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For Honor’s Season Three update shows that the innovative fighter is continuing to struggle

Nvidia For Honor header

Update, August 8: This post has been edited to clarify the daily active users on PC and across all platforms. 

Despite a strong release, interest in For Honor – Ubisoft’s class brawler – is dwindling. In the last two months, on Steam the game has only broken a 2,000 player daily average twice – though, across all platforms Ubisoft tells us there were 1.3 million unique For Honor users in June. Now, with the season three update just around the corner, the focus seems to be on bringing in features that should have been in place months ago, alongside cheap changes that distract from the core gameplay.

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This is a real shame. For Honor is one of Ubisoft’s most innovative titles, part of a step away from its massive open-world franchises, and a long shot from Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, or Watch Dogs. It also happens to be one of the best fighting games out there: a brilliant attempt to capture some of the intensity and diversity of real-life medieval combat, spanning the world with its imaginative class roster. It’s a great game, but Ubisoft have failed to capitalise on its potential.

One of the biggest features announced in the season three update video is the arrival of ranked matchmaking. The fact that this wasn’t in the game a month after release was surprising. At this point, it’s been nearly six months since For Honor came out, with the community asking for this change since long before then. For a game based so heavily on skill, it seems odd that ranked play has taken this long to arrive. But to roll it out to such a small community feels like a token effort designed to drag back fatigued players.

In fact, there are a whole bunch of changes that feel much the same. For Honor brand director Luc Duchaine says of the new characters that they’re intended to shake up the battlefield after a period of calm. To coincide such deliberately game-changing alterations with the start of ranked play is a terrible idea, and something other esports actively avoid. Effective ranked play needs periods of with a solid metagame established to be enjoyable for its players. And yet Duchaine says that his team have organised nearly 15 tournaments which will match up with a period of balance changes and bug fixes.

Then we come to season three’s new maps. Changes are apparently being made across the pre-existing maps to remove traps and lethals, and yet one of the introduced maps, Sentinel, includes an enormous ballista that players can use to fire at their enemies. Last time I checked, For Honor was a game about close combat and using skill to beat your opponents in duels. An enormous mounted crossbow, which can be fired by someone you can’t even see, feels like a cheap crowdpleaser – something that will actively discourage players from engaging with the game’s core mechanics.

The whole approach to this season seems to suggest that Ubisoft are panicking, rolling out token ideas and new features just to hold on to a few extra players. For me, the line that sums up this approach comes towards the end of the announcement video, in which For Honor’s creative director Roman Oriola says “we really want to demonstrate our long-term support and commitment to the game, and that starts with season three.” For this attitude to only show its face six months after release feels like far too little, far too late.