For Honor: Marching Fire interview – ‘We have a limit in terms of how much fantasy we want to accept’

For Honor: Marching Fire – adding to the fight

GameCentral speaks to Ubisoft about For Honor’s new expansion, eSports, and what’s next for its flagship fighting game.

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Despite being made by one of the biggest publishers in the business, For Honor has always been an underdog. A highly experimental fighting game with its own one-of-a-kind combat system and team-based modes designed for two teams of four. It’s a far cry from the kinds of multiplayer experience we’re used to seeing but it managed to get a foothold when it launched in 2017. This was in spite of being wracked by matchmaking woes and featuring a fully 3D combat system too unconventional for fighting game purists.

Since launch, the team at Ubisoft Montreal have worked tirelessly to fix, enhance, and expand For Honor with regular updates, community events, and a steady trickle of new content. It’s the same kind of treatment the studio gave Rainbow Six Siege, the go-to example whenever discussing the games as a service model and how it can greatly benefit both gamers and developers.

Now, 18 months after a somewhat shaky start, For Honor has received its first major expansion, just weeks after the game hit its 15 million player milestone. Unveiled at this year’s E3 showcase, Marching Fire serves up a hefty slab of content including four playable characters, an endless arcade mode, and Breach – a new team-based mode letting you play out your castle siege fantasies.

Following the launch of Marching Fire, we spoke with For Honor’s creative director, Roman Campos Oriola, about the team’s approach to this expansion, creating an entirely new in-game faction, and its journey to becoming a recognised eSport.

When first revealed, the new Wu Lin faction came as somewhat of surprise for long-time fans. For Honor has always been centred on a fantastical three-way conflict between knights, Vikings, and samurai, this unending battle represented in both the Faction War meta game, as well as its lore and setting.

Adding the Wu Lin wasn’t something Ubisoft Montreal has originally planned, Oriola explained:

‘For Honor was built with three factions in mind yet, from the beginning, our goal was also to bring the largest variety of fighting styles and weapons. China has a high variety of martial arts and weaponry that fit very well into the lore of For Honor. When we asked ourselves whether there was an interesting faction that could be added to the game, it quickly became an obvious choice.

China has an amazing variety in terms of weapons and martial arts. When we design a new fighter, we always start with the weapon. For a new faction, the starting point is the same – and the Wu Lin gave us the opportunity to experiment.’

Marching Fire adds four new playable heroes to the existing roster, each of which is defined by their choice of weapon. They include a staff-wielding monk, as well as the deceptive hooked blades of the Nuxia and a guando (Chinese polearm) favoured by general Jiang Jun. There’s the Tiandi too, and while we’ve seen multiple sword-based characters in For Honor, this one also feels completely unique thanks to their high manoeuvrability and martial arts style.

‘We also wanted to expand on For Honor’s lore, with distinct backstories for the Wu Lin and each individual fighter,’ Oriola stated. ‘We found a lot of inspiration in China’s history. The Jiang Jun, for example, is directly inspired for the legendary warlord Guan Yu.’

For Honor: Marching Fire – take the name a bit too literally

For Honor may feature a story mode but, like most multiplayer titles, lacks the same world-building and lore you’d see in, for example, an open world role-playing game. That core premise, of having knights, Vikings, and samurai face off against one another, is captivating enough though that the team wants to expand the For Honor mythos.

According to Oriola, this means revisiting older heroes and exploring them in more depth, potentially adding backstories and non-generic names. This may sound fairly minor but For Honor’s fanbase have a clear attachment to their favourite characters, as evidenced by fan art tributes and community memes the developers have embraced.

When asked how many heroes Ubisoft is aiming to include, Oriola had the following to say:

‘We’re not looking at a particular number, to be honest. We want to add heroes if they makes sense both within the lore and the gameplay. We’re always looking for weapons that would add something new to the game – mechanic or fantasy-wise – before creating a new hero.’

For Honor’s current arsenal of head-chopping, bone-crushing instruments is exotic to say the least, though there’s only so far the team will go.

‘We have a limit in terms of how much fantasy we want to accept when designing a new hero. I can’t remember something that was too crazy, but sometimes we have to reject or at least adapt some cool concepts to respect the believable foundations of the fight in For Honor.’

