Face-Off: For Honor

Great on console, but the 60fps PC experience is a cut above.

By David Bierton. 18/02/2017

As console comparisons go, a Face-Off between PS4 and Xbox One versions of For Honor would be pointless to an almost spectacular degree. In every way that matters, these two versions of the game are essentially identical - to a degree we've not seen for some time. We'll cover off the details of that, but there is a game-changing experience amongst the For Honor line-up. It's not PS4 Pro - although Ubisoft has done a great job here - but rather the PC release. For Honor is a superb fighting game, but it's pegged to 30fps. On PC, the sky's the limit.

On the face of it, For Honor does indeed look like some kind of hybrid of the Dark Souls games, merged with crowd-level brawling of Dynasty Warriors with additional, MOBA-like overtones. But as Wes pointed out in his impressions piece, it's better to think of For Honor as a third-person Soul Calibur.

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And with that in mind, there's a certain air of frustration and uncertainty around the control mechanics of the game. There is weight and heft to the weaponry, which almost feels like an overly intrusive amount of input lag. But it isn't really - the game is designed like this. It's intrinsic to the mechanics, but the difference with the PC version is that running the game at 60fps serves to remove the doubt. There's a reason that fighting games are usually designed to refresh in line with a 60Hz monitor - it's to ensure a low latency interface, and crisp response.

As a result, the boost in frame-rate helps to make countering and performing more complex moves feel more natural, you feel more in control. Responding to enemy attacks feels more intuitive, and the gameplay overall just feels more balanced. Building a reasonably powerful gaming PC allows us to go beyond the console experience, removing the compromises inherent in designing for a low-price box. But fundamentally, the games we play are tailored specifically for those devices, so PC gameplay only rarely offers up a revelatory improvement. For Honor is one of those infrequent titles that truly benefits at a fundamental level from the ability to scale up performance.

But what's clear from the visual ambition of the game is that For Honor could never really target that all-important 60fps on console. Ubisoft has crafted a title designed to look beautiful. Geometry levels are intense, texture detail is intricate, and the developers have doubled down on CPU-intensive aspects such as animation and enemy count. There's a sense that the developers have actually doubled down on 30fps - For Honor operates with an advanced post-process pipeline that would require a lot of work to run at 60Hz. Anti-aliasing seems to be post-process and temporal in nature, with the one difference we saw between PS4 and Xbox One coming down to some strange variations in edge detail in still shots - perhaps suggesting a lower level of temporal accumulation on the Microsoft platform.

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However, in motion, it's virtually impossible to tell the two console versions of the game apart. The detail level is the same, texture detail is identical and even taxing GPU effects such as shadow resolution, depth of field and draw distance are entirely like-for-like. Even with (what we suspect to be) variances in temporal accumulation, the end result is still a nigh-on identical 1080p presention on both consoles.

Of course, the PC version allows us to push on with further refinements, but certainly at our chosen resolution of 1080p, there is a clear case of diminishing returns here. Ubisoft has balanced the core art design against the capabilities of the consoles, meaning that genuine game-changing visual improvements are limited. Of course, there are boosts in the usual departments - higher quality shadows and improved ambient occlusion, for example. But the point is that these elements look perfectly fine on consoles. One clear, unambiguous area of improvement comes from reflections - significantly improved on PC.

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