I join the fray, sword in hand. I rush into the thick of battle. Amid the chaos I spot a serious threat. I wade through the carnage to him and we began to duel. Moments later, he is dead. Two more come to avenge him. I’m nervous. I know I won’t win. That’s when I realized it—For Honor has its hooks in me.
Earlier this month at E3, Ubisoft announced For Honor, a game that feels like equal parts Chivalry and Dynasty Warriors. It was surprising the game was announced and playable on the show floor. More surprising still, even in its early state, For Honor is a game worth keeping an eye on.
When I arrived at Ubisoft’s booth, I, along with a small group of YouTubers and journalist, was escorted into a darkened room with TVs hung on the walls in groups of four. Upon our arrival, we were told we couldn’t record or photograph any of what we were about to play, so what follows are my impressions, plus some Ubisoft-provided screenshots.
In the E3 build, I could only play as a Knight. The other two factions, Samurai and Vikings weren’t available. Upon starting the demo, I was able to customize my Knight. I could choose from a range of armor options, though I couldn’t (or at least didn’t have time to) discern their utility beyond cosmetics. I also had the option of selecting a female knight, which has me excited. The idea of being a badass chick like Brienne of Tarth is awesome. Every warrior comes with a unique weapon, though I didn’t get to try any beyond the one I used.
After a short tutorial on how to use the controls, I joined a game of Dominion, a four-on-four multiplayer mode in which two teams compete for control of three zones across a battlefield. When the match starts, you’ll see a battlefield swarming with soldiers. There are dozens of lesser knights dotting the map, battling it out for control of those three zones. These fodder enemies matter very little: they’ll never capture a zone for you (or your enemy), and you can take them out for one point apiece with a single attack. As I ran to try to gain control of the zones before my rivals, I would mash the R1 button on the PS4 controller to take swipes at some of these enemies to help rack up some points or clear out a zone.
When the battle started, there were dozens of soldiers, allies and enemies alike clashing into each other. I began swinging my sword wildly, cutting down faceless peons with ease. My army and I quickly took the first zone. We advanced on the second, repeating the same routine. When the goons were cleared out we didn’t win the zone, however, someone from the opposing army had to be there still. I looked around me; there he was. A soldier larger than the rest, another human player. This wasn’t going to be easy.
I barely edged out a victory. I wasn’t so lucky the next time, or the time after that, but I could feel my pulse quicken every time I set eyes on a new foe. I tried to make plans with my teammates to capture the entirety of the battlefield to no avail. Instead I let myself get swept up in the chaos, which led to me being reactionary. I’m sure once I’ve played more than 15 minutes of For Honor that sense will dull, and I’ll be more composed in future battles, but it was exhilarating. I’ll never know what a real battle feels like (thankfully) , but what I played, coupled with my frantic attempts to strategize in the middle of it all felt like a pretty damn good approximation of what I imagine it to be.
Stealing zones is fun, but the real enjoyment didn’t begin until I spotted my first enemy player. When you spot an actual player, you can’t just hack your way through them like the AI-controlled drones, instead you enter into a duel stance, which is activated by holding the L2 button on the PS4 controller . Once you’re in this duel stance the comes in tighter on your character, blocking out the chaos happening all around you. At this point, combat becomes a measured, calculated series of attacks. Each player uses a control system Ubisoft has dubbed ‘The Art of Battle’. Each player controls the direction of their sword with the right analog stick. This goes for both defense and offense, if you want to swing from above for instance, you would push the right analog stick up and press either R1 for a light attack, or R2 for a heavier blow. To block that same blow you’d hold up on the right analog stick and wait for your opponent’s sword to collide with yours.
The control for duels feels how I imagine Zelda: Skyward Sword would control were it not for the Wii’s motion-tracking technology. Duels feel appropriately hectic when you’re one-on-one with an opponent, and borderline overwhelming when it’s two-on-one or worse, though that’s to be expected. The goal of Dominion, however, was the most interesting part of the demo. The point wasn’t to amass points, or control zones, but to eradicate the enemy team entirely, and the rules for doing so are perhaps what makes For Honor so interesting.
You see, to wipe the enemy out, you have to stop them from respawning. To stop them from respawning, you have to have enough points, and to have enough points, you have to control the zones. There’s no shortcut to victory in For Honor. Once you gain 1,000 points, the enemy team breaks, rendering its members unable to respawn. My team was first to hit that mark. I thought it’d be simple, run down the stragglers, kill them and win the game, right?
We ended up losing, actually. That taste of victory was fleeting. The remaining team members took our zones, stealing those points we had earned for themselves and breaking us. A few times I ended up my team’s sole survivor, sneaking around the battlefield to retake zones and revive my fallen comrades, but in the end we were overrun. Our opponents’ strategy was superior.
I came away from my experience determined to do better next time. I had made plans to revisit the game before I left, but time has a funny way of flying by at E3. I can’t wait to get my hands on For Honor next time it shows up. At this early stage it’s a pretty good game. It’s interesting and engaging, even if it’s not entirely clear how it’ll hold up in extended play. My first 15 minutes with For Honor were pretty good. With more development time behind it, the next 15 could be truly great.
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