For Honor Hands-On Preview: The Way of the Warrior

on December 14, 2016 12:00 PM

With its first reveal at E3 2015, Ubisoft Montreal’s For Honor presents a much different and very unique experience from what we’ve seen of Ubisoft’s recent titles in the last few years. Taking a break from the likes of Assassin’s CreedWatch DogsFar Cry, and the numerous other open-world games that have been Ubisoft’s namesake in the past few generations, For Honor‘s focused perspective on third-person combat and sparring is one that is not only refreshing for Ubisoft as a whole, but a much needed change of course from the shooters and fighting games that have dominated competitive play as of late.

Ahead of the game’s upcoming release in February 2017, DualShockers had the opportunity to attend a special preview event with Ubisoft in San Francisco for hands-on time with For Honor. Not only did we get a get a taste of what to expect from the game’s single-player and multiplayer components, but more than anything we had a better sense of what to take away from the third-person combat title and what it really means to be a Samurai, Viking, or Knight.

For Honor takes players into an epic world of battle as conflicts arise between three factions in a Medieval fantasy setting: the noble Knights (The Legion), the brutal Vikings (the Warborn), and the honorable Samurai (The Chosen). Between each of the three factions, players have four different classes of characters to choose from with varying abilities, stats, features, a multitude of weapons and more to choose from, all in the name of being the last ones standing on the battlefield and claiming victory.

During our hands-on time time with For Honor, we were able to sample several matches and characters in the game’s multiplayer modes. While the game is still a few months out, we were still able to get a good taste of what to expect from the game before it arrives in February, and most of all to get a feel for the heart and soul of the For Honor experience – its combat system.

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Whether you’re playing as the Knights, the Samurai, or the Vikings, players in For Honor will live and die by their proficiency in the game’s combat system, known as “the Art of Battle.” Aligned to the right analog stick when playing with a controller, For Honor presents a truly unique take on melee combat that looks and feels like more “traditional” character action games, but focuses more on rhythm, timing, and precision instead of button-mashing.

Unlike Devil May CryGod of War, or other character action games that prioritize quick thinking and lightning speed, For Honor‘s pace when it comes to combat is far more deliberate and timing-based. With its detailed animations and combat mechanics that focus on blocking enemy blows and countering, the real trick to mastering For Honor‘s combat system is mastering timing and finding the perfect time to strike, whether that’s in successfully countering an enemy’s blow with precision and speed as a faster character, or landing brutal, bone-crushing hits as one of the game’s hulking tank-like characters.

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Having played numerous action games, For Honor presented a very different experience compared to some of my favorites like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta with its slower-paced combat style, and while the game provides dodge maneuvers and rolls, the real key to success is learning how to effectively block and counter enemy attacks, and use their interrupted attacks to your advantage.

With its emphasis on tactics and strategy when it comes to combat, we experience this first-hand by diving into several of the game’s multiplayer modes. The full game (so far) features five multiplayer modes, of which we tried Elimination (a 4v4 team deathmatch with one life per player), Dominion (a 4v4 mode where players capture points on the map), and Duel (1v1 matches). Of the modes that we were able to play, For Honor already showed itself as a unique option for competitive players looking for strategy and tactical melee combat.

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While playing the team-based multiplayer modes, For Honor showed that despite a lower total number of players compared to other competitive experiences like Battlefield and Call of Duty, there was still quite a rush and tons of strategy when it came down to eliminating the other team and being the last one standing. I endured quite a number of brutal executions and takedowns while playing through both Elimination and Dominion, yet the thrilling combat of For Honor made for a tense multiplayer experience as I found myself forced into combat with enemy players while trying to strategize, regroup, and find my way out of tough situations.

Each of For Honor‘s factions and characters – be it Knights, Vikings, or Samurai – come equipped with a variety of options for players of all different playstyles. Where I favored the lithe, quick characters like the Assassins, I also had the chance to play (or get played by) a huge variety of the other classes that For Honor offers, with each feeling very satisfying to play. As much as I prefer speed and precision over power, there definitely was a thrill to playing as the Viking Berserker and swinging my axe with reckless abandon.

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When it came to the Duel mode, I have to say that I didn’t fair quite as well compared to having the help of other more-skilled players in the arena, but still felt the thrilling rush of combat either way (you’ll be able to see that first-hand in our interview video with creative director Jason VandenBerghe, of which there is plenty of footage of me dying at the hands of very experience For Honor players). More importantly, it showed that my few hours with For Honor‘s multiplayer kept me wanting to come back for more thanks to its strategic combat and intense action – especially in its team-oriented modes like Dominion and Elimination where teammates can coordinate devastating counters and flanks to wipe out the opposing teams.

After our few hours with the multiplayer, we also had the opportunity to check out two early missions from the game’s single-player campaign, “Sabotage” and “Raiding the Raiders.” While the multiplayer component of the game will take place in the “present” of the game’s story and world, the single-player campaign will explore the past events of For Honor‘s world and what led to the conflicts between the Knight, Viking, and Samurai factions, with our look at the game’s early missions giving us a brief glimpse at what to expect.

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As the campaign will switch between the perspectives of warriors from all three of the game’s factions, the two missions we demoed featured a look at the Knights and the Viking factions in action. The first mission we demoed, “Raiding the Raiders,” took us on the offensive as the Vikings as they defended against an attack from the Knights, while “Sabotage” led us through a more “stealth-oriented” section as a Knight Assassin on the defense against Viking attackers.

With the campaign set to explore the events and conflicts that fuel the ongoing wars between its Viking, Knight, and Samurai, the two missions we demoed during the preview gave us a good indication that For Honor‘s single-player campaign will definitely be high on action and big moments to compliment its intense multiplayer action. While the AI opponents didn’t have quite the same level of challenge as taking on human opponents in multiplayer (aside from a particularly challenging boss battle in the Viking stage), the action and intensity of the single-player missions still made me want to explore deeper into the conflicts that arise between the three factions and to see how each of their respective stories play out.

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While For Honor marks a very different approach to action in what we’ve seen from Ubisoft in the past few years, what we’ve played of the game so far between its single-player and multiplayer offerings should easily make it a standout title for the early part of 2017.

As a single-player experience, the missions we demoed featured a great mix of an engaging story between the game’s three factions highlighted by exciting action setpieces (including an excellent chase scene from the Viking campaign), while the multiplayer already shows signs of offering a unique experience to those looking for a break from an environment dominated by shooters and fighting games. In particular, the game’s longterm support and content plans are especially encouraging toward fostering a dedicated community of players, such as the game’s “Faction Wars” feature that will have players competing over multiple seasons, and the plan to provide maps, characters, and other new content free to maintain a solid, steady player base.

Between each of the three Factions that For Honor offers as players to choose from – the Knights, the Vikings, and the Samurai – there are many options and features to choose from. Whether that’s a life of nobility, honor, or vengeance, the true thrill of For Honor shines through in its engaging and intense combat that rewards precision and timing over recklessness and button mashing. As its name implies, combat truly is an art and from what we’ve played so far from the game’s multiplayer and single-player offerings, For Honor is aiming to bring out the warrior in all of us.

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For Honor will release for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on February 14th, 2017. In addition to our hands-on preview, you can also check out our interview with For Honor creative director Jason VandenBerghe for more on the game’s story and development, along with plenty of gameplay footage from the game’s multiplayer modes and single-player campaign.

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