‘For Honor’ Offers Fast-Paced Yet Freakishly Focused CombatFiled inside: Games
Grab your swords and prepare yourself for some seriously intense medieval combat in For Honor.
Announced recently by Ubisoft Montreal at this year’s E3, For Honor is a surprising breath of fresh air in an increasingly crowded action genre. I’m not saying in the least that the game is trailblazing, but it certainly elicits a set of feelings I have rarely experienced in today’s gaming landscape.
The execs at Ubisoft are adamant that For Honor is completely unique—claiming that they themselves haven’t been able to ascribe a genre to it. Do not be fooled by the PR slant—the game isn’t going to usher in a new era of hand-to-hand combat games, and is certainly not the origin for high-grade combat (go play yourself some Chivalry and then we’ll talk), but For Honor possesses a curiously indomitable spirit that leads me to think it has the strength to go far.
Playing as one of three (known) playable classes—Knights, Vikings, and Samurai—you’ll engage in strategic swordplay in a variety of game modes. Each class has a different focus—some might be more defensive, others strike more quickly but have less health, or deal more damage. Killing multiple enemies in quick can also unlock a series of feats that can alter the flow of battle—calling down arrows to deny an enemy access to an area, catapults to deal heavy area damage, or healing oneself.
The crux of the game is the “Art of Battle” system. While the left stick fulfills its usual movement-based motions, the right stick serves a dual purpose, depending on your stance. During normal play it’s a camera control, but holding L2 (or LT) engages your guard stance and locks onto the nearest threat. At that point, the right stick becomes your directional attack and defense—combat consists of observing your enemy’s movements and stance, and using the right stick to match the direction of their attack. So you can point the stick left, right, or up, and use R1 to make a quick light attack or R2 for a heavy attack for high damage, though it’s much easier to read.
You can also execute a quick stun to break an opponent’s guard and attempt to get a slash in, or throw your enemy to either gain an advantageous position or toss them off of raised surfaces for a quick kill.
Other than the combat, however, the game moves surprisingly quickly. The demo I played only featured one game mode: Dominion. Two teams of four players start on opposite sides of the map, spawning in with a sizable force of mooks. The goal is to capture three points in order to gather points. Killing enemies also adds to your point total. Holding all three zones for a sufficient period of time causes the enemy to “Break”, cutting off their reinforcements and making player deaths on the breaking side permanent. Executing all four enemies will also end the game.
Capturing a point requires it to be free of enemies, player-controlled and NPCs alike. The game follows a strong cycle of shifting between maintaining control of a point, driving some enemies out of a contested zone, and hunting down errant enemy players. NPC troops drop at the press of a button, offering up little threat, they’re more of a distraction than anything else.
The feeling of spotting a real enemy among the throngs of clashing armies, however, is oddly powerful. Few other games have really captured the feeling. The combat—for a game in pre-alpha in particular—is surprisingly well-tuned. Player-controlled characters aren’t towering over the masses, but appear subtly, moving through the rank-and-file powerfully, but you’ll miss them if you’re distracted. Approaching and entering guard stance snaps the camera into place, punching in dramatically. My heart rate would increase when I saw them do the same to me. We’d circle each other slowly, each sizing the up our opponent by swapping guard directions and seeing if the opponent did the same.
Then a test hit. Deflected. Another from the top connects, driving my enemy back a step. My side had the advantage, with two of three zones under control. My opponent is smart—they know when to cut and run, releasing their stance and rolling out of my range. I pursue them across crumbling bridge toward the currently contested central zone. Another pair of players were doing battle in the area as we arrived, and I’m able to cut my prey off, slicing at their side.
What followed was what felt like several tense minutes of combat (it was seconds at best), every attempt I made to slice through my foe’s defenses was waylaid, even if just barely—they’d regained their composure as they fled. We exchanged a few successful blows before the tables turned against me—my compatriot lost his fight and a second enemy joined the fray. Fighting two enemies simultaneously is a monumental task—nearly impossible—I was quickly dispatched.
But several seconds later, I was charging past bleeding corpses, back into the fray quickly.
It was the tension that surprised me most. I’ve felt focus in games. I’ve felt fear, elation, extreme satisfaction, but rarely have I engaged in combat that brought about such an immense reaction as I faced down my foes. What the game has over its predecessors is a level of production value that many of the smaller games that have come before often struggle to embody.
The game is absolutely gorgeous. It’s understated, striving away from the bombastic visuals of the modern era—replacing them with what I’ve been told are fairly accurate positions for engaging enemies in long sword combat. The UI appears only when necessary, and is generally unobtrusive. While it doesn’t strike quite the chord that makes shooters so engaging on consoles (they’re called triggers for a reason), the game has been described as a medieval shooter-type swordfighting game—and I can see that. Pulling a trigger to swing a sword isn’t quite the same as pulling a virtual trigger, but the game’s soul is completely intact nonetheless.
We’re far from seeing how the final product will look. Assuming that there aren’t any unusual changes in game direction moving ahead, the foundations for this game are powerful. We know for certain that there’s a single player campaign planned for the final release, but with some additional game modes for multiplayer the game could have some staying power—the only thing we can’t really ascertain from a one-game demo.
But hey, I’ll take a customizable high-skill slash-fest over a cookie cutter shooter most days of the week. My biggest worry is that the game is an Ubisoft production…who knows what they’ll do to it as time moves along. I’ll place this firmly in the camp of “Games to Look Forward to” (for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4) and eagerly await further news. Check the gameplay walkthrough below.