In the months following its release, For Honor has been through a bit of a lull. Despite a relatively strong start with a solid player base, the number of users dropped off significantly, mostly due to rampant server and balancing issues in the online multiplayer modes. Though there's still a dedicated community dueling online at this very moment, the developers behind the ambitious online brawler are looking to reignite the fire of battle with a slew of new features and balance adjustments to the core game.
Taking cues from Ubisoft's other titles, such as Rainbow Six Siege and The Division, Ubisoft Montreal plans to reinvigorate For Honor by introducing sweeping balance fixes; new multiplayer modes like ranked 1v1, 4v4, and special season play for online multiplayer; and the introduction of dedicated servers to ensure stability. For hardcore players, these changes are tremendous. GameSpot spoke with creative director Roman Campos-Oriola and game director Damien Kieken, who discussed how they plan to revitalize the game.
GameSpot: For Honor's existing community has been very passionate about the game. They're giving constant feedback for you guys about what can be improved, and you seem to have a lot in mind to improve the game in a number of ways. Can you talk about the challenges of trying to keep things interesting for players?
Roman Campos-Oriola: So first thing, since the beginning of the year, we are the number three multiplayer game in summer sales. So it was pretty successful. Last month, in June, we had more than 1.3 million active player users, and we're still getting into those numbers in July. So even if it's not the biggest player base for competitive games, it's still quite a lot of players. That's why when we're speaking about, for example, dedicated servers, we have a commitment to our players to improve the game and make it grow. And that's why we are continuing to develop new features and improve the game. It's for the players that are playing the game, that we are still continuing to develop new seasons, add new characters, fix the issues, etc.
And then will that help acquire new players and make the community grow? I hope so. But for me, the most important thing is delivering for the people that are currently playing the game. There are gonna be some drops and some people are gonna leave. I'm playing a s***ton of online games. I constantly drop one game to play another game and come back and stuff. So I think it's something normal.
Damien Kieken: But what we see is that, often when we release a new season, we have a lot of players coming back to see the new content, to test the game again, and then part of them stay. So what is cool with the seasons system, is we have at least a rendezvous that comes back quite often, and we think that with features like ranking and things like that, competitive players will have a real interest to stay, to try to climb the ranked ladder to get the best rank as possible and things like that. And as Roman said, we are bringing more content every month, so we think it will be good.
Dedicated servers were a big request from fans, as the existing game has a number of connection and stability issues, which for a game like this is very important. Can you talk about what led to the decision to finally include the dedicated servers now, and why you chose to focus on peer-to-peer matchmaking instead for the launch and debut months?
DK: Basically, since launch, we did a lot of things on the game. And we discovered some problems with the current architecture that we haven't really seen before, during closed alphas, beta, etc. And one of the things we witnessed is that we had a stability issue, mostly on the 4v4 mode. So that's where we have those problems, and we tracked those, we did patches to track them, to understand what was going on, to start fixing them. And at one point we decided to take a step back, basically, and start doing an analysis of our whole infrastructure and compare it to what exists elsewhere in other games within Ubisoft and outside Ubisoft. And to see what could be the best thing to do, after all the things we learned in the past month, and how players are consuming the game. That's when we decided to move to dedicated servers.
There are many reasons why we made that choice, and it will change some of the overall experience of the players. It will improve stability, but it will also remove some irritations that the players could have. For example, by being peer-to-peer you need to check your NAT, so that you can play with other players that have the same NAT as you or that have a green NAT, etc. Things like that don't matter anymore when you have a server--you don't have false migrations, session migrations anymore when you have a server. So there were obvious wins on that aspect. And it's also for us a more long-term reliable move, where we want to go with the move to dedicated servers. It's a huge change.
RCO: And why we make that change now, it's because we have a long-term commitment with that game. Like I said, we've updated it a s***load of times already since launch, and we want to continue to support it. As you see with the roadmap, we're continuing to add content, and so improving the players' experience when they are playing the game is something very important, and dedicated servers goes in that direction for us.
What exactly fueled your decision to change up the defensive meta? Was it because of how sometimes, inexperienced players can sometimes feel a little overwhelmed against tougher opponents, or if they feel like one moment they mess up, they're basically dead? Was that sort of the issues you encountered?
