For addition info on For Honor, check out our interviews with Jason VandenBerghe and Roman Campos-Oriola here.
I had the chance to play For Honor, the strategic hack and slash title from Ubisoft Montreal due out Valentine’s Day 2017. To be honest, I was a little sheepish going into the event because, over the last two or more years, the AAA titles from Ubisoft have all started to feel too homogeneous. I was expecting more Assassin’s Creed-like combat and movement. Thankfully, I came away having played what appears to be one of the most unique upcoming AAA titles and the first Ubisoft game that I’m legitimately excited about in a long time.
I call For Honor a “strategic hack and slash” not because you command armies or gather resources but because you can’t just go flailing your sword around or simply hold a block button and deflect all blows against you. If you haven’t seen much about the game, For Honor’s combat centers around the idea of that actual sword fighting requires you to block in the same direction that your opponent is attacking and that you attack in a different direction than your opponent is blocking. To accomplish this, the game employees a system they call the “Art of Battle,” that uses the right thumbstick to determine from which direction you will strike or block: right, left, or up. Speaking with the game's creative director, Jason VandenBerghe, the idea for this combat style came to be while he was taking German long sword course and has been 10 years in the making, conceptually at least.
Due to it's depth, the combat is a little awkward to get used to and can be frustrating in hectic battles. And the game's larger battles are nothing if not hectic. You use the left trigger to lock onto an enemy, and the right shoulder button and trigger for light and heavy attacks respectively. On top of that, you can have up to four different special abilities mapped to the D-Pad. Though often overwhelming, when your Viking blocks and attack from the left and then strikes furiously from above, jamming an ax into a Samurai's head… well, there’s just nothing quite like that.
While there, we were able to play three different game types. The first was the already announced Dominion mode. In Dominion, two teams of four players fight to control three zones. Two of the zone fall near each team’s starting position with one at the center of the map. In addition to the eight human players, there are also dozens and dozens of AI controlled fodder that continuously fight for the middle zone. While enjoyable, I found Dominion to be a little too crazy. I much more enjoyed my time with the newly announced Elimination mode.
In Elimination mode there are no fodder soldiers, just you and seven other players. Each player spawns facing an enemy combatant, away from the rest of their teams. From there, anything can happen. Do you charge and fight? Stand your ground? Run away and find you teammates? The battles can be crazily intense and, given the name, once you’re down, you’re out. Your teammates can revive you if you were not killed with an execution move but you will not respawn. Watching a match shift from one team crushing the other, only to see the last underdog revive their teammates and coming back to gain victory is fantastic. Except when it’s against you.
One of the other elements of For Honor that was shown off was the Faction War mode. Basically, all of For Honor’s multiplayer matches exist on the front lines of the battle between the Vikings, the Knights, and the Samurai. Because of this, when you pick a multiplayer match, you don’t do it from a list of maps or game types, you chose from a map. And this map represents how well each faction is doing, not only on your platform of choice, but across Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. And what really might be special about Faction Wars is that when you start playing For Honor, you chose which of the three factions you want to represent. This doesn’t stop you from playing as any of the different factions, but your performance will go towards your faction’s war assets. And though there's no true cross-platform multiplayer, Vikings, Samurai, and Knights across al three platforms are fighting for the same territories.
At the end of a turn (which occurs every six hours), the faction with the most war asses on a given front line, will move their front forward. So while the map is divided evenly between each factions to begin with, that should change quickly. At the end of each round (which is every two weeks), the map will be reset. And at the end of each season (seasons last 10 weeks), the factions will receive something special depending on their rank. Also, going forward from each season, the Faction War map can permanently changed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find out what exactly that means and how it will be changed. But you can't deny it sounds cool.
One of the most exciting elements of Faction War is how it changes the individual maps. So, let’s say you have Map A, and after a turn ends, the Vikings gain ground on the Knights, and so the front line moves from the mountainous region to forest lands. Because of that, Map A will see two big changes: the snow on the ground and mountains in the distance will be replaced by grass and trees, and the banner flags will be that of Vikings instead of Knights. Because of this, every map is supposed to have four-six variations. So while there are only 12 maps shipping with the game in February, there’s the potential for a lot of variety. Also, if 12 doesn’t sound like a lot, well, new content for For Honor will be launching between the seasons, and because they don’t want to split the player base, all of that content is going to be free.
The final portion of the game I got to see was the single player, two different levels specifically, one with the newly announced Peacekeeper (i.e. Knight Assassin) and the previously unveiled Raider (i.e. your typical Viking). Honestly, the promise of the single player campaign is more exciting than anything I saw. The story of For Honor revolves around the three factions (Samurai, Knights, and Vikings) duking it out over contested land. In the war, a Knight named Apollyon is stoking the flame, trying to re-establish the natural state of the survival of the fittest. Throughout the campaign, you’ll get the chance to play as each faction as they deal with Apollyon and see how their different ideas of honor clash.
What I did play was fun, just not as exciting as the multiplayer. It definitely appears to be more substantial than an Unreal Tournament campaign… which is what I was expecting. In the Peacekeeper level, I infiltrated a Viking stronghold and blew up building. “Infiltrate” might be a strong word, however, because there aren’t any stealth mechanics per se. I, more or less, walked along a mountain path, small groups of Vikings would become aware as I approached, and then I would fight them. That’s an incredibly reductionist view of the level, but it felt odd playing a “stealthy” character without the option to actually be stealthy. Instead, you just fight characters the same way you would in any other situation.
In contrast, the Raider level offers several gameplay mechanics not already shown off. The stand out was the village razing. Liberally scattered throughout the level were incendiary grenade/Molotov cocktails style weapons that you had to use to burn down huts, guard towers, and gates. They also worked great on large enemies *insert joke about napalm here* And there was also a horse riding bit at the end which was unexpected.
In the end, I came away from my time with For Honor intrigued. It’s different and more complex than I think most AAA game let themselves be and that’s exciting. Hopefully, that complexity is not just surface deep and will be something that players can dig into for a long time. If absolutely nothing else, the multiplayer will be fun to watch. But we don’t have long now to wait and find out; For Honor will make it’s public battle cry on February 14. 2017.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.