Ubisoft held a closed beta for their imminent sword fighting game For Honor. Here’s what we thought of it.
The Beta opens with the story trailer of For Honor from E3 last year, 2016, which sets up the fantasy world of the game. This is a world where a catastrophe has brought European Knights, Scandinavian Vikings, and Japanese Samurai into close geographic proximity. Of course, they spend generations fighting each other. The trailer is narrated by Apollyon, the apparent antagonist of the game’s narrative, who is bent on fomenting conflict between the Vikings, Samurai, and Knights that make up the game’s factions.
The underlying concept of For Honor is as simple as they come: go fight people with swords. The recent closed beta revealed the mechanical depth that Ubisoft added on top of that concept. The beta was all multiplayer. There was no single player outside of a short tutorial, so the story, outside of what can be inferred from recent trailers, is still mysterious.
In terms of game play, the aspect of For Honor that adds the most depth is the guard system. That system is the most original concept in the game. Instead of timing a button press to an attack or holding away from an enemy, guarding in For Honor is accomplished by moving your character’s guard to cover the area or their body that is being attacked using the right analog stick. One of the ways that For Honor differentiates its characters from one another is the way that their guard works; heavier characters’ guards stay up almost permanently while lighter characters need to time their blocks. In practice, the system results in a complex series of feints, dodges, shifting guards, and earnest attacks with a rhythm unlike any other game.
Play in the beta was divided into three modes: 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, and Dominion, a 4 vs. 4 point control mode with AI controlled creeps.
The 1 vs.1 mode is most useful for learning how to fight. Without other players besides the opponent to cause distraction, focusing on defending and attacking efficiently becomes much more important than in team matches. This mode is also good for learning about the environmental hazards of each map. Most of the maps in For Honor have some kind of spike pit or bridge with crumbling railings, or high tower that players can be pushed off of, and having an opponent use them against you is the fastest way to learn about them.
The 2 vs. 2 mode is good for learning how a given character class matches up against other classes and learning how to fight at a disadvantage. Having your partner killed in an instant and having to try to survive against two opponents really teaches you some survival strategies. On the other hand, cooperating with a teammate to quickly blow up one opponent before moving on to the next is an equally useful lesson to learn, especially before tackling the more chaotic Dominion mode.
The 4 vs. 4 Dominion mode is the bread and butter mode of For Honor. At its most basic level, Dominion is a multiplayer Dynasty Warriors level on a smaller, but more detailed, scale. Weak AI controlled creeps from both sides of the conflict meet in the center of the map near a capture point and two other capture points sit near each team’s spawn point. The maps all have shortcuts and hidden paths that allow players to bypass the grand melee in the middle of the map in case they want to steal a point from the opposing team. Dominion matches have very long timers but players can cut matches short by reaching a point’s threshold, controlling all three zones and killing all the members of the opposing team. Fulfilling those three win conditions can be very difficult, which makes comebacks a common occurrence.
In a way, Dominion works much better in this kind of game than in shooters where it normally appears. The requirement of standing on a specific spot to score points makes a lot more sense in a sword fight than it does in a gunfight. Also ,you never need to worry about being sniped while taking a control point in For Honor.
All of these modes can be played solo against bots, which is a nice way to practice for new players, or players who may need to take a break from the game’s multiplayer and come back to it. It should be noted that on the default difficulty setting, the AI for these bots is absolutely savage, making them more challenging than most human players.
Another aspect of For Honor revealed in the beta is the character progression system. There are a lot of innovative solutions to integrating progression to the game. The beta included some of the cosmetic customization options that unlock as players level up their heroes. There were some weapons and armor options to unlock as well, which provide benefits to one character stat while collecting a cost to a different attribute. This gear can be disassembled into crafting materials if a player doesn’t like the way it tweaks a given character. The appearance of gear can also be altered, which is a nice touch since gear does affect game play a bit, and no one likes to roll with an ugly but powerful sword. Purist players can turn off these gear effects in the options as well. New abilities for characters also unlock as they are played.
A clear progression tree showing what players would unlock as they play was available in the hero menus as was a set of brief tutorial videos and move lists. For Honor will sell you loot chests for currency earned in the game. The game makes it clear what you can get in these chests and unwanted items can be disassembled and used to upgrade preferred items, so this version of the loot chest mechanic is less onerous than the ones in other games.
The multiplayer side of For Honor is shaping up to be interesting, if somewhat challenging. A mix of elements from shooters, brawlers, and fighting games with one really original mechanic to tie the experience together. The depth of the game play combined with some well thought out choices in the player progression system make For Honor a promising entry in the multiplayer space. Ubisoft has already unveiled plans for DLC and a season pass for the game as well. Hopefully the quality of the game’s story is equal to what’s been shown of the multiplayer.