Writing on a site dedicated to single player gaming, it’s probably no shock that I’m among those who lament the day when multiplayer was the ‘extra’ game mode and single player campaigns taken as a given. We’ve done an about-face on that point, where many games build entirely around their multiplayer experiences and then may choose to tack on a single player mode in some acknowledgment to that lingering expectation. Often, these thin offerings are less than satisfying. I imagine some of our readers share this sentiment with me.
With the upcoming medieval hack-and-slash For Honor, we’re all left wondering how exactly it will turn out this time. The game could have easily been multiplayer only, given a very playable first showing at E3 in 2015. In fact, someone made that game once before; it’s called Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. But Ubisoft has promised a single player campaign (and they seem to really mean it this time, unlike… well that time they didn’t), leaving us in the position of really hoping it doesn’t suck, as single-player-second offerings often do.
Of course, everyone has their own expectations when it comes to what the ideal single player experience would be, for this game or any other. And our expectations are bound to inform our reactions, especially our disappointments.
So what am I looking at For Honor to deliver in its single player mode? There’s an easy answer, and a harder (or at least longer) one. The easy answer is that I want pretty much everything one would expect from a single player junkie. I want a game that revels in its historic setting, with memorable characters to follow through epic battles, creating a narrative arc of conflict, challenge, and triumph. I want a story, told through storming castles and stabbing people in the face, and I want a lot of meaty, challenging content along the way. Realistically, I probably won’t get all of this.
The harder, or maybe more nuanced, answer is that I want the game to play to its strengths, because For Honor is really poised to highlight the differences between what single player and multiplayer can do. While I’ve said I want a story, it’s important to stress that this doesn’t always mean lengthy dialogue or deep characterization, which I’m doubtful the game will provide. This is something single player can do that multiplayer cannot, yes, but it isn’t the only thing. And because I talked about expectations, I have to be willing to give up some of my own. Looking at how For Honor characterizes its factions (as the generic Legion, Chosen, and Warborn over more historically specific titles) or the fact that it has samurai fighting vikings, I imagine it’s going to take a more generic, pulpy approach to things. I’m OK with that.
What I do absolutely want is a challenging, high-energy cinematic experience with a narrative told through action.
Unlike in multiplayer, with its constraints of balance, simplistic game modes (CTF, King of the Hill, etc), and latency-minded optimizations, single player is free to go big. Campaign maps can be long and complicated with branching routes or heavily-scripted encounters every step of the way. Challenge takes the place of balance. You can throw basically anything at the player, budget and hardware limitations aside. This difference is key, and the impact it makes can be huge even within a given game. The Modern Warfare series gets lots of flak these days, for instance, but their single-player campaigns are perfect examples of story through action and of what you can do when you take cinematic licence to the extreme. Blow up the Eiffel Tower in front of me or go home.
This is what I’m looking for in For Honor, with a medieval spin. Not just repetitive hack-and-slash violence, but glorious cinematic mayhem that is intense and challenging. From what we’ve seen of it, For Honor can take on medieval set-piece warfare at the grandest scope short of turning into a strategy game, with scores of soldiers storming crumbling castle walls all while arrows and catapults rain death around you. We know what this engine can do, and I want to see it turned loose on well-designed, well-scripted campaign levels that that show, rather than tell, stories of horrendous violence vaguely inspired by history, giving me just enough context to make me care what I’m doing.
What I don’t want is a tacked-on, barely-there single player campaign that’s little more than running around a limited multiplayer arena killing NPCs. I’m looking at you, Battlefront.
So what’s your take? Do you want (or expect) more or less than I do? Do you think you’ll get it? Do multiplayer first games have any hope of delivering single player modes that are worthy of notice, or are these areas of gaming going to become increasingly distinct? You can let us know in the comments or on Twitter (@Official_OnlySP) or Facebook.
The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.
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