the Andromeda Initiative to seek out a new home for humanity in the Heleus Cluster of the Andromeda galaxy. Scientists, unlike the soldier origins of CDR Shepard, the Ryders are a refreshing new look and feel for main characters. The crew and your squad mates include many races familiar to the original trilogy and a few new ones as well, all brilliantly voiced and brought to life in the stunning Frostbite engine – which is also new to the series.  With one of the best team of writers in the industry and more dialog than Mass Effect 2 and 3 combined, Andromeda may be the most ambitious and in-depth story BioWare has attempted yet.

As the experience unfolds and the player is introduced to both new and familiar activities and opportunities for exploration, the more close to home Andromeda feels. It feels like a Mass Effect title should from the outset – wasting no time putting your Ryder twin of choice into action and trusting the player to keep up with the lore and references without letting it get in the way. Returning players will find the new ship, the Tempest, is a fitting tribute to the Normandy, but is also comfortable being itself and has a fresh, elevator free layout. The all-terrain Nomad is even cooler than you remember the Mako being, which is great news because you’ll spend more time than ever behind the wheel in it. It inherits the mining and most of the scanning tasks that used to occur only from orbit in the original trilogy, and has its own tech upgrade tree along with the rest of your gear.

Speaking of upgrade trees, the character advancement and gear research and upgrade paths are an order of magnitude more complex than any of the previous Mass Effect titles. No longer limited to just one “class”, the Ryders can develop multiple combat profiles that cover all of the classic builds like soldier or infiltrator, and now also includes the biotic and tech tree skills once exclusive to the non-playable characters. The build choices are staggering at a glance, but are easy to get the hang of as you go along.

Combat sees a huge update, featuring faster movement, more agility and a bigger emphasis on coordination of abilities between squadmates to defeat difficult encounters. Players looking for a challenge will be pleased to find the harder difficulty settings are a step up from the prior titles, and require a lot more than just cover and ammo management to defeat hard encounters, even for returning veterans. Playing on one setting below “insanity” I died frequently despite a confident hard mode finish in the first three.

My ten hours in the play-first trial of Mass Effect: Andromeda sped by in an instant, just enough time to get my boots dirty and whet my appetite. It is not enough time to judge the story, which I’ve avoided discussing, but from what I have seen so far exceeded my expectations. I had concerns that BioWare would not be able to top what they had completed with closing chapters of Mass Effect 3 – nor fill the boots of an iconic heroine like Jane Shepard. Thankfully, Andromeda is following its own heart and I am looking forward to seeing where it goes.

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For Honor – Such Beautiful Flaws

for-honor-standard-edition

Like a spring-loaded boxing glove in a shiny wrapped box, For Honor is the gift that keeps on giving well past your second black eye. Equal parts stunning faux-history medieval brawler and cruel test of patience and temper, Ubisoft’s unconventional arena fighter pits Knights, Samurai and Viking warriors in a cycle of never ending war. As unforgiving as it is breathtaking, it will bring out the worst – and occasionally the best – in any team.

The heart of the game is symmetrical, cinematic 1v1 Duels, 2v2 Brawls and a variety of epic 4v4 melee battle modes. Each of the three factions has four classes loosely categorized into well-rounded Vanguard, armored Heavy, nimble Assassins and wildcard Hybrids. However it would be more accurate to just say there are twelve characters, as you can only draw distant similarities between two of the same class, like the Samurai Hybrid and a Knight Hybrid, despite both using polearms. Each of the twelve has a staggering amount of visual and technical customization to further match a specific playstyle or loadout, with gear appearance and performance customization on par with the highest end RPG and way beyond anything I’ve seen in traditional arena games. The feeling of ownership of a fighter as you raise them, unlock feats and collect gear for different loadouts is only further emphasized when you’re thrown into the fray. Unlike some other competitive games where gear stats only matter in top tier combat, the default PvP mode here has gear stats enabled. Battles are brisk, do-or(and)-die trying pace with zero room for mistakes. The melee combat itself is a masterpiece of exact directional blocking, dodging, parries, strike distance, stamina, footwork and oh, learning to avoid any ledge taller than a street curb. Combine light and heavy attacks into Street-Fighter-esque combination moves that must be memorized per hero, each with situational advantages and potential one hit kill uses, and try to survive for the chance to show off a brutal execution move. The difficulty of the combat also makes it very rewarding when you win. I’d dare say this is the skeleton in the closet – the dirty secret, so to speak. If it were easy, it would probably be a lot less fun.

New players will do well to enjoy the story mode first, which is not too short and teaches most of the class basics along the way. It can be played alone or co-op with a friend. Ratchet up the difficulty and the story mode is also nearly impassible challenge on “realistic” mode, at least towards the last few chapters. The AI in both the story mode and the Player vs. AI versions of the multiplayer modes is often surprisingly clever, although prone to predictable patterns in some situations. I find it fascinating in either case, as the different bots seem to have assigned behaviors. Also as they seem to also have a set of pre-assigned names (a few which are just as ridiculous as some real names I run across), you soon start to recognize some of them from prior battles. Some are notably more aggressive, others will flee a fight to find help, and some are just as cheap as their human counterparts can be. I’d love to chat with the team that worked on the AI to see how they make the magic work. In mixed AI and PvP modes, the game auto tunes the AI bots for the skill ranking average of the teams. In custom modes you can select the difficulty level of the bot AI to better test yourself as you practice for the apex predators of For Honor; the other real players.

Even in game modes like elimination where it is a series of four not-quite-isolated 1v1 duels (4v4 total on the same map), it is more or less guaranteed that as soon after the first body drops, someone will find themselves defending in a 1v2 fight, likely injured. Even though there is a scoring mechanic that gives extra points for honorable 1v1 kills, most matches center around uneven fights. A skilled player can survive being outnumbered, but in an even match the odds are definitely with the mob. This encourages some very bad tactical behaviors, and combined with working knowledge of ledges and natural bottlenecks in a specific map can turn a lot of fights into a slaughter by the better coordinated or plain dirty tricks. Class balance is arguably imperfect, specially in certain modes with characters that have easy-to-perform block breaking or body tossing chains yield a lion-vs-lamb advantage if a ledge or spike wall is nearby. An easy, legitimate counter argument may be to try and squeeze the classes into rock-paper-scissors classifications, which feels super accurate if you are playing paper against a scissors class in a 1v1 duel. Is that balanced? Maybe. For Honor treats the entire concept of dirty fighting and unfair situational advantage as the last rule of the battlefield: victory to the team that wanted it more.

Despite its glitches and numerous flaws, it remains highly engaging to play. It gets under your skin, for the better or worse. You’ll find out for yourself if you are comfortable being the plus one in an unfair fight, or if you can muster the respect to let your ally live or die on their own merit on principal alone, even risking a loss to let your opponent settle his affairs one honorable fight at a time. Or maybe you’ll cackle with glee as you finally behead the ledge kill spamming Heavy at any cost. This is a game for both types.

If I wasn’t clear, this game is a blast to play. It is easy to pick up, difficult to put down and worth hundreds of hours to master. It will definitely be a candidate for Game of the Year and is one of the more ambitious Ubisoft multiplayer games to date. With an optional season pass and another six fighter types coming in future expansions plus an innovative seasonal faction vs. faction persistent score, their intentions for this to be supported for the long haul are well entrenched.

Broken controller replacement not included.

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