RCO: Since [launch], we've been monitoring a lot the player feedback. There's no such thing as defensive meta problems in 4v4, because in 4v4 you're constantly in group fights, or helping friends or asking for items, [that] kind of thing. It's more a problem in duels, but [it's] something where we need to be really careful, because we don't want to break the 4v4 experience also by making dueling a little bit more aggressive. That's one thing. So all the changes that we are targeting improve the dueling experience without breaking or changing that much [of] the 4v4 experience. And basically, what we want to do is, we want to reward a little bit more the attacker, and we want to make attacking less risky. We want to make defending a little bit more risky with a little bit more commitment.
So for example, one thing that we are doing is, we are making the out-of-stamina state much more dangerous. Today, when you attack or some defense like dodging--like dodge rolls kind of stuff--you lose stamina. And today, when you are out of stamina, there's no real drawback; you can dodge your way out of it and then you're back in the game. So we want to make that state more dangerous, so for instance, when you are out of stamina, your dodge is gonna be a little bit slower. When you are dodging, you won't be able to regenerate stamina, this kind of thing. You won't be able to parry anymore, that's one thing that we are testing. So we want to make that state a little bit more dangerous, like if you fall in that state, you made a mistake.
On the other hand, to help people who are attacking, what we are doing is, every time your enemy will block an attack, it will boost stamina regeneration, so it helps you put a little bit of pressure on the opponent. Also we've increased the team damage--team damage [used] to be between 5% and 10%, now all the team damage will be 18%. So you're gonna take much more damage when you block an attack. So that will help a lot.
And the last thing is, one of the other things also, is with parry. So parry, for me, is fine almost across the board. Just when you get to that top 5-10% of players that can almost parry, with that you have an issue there because the reward of parrying is a little bit too much. So what I really like in the game in terms of pacing is, at that level the whole mind game is around trying to bait your opponent into attacking, to parry him, and you have all that which is really interesting that I don't want to break. It is just that the reward for parrying is overshadowing all of the other actions because after a successful parry today in the game, you have guaranteed guard break, and out of that guard break you can almost, in some cases you can one-shot kill the opponent by throwing him out of the ledge or something like that, or you can deal massive damage based on your character. So that was a little bit too strong.
So what we do is, no you don't have anymore guaranteed guard break out of a parry, because that would be a massive frame-rate advantage and you do more stamina damage. But that's the kind of things we are doing, we are rebalancing a little bit more the balance of the attack and the defense to make defending slightly less good.
The games as a service model is becoming more and more popular these days. Since its release, For Honor has been attempting to make a mark in that space. Has the game met your expectations thus far? And what do you think the game really needs to do in order to grow, and what exactly are your hopes for the game in the future?
RCO: So in terms of hopes for the game, I won't speak about it because that's more the goal of higher people than me in the company to set, the objectives in terms of sales and player base. What I can tell you is, currently the biggest thing in terms of growth of For Honor that we are focusing on, and I want the team to move on, is to make the game better in terms of experience. To remove all the issues that you can have with connectivity, to improve the balancing to the point that it's not only good in terms of data and matchup, but it's also perceived as good as the community. I want the player to, like for example with ranking, set up more objectives to play the game than just maxing their character or winning the next match. That's for me what is important and what eventually, if we don't f*** it up and if we continue to deliver on that, we will make the game grow bigger than what it is today. And at least, for now that's my goal and that's the goal that we're giving to the team.
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It's a new experience and then in terms of how it was received and how well it sold. Well, being the third best selling multiplayer game since the beginning of 2017, for me as the game director of the game, I can say I'm a little bit surprised, like that "it's not that bad". [Laughs] If I had knew that four years ago when I had started on the project, yeah I think I would have gone, "Yes, I would do that game, no problem!" But I'm happy to say that, that's the point, it is something completely, it's not only a new IP, it's also a new experience. And so being there with that innovative gameplay, yes, for me I'm proud of it. And is Ubisoft proud of it? We'll see in the future. But I'm proud of what the team achieved, yes definitely.