It’s always a nice surprise when you sit down to try a game you thought wasn’t really up your alley, only to find that you can’t wait to get your hands on it. Such was my experience with the closed alpha of Ubisoft’s medieval war game For Honor, which — barring a few issues that are only to be expected from an alpha version — is looking like it’ll have a fun and unique multiplayer component so far.
When I first saw the trailer for the game at E3 2015, I was interested in the strategic-looking combat of the dueling system (described by the developers as “The Art of Battle”), but the gritty, greyish battlefields and warriors put me off the game’s aesthetic a bit. Since I’m more of a single player guy, I generally only pick up a controller for MP if I’m arrested by a game’s visual appeal — that’s how Blizzard roped me in earlier this year with Overwatch, anyway.
But of course, if a game is fun or interesting, I can often overlook or even come to enjoy a graphical style that didn’t necessarily grab me at first. In the case of For Honor, my time with the game showed me what an interesting, enjoyable blend of Warriors/Musou-style hack-and-slash and slower, more deliberate Souls-esque dueling it really offers. It also seems like the sort of combat that’ll work equally well in both single player and multiplayer.
I really have to commend the developers of For Honor for building a tutorial that is a) easy to get into without being condescending, and b) interesting enough to hold the player’s attention while teaching them the ropes. “The Art of Battle” system is the sort of thing that might be really intimidating for some people at first, but it’s actually pretty straightforward once you get a bit of practice.
The way it works in terms of gameplay flow is thusly: while you can spam your heavy and light attacks while facing ordinary soldiers, taking on another strong character like yourself requires you to face off in a more deliberate battle. Holding the lock-on button down centers the camera on your duel, and you can shift the right stick between three different positions to change your combatant’s “stance” (indicated by an arrow that helpfully hovers over them).
While on the defensive, making sure your character’s stance matches that of your opponents’ is key. If they move to attack you while in an identical stance, their blow will bounce off harmlessly. Of course, when you’re moving in for the kill, the opposite is true — you have to make sure you’re in a different stance than theirs to deal any damage. Plus, the timing involved with your different attack types is also important: light attacks don’t do much damage but can be executed much more quickly, while heavy attacks hit hard but involve a long and predictable windup.
This is one of those systems that’s extremely easy to learn but difficult to master; while I easily picked off my foes during the tutorial, I had to be a lot more careful when I actually went toe-to-toe with trickier AI and human opponents. Even when I was getting my behind handed to me, though, there was something satisfying about the way For Honor‘s combat flowed — as it’s been said of the best systems out there, I always knew it was my fault when I lost and it never got frustrating.
In the few 4-on-4 Dominion matches I played, the objective was simply to capture various points by ridding them of enemies (and then, of course, to defend the points we were holding). Interestingly, in the maps I played, two of the points could be held by the stronger characters, while the middle point — on the ground, in the center of the chaos — involved a conflict between two sets of AI-controlled grunts. In the case of this point, you’ve got to reduce the amount of enemy soldiers and take out any stronger characters via duel in order to claim it.
The back-and-forth of capturing points, watching them fall and then capturing them again is fun, but there are a number of other ways to go to battle as well. Three of them — Duel, Brawl and Elimination — seem to be 1-on-1, 2-on-2 and 4-on-4 deathmatches, respectively; the other, Skirmish, involves a point system. I’m hoping Ubisoft will reveal even more of these modes prior to launch, and possibly introduce a little more map variety; the only issue I encountered was in the repetition of moving throughout the same small areas of the available maps, which could get tired if there isn’t enough variety to keep things afloat.
Overall, though, For Honor is shaping up to be an intriguing experience, and I can’t wait to see how the combat system applies to both the single player campaign and the final version of the multiplayer mode. With a deluge of FPS games bearing down on the gaming world (great though many of them are), it’s certainly nice to have a triple-A multiplayer option with a different aesthetic and a much more deliberate pace.