Since For Honor's launch in February, the development team has worked continually to improve the experience with 12 major updates that have fixed technical issues and balanced gameplay – and bigger changes are coming in the months ahead. These won't be limited to the new characters, maps, and modes that the next two seasons of the game will bring, either. Planned changes include ranked matches; fighting-system alterations that will make attacking less risky and defending less of a sure bet; a new tutorial and training arena to let you practice your combat techniques; and a move to dedicated servers, which will improve connectivity and match stability.
This is all in addition to the four new heroes, four new maps, a slew of new gear and emotes, and more frequent technical and balancing updates (which will be deployed first to public test environments on PC) that are planned over the next two seasons of the game. To find out more details about the changes ahead, we spoke with Creative Director Roman Campos-Oriola and Game Director Damien Kieken about where For Honor has been, where it's going, and the role the incredibly active For Honor community has played in the game's post-launch development.
Let's talk a little about where For Honor is at now: A lot of support has already gone into the game post-launch. Can you tell us a little bit about how far the game has come since then?
Roman Campos-Oriola, creative director: Since launch, we've had more than 12 updates to fix some issues we might encounter, but mainly to improve the experience for the player. Every week, we add new content. We've had a new season with new maps and new Heroes, and we are constantly updating the balancing of the game to improve things like progression– we've increased how much Steel players gain, how much XP they get at the end of each match, etc. There's also fight balancing, where we've improved the balance between the Heroes. We've made a lot of modifications to the characters and even game modes. Six months since launch, I think the team has been pretty active on that.
Overall, how big of a role has community feedback played in the development schedule? Has it changed your priorities along the way?
RCO: Yes, definitely. Listening to the community and analyzing their feedback has been really key, because we quickly understood we had to work hand-in-hand with them in order to improve the game. So as an example, on balancing: yes, we're looking at the data, but also the perception of the player is key – what character they think is too strong, what character they think is too weak, and why. We also listen to what they would do to improve this character. It's really useful information for us, because it helps us pinpoint exactly what might be the problems we need to solve.
For example, when I was speaking about the XP or Steel earnings in the game –there was feedback around that that had been raised in the community, so we looked at how fast players were getting XP or Steel, and we found that it was not in line with what we wanted. It was actually a little bit too slow. That's why we bumped this number up, not only to answer their feedback, but also because we agreed with these elements.
In terms of priority, feedback has in some cases elevated some priorities that the production team already has. We've definitely taken a closer look at specific elements after looking into the opinions of the community.
Damien Kieken, game director: On top of that, we started doing new things with the community. So for example, we were doing a community workshop at least once per season to test some of the new content in advance with some very good players. These workshops help us identify things that are good and things that could be improved. We're also do a weekly stream with the community where we share what we're doing in the game, where we answer some questions from them. And one of the new things we've been doing since last month is the public test, where we allow players to test some aspects of the game before we release them.
For us, it's a way to validate those features before we give them to other players, to see some issues in advance, and make any adjustments that we can before release. So we did the first one on Duel Tournament and ranking, and we are doing the second one this week to test the fight system a bit.
What's surprised you most about how people are playing For Honor?
RCO: What surprised me, starting even before launch during the live period, is the level of passion inside the community. Their commitment to the game, and their commitment to help us make it the best experience. And sometimes they do it with their words (laughs), so it's not always polite. But you can really feel that they care about the game. We want to express the same commitment to our players, which is why we're sharing our development roadmap today.
For example, one thing that really struck me is the number of tournaments that are hosted in the community every weekend. That's been true since launch. Every weekend, I see plenty and plenty and plenty of tournaments being organized inside the community. There was a big one at the end of the open beta, and that hasn't stopped since. Also, one thing that is really interesting at that level is the creativity, all the really high-quality videos – whether it's cool moments, or funny things, or memes – it's crazy. And one thing we actually wanted to encourage when we did the test, when we did the contest on the emblems – we made a contest in the community to design the emblems for the teams that will use the Duel Tournament feature, and we got a ton of answers and proposals from the community. And so, all the emblems that will make it to the game are actually emblems created by people inside the community. I was expecting to have an intense community, because it's a competitive game, but not at that level of passion.
"There are some adjustments we need to make to make it a little bit more dangerous." – Roman Campos-Oriola
Are those tournaments you mentioned organized by developers at all?
RCO: No, it's really in the community, totally organic, whether it's in Europe or in the US, even in Brazil, almost all the countries. And we are not involved in that. We can help them, like push them, like I retweet that kind of stuff on my personal account. But we don't give them cash prizes or that kind of stuff. It's really organic.
How will adding dedicated servers improve the online experience for For Honor players?
DK: So basically, since we launched the game, we've faced new online challenges. We saw that we had connectivity and stability problems, mostly on 4v4 modes, so it's one of the things we've looked at and worked on a lot since the game launched. And during that process, we decided to do an analysis of the whole online infrastructure we have and compare it to other existing ones. And in the end, based on all the data we gathered ... we decided to do the move and to migrate to a dedicated server technology, for many, many different reasons.
One of them, and the main reason for us, is that we want to improve the stability of the matches on 4v4, and we want to have an architecture that is more long-term, that could help us more in the future for the things we want to do next. And then you have some very simple examples; with dedicated servers, you don't have session host migration anymore, so there is no game pausing when somebody leaves the session. You won't have to manage your NATs. You don't have to check your NAT if you want to play with a friend or things like that. So it will also help greatly the overall experience of the player, from matchmaking to the game session itself, to playing with friends, and things like that.