Even with Marching Fire having just launched, Oriola and the team at Ubisoft Montreal are teasing a new hero to arrive in early 2019. Fittingly, we know nothing about who they are, what they look like, or even which faction they pledge allegiance to. Validating comments made earlier about the studio’s weapon-first design process, the only image fans have of this new fighter is a hulking warhammer embedded in the ground.

There has been a lot of debate as to what makes a game ‘eSports compatible’ and what needs to be done by developers and publishers to successfully nurture a competitive multiplayer scene into something much bigger. Something that may one day be watched by hundreds of thousands around the globe and even sell out venues.

Breaking into eSports was something the team at Ubisoft Montreal had to be prepared for:

‘For Honor is an entirely new experience, and one we built with competitive gameplay in mind. A lot of time has been spent on making sure the experience was fair for the players and suitable for competitive gameplay. Before the game’s release, we used to run multiple internal tournaments with our team and members of the entire studio!

Community feedback is also key: since launch, we have been inviting competitive players to the studio on a regular basis and working hand-in-hand with them when developing or adjusting heroes.’

In truth, For Honor hasn’t made much of an impact in the world of eSports. Last year’s ESL Hero Series has been the only landmark push to get it into the spotlight. The event saw competitors from North America, Europe, and Brazil demonstrate their killing prowess in weekly 1v1 duels, the 16 top players from these tournaments then fighting it out for the top spot (and their share of $10,000) during a live showdown at the Intel Esports Arena in Burbank, California.

It was an experiment for Ubisoft. For Honor may not have suddenly turned into the hottest new eSport but the team learned some valuable lessons from the Hero Series and immediately set about making the game better.

‘It was a positive learning experience’, Oriola said. ‘It ultimately helped us improve the game. Following the event, we started reworking the combat system in order to encourage players to be more offensive in Duel, for example.’

For Honor: Marching Fire – the Nuxia don’t mess about

Although enjoyable to watch, those tuning in for the Hero Series final were subject to the same conservative tactical plays. Contestants hunkering down, circling one another, waiting for their opponent to strike before reacting. It was tense, though pedestrian in pace.

There hasn’t been an organised event of that size since. It goes to show that, despite Ubisoft’s size and influence, turning a game into an eSports powerhouse isn’t easy. There’s no exact science to it. No rulebook. For Honor also faces the challenge of being so unique in how it plays. When Ubisoft Montreal label it is a truly unique multiplayer experience, that isn’t just some marketing guff to slap on the back of a box.

The way For Honor mutates traditional fighting game DNA to encompass an over-the-shoulder camera and modes you could pluck from an online shooter give it far more nuance than Tekken, Street Fighter, and even Smash Bros.

‘With For Honor, we feel that we are building a new competitive genre, halfway between traditional 1v1 fighting games and multiplayer, team-based games. It creates unique challenges – from refining the fighting system and balancing the different heroes to developing the most effective and interesting game modes for the competitive world.’

The team is banking on its newest mode, Breach, to help edge its way into the eSports scene. Think of it as a medieval take on Overwatch’s escort maps, or Goldrush from Team Fortress 2. One team guides a battering ram through two sets of gates while the others try to defend their castle. There are also some MOBA-like elements in there too, such as computer-controlled minions that help push objectives, as well as their commander who the attackers must kill to secure a win.

Oriola stresses that Breach was designed with serious competitive play in mind and it shows. Where other 4v4 modes have felt sloppy and unfocused, here you can strategise much more efficiently, pulling off plays that could easily turn the tide of battle.

He also knows that Ubisoft needs to be more active in engaging For Honor’s underground competitive scene:

‘We pay a lot of attention to the competitive scene. We always make sure to share grassroots tournaments as much as possible and will continue to do more in the coming year. We see some very interesting experiments in various countries like Brazil, where they are currently running a tournament and will keep doing so after the release of Marching Fire.’

Having shrugged off its past woes and emboldened by a major new expansion, surely it’s time for Ubisoft to give For Honor another push? Oriola didn’t go into specifics but assured us that the publisher has big things in store when it comes to eSports. Whether this means a second Hero Series or a similar-sized tournament remains to be seen, but both For Honor and its developer are in a much stronger position than they were when the game first launched.

By Jim Hargreaves


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