At this year’s E3, I played a portion of For Honor’s single-player campaign -- a campaign designed to help sell the fantasy of playing as a sword-wielding ancient warrior, thrust into a unique slice of universe where other equally skilled warriors also exist. At a stretch, it’s a contextual anomaly that is hard to sell, but in practice, it’s pure childhood fantasy come to life, only with a layer of depth few games in the space have, and with a skill ceiling that could very quickly separate the grown ups from the children.
There’s a lot to get through with what For Honor has to offer across PC and console, which includes everything from 4v4 competitive multiplayer, to 1v1, split-screen co-op and beyond. The level of customisation on offer is huge for the sort of game it is, and in the form we viewed, and played, at this year’s Gamescom, it’s looking fantastic despite the relative age of the Anvil Engine it’s running off.
But at its core, the game is a rock, paper and scissors action-adventure outing that may, or may not, suffer from a crowded room approach. The E3 demo we played, played to player strengths and, as mentioned earlier, worked tirelessly to sell the fantasy. Campaign mode in the short amount that we’ve experienced is a nice necessity that works on an aesthetic and somewhat
tutorial level, but the meat of this entire experience is going to be in its multiplayer offering, which is equal parts fun and frustration.
There’s still plenty of ironing out to do, specifically where balance is concerned, but if I had to leverage any issue with For Honor so far, it’s in the player-controlled systems that lack in encounters with more than one player. Basically, in any one on one scenario, you can hold your own and succumbing to, or prompting your opponent’s rock, paper or scissors attack will be the difference between death and victory. You can also evade, and charge attack, but these are minor shifts away from that core three-way conflict system. The problem is, when you’re faced with more than one opponent striking you multiple times, being able to combat two, or even three different RPS attacks is nigh on impossible. The strategy then calls for running away. Or, you can try and stand your ground -- successful blocks of a handful of attacks gives you a chance to activate your Revenge mode, which is essentially a Super, but this can easily be shut down by another player’s strikes while you’re attempting to wail on one of them.
This could all be the product of not playing enough of the game to fully grasp the intricate balance of all the systems though. However, I did play for an hour on a single mode called Objective, which is a Domination-styled 4v4 multiplayer offering with three capture points -- two (A and C) flanking a single, heavily AI populated lane (B). AI are a filler concept, and based on the tide of the match, it will either be your friendlies or the enemy who flood the lane. They’re also a kind of XP and health currency. You can also gain health for standing in a captured area, and you’ll earn twice as many points for populating a captured point, and defending it. In Objective, you can also revive downed players and you’ll earn Feats (like kill streak rewards) for what the team is calling Renown, which is basically being one of the better players on the field of battle.
We had a chance to play as one character from all three factions -- Knights, Samurai and Vikings with mostly heavies on offer, as well as the Samurai’s Orochi class, which is essentially a more nimble assassin. You have endless run regardless of the archetype you play, and you can use the environment to your advantage. The Viking Warlord for example can run at their opponent and if timed correctly, you can grab them, lift them off the ground and essentially spear tackle them into the environment. Some spiked walls make this a dangerous move if you’re in the wrong position, while being anywhere near a ledge when a Warlord comes gunning for you could be one of your worst mistakes. Each character has the ability to use the environment in unique ways like this, and once the game is out in the wild it’s going to be interesting to see just how the community starts to utilise this ulterior form of offense.
The game’s maps are all appropriately themed to the three factions, and they look stunning. As mentioned earlier, it’s all running off the Assassin’s Creed Anvil engine, which is quite old, but has arguably the best animation system going around. Each character feels like they have weight and purpose and combat offers a real sense of feedback as a result. I do feel the evade motion needs to be sped up, slightly. If only to give outnumbered players an out. It could even have a negative effect on your Renown, severely hampering your ability to call in Feats for running away like a coward, but if you need to choose between death (and therefore a respawn cooldown), or running away to regroup and restrategise how your next encounter is going to play out, then I’d be all over the latter. It would just be good to have the option, really.
This was just a taste of the whole experience though, and we have another day here at Gamescom with more modes, including Duel which is a 1v1 affair where strategy and cat and mouse gameplay become a new way to play (it’s the best of five rounds with a larger emphasis on utilising the environment to your advantage). So we’ll have even more in-depth coverage of the rest of the unique new product from Ubisoft.
For Honor is slated for release on February 14, 2016 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.