What kind of work has to be done to implement dedicated servers, and how long is it expected to take?
DK: It's a big job. I won't lie to you, it's a very big change. We often use a metaphor, internally, that we're changing the engine of a car while it runs. So it's a lot of work, but it's work that has already started quite some time ago. But it will take time, and it will go through several steps before we can release it progressively to the players.
What are you going to do in the interim to improve connections?
DK: Not all the team has switched to work on dedicated servers, so we have a dedicated team for that that is working inside our online team. And the other part of the online team is still working on improving the current network infrastructure. Like some players have witnessed it with the patches we've done. We've done one patch today to improve stability... we did some improvements also on the patch of last week, we introduced routers for duel tournaments that will ship during Season 3, to also manage the NAT differently. So it's a constant work we're still doing and we still do, until the dedicated servers are used in the live environment.
What kinds of changes will you be making to the fighting system? Which issues are you specifically targeting, and what differences will players notice when attacking a defender?
RCO: The core thing is, these improvements are targeted for the Duel experience, because in 4v4 group fight scenarios, there's no such thing as defense being too powerful. The main thing is, we must not break that balance between Duel and the 4v4 experience. The thing that we want to do is reward the attacking player more. We want to make attacking a little bit less of a risk, and we want to make defense more of a commitment, and a greater risk.
So for example, every time you attack or have one of your attacks parried, you lose stamina – and today in the game, being out of stamina does not make players vulnerable enough. So that's something we are targeting, and we want to make players who are out of stamina more vulnerable. In the same way, we are buffing chip damage. So every time you block, you take a small percentage of damage, which used to be around 5 to 10%. And we bumped it to 18%. So if you are too defensive, if you're blocking too many attacks, you're gonna take more damage.
One of the things that we're doing at really high levels, where we have really strong players, they are able to parry almost all the actions of the game. And so what is really interesting is it becomes a mind game; I'm baiting you to make the first move so I can parry you, etc. So that's cool, we want to keep it, but parry was giving you too much of an advantage with the guaranteed guard break after that, which could lead potentially to a one-hit kill if there is a ledge or something like that. So we are nerfing the advantage that you get from a parry a little bit. You won't be able to have a free guard break, for instance, out of a parry. So there's a lot of small changes like that that we are making. That's why it's more a rebalance of those actions; we are not adding new actions. The goal is to give a little bit more reward to attacking, and make defending a little less safe.
Glad to hear you're not sacrificing the mind-game aspect.
RCO: Exactly. We think the game is good and unique as it is, and we want to preserve that base. But for sure, there are some adjustments we need to make to make it a little bit more dangerous.
What kinds of rewards will players be able to earn by playing in ranked Duel Tournaments? Will ranked matches have a different effect on the Faction War?
DK: It will be part of the Faction War, but it won't have a different effect. It's like any other activity. It will happen within a front on the Faction War, so you will gain War Assets when you participate in Duel Tournaments that you can apply at the end of each match.
So on that side, it's the same. But you will also get exclusive rewards within the Duel Tournament activity, exclusive cosmetic rewards that you will get the further you go in the tournament. So if you reach the final, for example, or you win the tournament, you will get better rewards. Rewards for winning a tournament could be an exclusive ornament for each character in the game.
The main reason why people will fight in Duel Tournaments is of course to get ranked, and to get the best possible ranking in the game. So we're starting in Duel, really, for you to evaluate yourself compared to other players and to see how good you are in the game.
Are ranked matches timed events, or are they always available?
DK: Playing a ranked match in For Honor will be within the Duel Tournament activity. The two features go together. It's always available and it will follow the game's seasons. So for each season, we will renew the ranking of the players so they can fight back.
What can you tell us about the new PvP mode?
RCO: What we can tell you for the moment is that we will add a new 4v4 PVP mode. And more a little bit later this year. But it will be a completely different experience.
In terms of the new Heroes, gear, and maps that roll out with each season – how do you determine what those are and how they take shape? Are they designed to address various aspects of the game? How much influence does the community have?
RCO: For the new heroes, we start from the weapons and the fight style. We look at cool weapons and cool fight styles, and how those can be implemented in For Honor. Then, when we actually create the fighter, we look at the current matchups that we have, and we look at how the new heroes could be a counter to existing characters. For example, with the Centurion, we tried to have that character be a little bit more of a can opener to face more defensive characters.
As for community feedback and involvement in creating these new heroes, it's not at the beginning, because we keep that secret and do it internally. But Damien mentioned the community workshop that we do before releasing these new heroes; while they are still secret, we bring some of our top players and top contributors, we bring them to the studio, and we have them play the new characters under NDA. So we talk with them about what they think about these guys – are they fun, are the interesting, are they OP, etc. – and based on their feedback, we make some adjustments or big changes to those characters before launch.
As for new maps, it depends, but we have a pretty big backlog of maps and prototypes that we did during the four years of development on For Honor. So we have still a lot of stuff and a lot of ideas that we want to release, with some interesting twists you will see next season.
How will the new training mode differ from what's currently available?
RCO: We are doing two things with the new training mode: First, we wanted to revamp the onramp experience of the game a little bit, from the basic and advanced tutorial, to make them better, in the sense that they'll expose more skills. Like, currently, we don't explain how to deflect as assassins in those tutorials. So there's that.
But also, we are shipping a completely new mode, which is the arena. The idea around the arena is to give players the opportunity to train against any Hero, situation, moves and more. These changes are really about making a better training experience for both new players and advanced players.
For Honor is available now for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. For more on the game, check out our previous For Honor coverage.