You might think that the three-way battle between Vikings, Knights, and Samurai is as deep as the conflict gets in For Honor, but on its forums and subreddits, there's another war brewing. While swords clash on the virtual battlefield, lively discussions are happening across forums and subreddits about whether or not combatants in Ubisoft's fighting game should adhere to an imaginary code of ethics. For the hardcore players, the subject of exactly what 'honor' means in For Honor is of absolute importance, and it's an argument that cuts straight to some of For Honor's questionable systems.
During one of my first Brawls in For Honor—a game mode that pits teams of two against each other—I experienced something fascinating. Within the first minute, my teammate died at the hands of the Viking Raider and his massive battle axe. Suddenly, a fair duel between four combatants turned into a two-on-one, and as I saw the Viking rush over to me I knew my chances of securing victory were slim. And then, just as I expected the Viking to come in for the kill, he stopped and waited for me to finish my intense duel with his teammate. Nothing in For Honor prohibits one team from ganging up on lone victims in Brawl mode, but for some reason he decided to let me finish off my opponent before he and I engaged in a duel of our own.
Amazingly, For Honor's depiction of historical martial orders has inspired many members of the community to shuffle their priorities. For them, victory is only satisfying if the fight is fair. And while no built-in game systems would have prevented that Viking from splitting my skull in two with his axe, an imaginary martial code did. But those same players insisting that everyone follow that same code has the community divided.
First rule of fight club
The arguments about what constitutes honor are mostly centered around the game's Duel (one-on-one) and Brawl (two-on-two) modes. In our review, Andy said "The purity of fighting one-on-one without any distractions—or other players stabbing you in the back—is where For Honor shines brightest." That's why many players in For Honor have tried to cement a list of rules that guarantee these duels retain their purity of combat prowess.
Recently, Reddit user 'ztar92' created a list of "honor rules" that players should follow by if all members of a match agree to abide by them—like an unofficial gamemode. It's one of many sets of rules that have been floating around various For Honor communities.
This isn't the first time players have tried to govern multiplayer behavior by a system of honor rules either. The underground fight clubs of the Dark Souls series have long tried to curb unwanted strategies by enforcing a set of rules. But the lineage extends even further back. Anyone who's played Counter-Strike will likely know the distinct sound of a knife impacting against a wall. It signifies the two opposing players left standing in a match should knife-fight to the death.
With For Honor, however, there's also the added element of historic context that each faction is derived from. Players who play as knights often write "Deus vult"—a latin phrase that means "god wills"—as a rallying cry into the chat. Likewise, samurais and vikings both have their own memes and in-jokes that reinforce their identity. For some, the desire to roleplay their chosen faction is so strong they're even exploring to historic codes of honor, like Charlemagne's Code of Chivalry, to justify why they think players should play a certain way online.
But many of these same rules are being applied without consent from both parties, and the results can be ugly. Perusing various forums, you don't have to look long to find posts from players lamenting bad behavior due to the perceived lack of honor. The irony here is that those who often want a fair fight are the very same who quit matches or verbally attack those who use strategies they don't agree with.
A few matches after my duel against the Viking (spoiler: I lost), I squared off in another Brawl and found myself in the same position, alone against two opponents. Only here, the other player didn't show any restraint and immediately attacked me. What caught me by surprise was how viciously all of the other players berated him for not waiting. Their response?
"I didn't know."
If Ubisoft didn't mandate that they weren't allowed to gang up on me, should they really be punished for it?
Fall from honor
While outnumbering opponents has some in a tizzy, environmental kills are even more contentious. Every map in For Honor is littered with hazards that can deal heavy damage or kill you. The real culprit here isn't the fire or erupting steam geysers that only cause a fair amount of damage, but the presence of spikes, spinning saw blades, and fatal drops that will kill heroes outright.
"Developers put environmental kills into the game for a reason," argues Reddit user smh_rampage. "It is your job to work around them. It is not like this is an unavoidable instakill-button. If you fight me near a ledge and let me guard break you, I will throw you down there. Period."
But many players don't see it that way. Blocking in For Honor is rather easy, as enemy attacks come in one of three directions. If an enemy is blocking too many attacks, heroes can guard break them, opening them up for follow-up attacks. Or, as what so many are arguing about, they can throw them off a bridge to their death. Of course, guard breaks can be countered by timing your own guard break immediately after, but the timing is finicky enough that many players are struggling to do it consistently. Even worse, Ubisoft has allegedly toyed with the timings since launch.
Instead of a long and exciting duel, players are dying from a single missed counterattack.
"The whole point of For Honor is its very good combat system, right?" User Drewbert324 writes in response to smh_rampage. "It was made in a way to where it's (most of the time) your fault if you die, and it rewards you for playing well. Now with environmental kills, they're cheap, they're way too easy to do (because of how easy it is to guard break spam at the moment), and there's no real downside to them."
Some players, like EternalCanadian are even turning to the wisdom of their elders to reinforce their perspective. "Over the weekend, my grandfather came to visit ... and I showed him For Honor," he writes in a post. His grandpa is a pretty big history buff so EternalCanadian wanted to show him the game, but eventually the topic shifted to whether or not players were fighting fairly. "I asked my grandfather if he thought that was a fair way to fight. He gave me the biggest 'are you fucking stupid?' look I've ever seen him give me and basically deadpanned 'it's not about being fair, it's about killing the other guy. He played to the strength of his weapon, and fought like he was supposed to.'"
Other players echo the same sentiment, many of them rallying behind a screencap of an argument between two players that ends with one saying "it's For Honor, not with honor."
But therein lies the issue: Players are treating two separate arguments as one whole problem, and everyone is losing. "Creating an imaginary rule that scolds a player for using these is so stupid," BroWithTheFr0 writes in an impassioned plea to not let this argument ruin the game. "There are parts of maps that are made specifically for the hazards to be used as the main threat. Yet every time you make use of them, someone quits or gets salty and flames you."
BroWithTheFr0 then brings up an excellent point: "The saltiness around hazards can really turn off new players to the game," he writes. "I've gotten quitters and people raging in chat like 90% of the times I've used a hazard. And it's some aggressive rage, for what though? Let's not get so crazy about unwritten 'honor' rules. It'll split and ruin the community so quickly." But honor rules feel like an attempt to band-aid what, for many, is obviously broken: instant death in a game about a bloody, drawn-out fights.
For Honor is capable of a rare feat for fighting games: It makes losing fun. My favorite moments are when a duel tails out into a desperate back-and-forth as we each whittle the other down to a sliver of health and one misstep spells our last. Those moments carry the lethal tension of a Game of Thrones episode. And like Game of Thrones, the minutes of dodges and parries before that fatal kill become the work of two actors on a stage. Why would I be upset about losing when I participated in a fight for the ages? But missing a single milliseconds-long cue to counter a guard break and dying because of it doesn't make me feel like an actor, it makes me feel like a disposable extra.
Unless Ubisoft steps in to change how guard breaks work, the community will remain divided on the notion of honor. That can only lead to more issues as players attempt to punish those they can't see eye to eye with. Along with the rampant complaints of connection issues, For Honor's players are having to endure an increasing number of battles just to enjoy the one that really matters.