Playing Dynasty Warriors online, competitively, against friends, has always been my childhood dream. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good multiplayer shooter, but I’d rather take a sword and shield any day of the week. Thing is, even as a young and naive gamer, I knew I was barking up the wrong tree. As awesome as it would be to meet friends and foes on the battlefield, Dynasty Warrior’s action-heavy combat simply wouldn’t work in a multiplayer environment.
Since then, I’ve been searching for the perfect substitute. That search has taken me to all kinds of places. Alongside a wide bevy of MMOs I’ve poured hours into games such as Mount & Blade, War of the Roses, and Chivalry, as well as more obscure examples like God of War Ascension, Lords of the Rings: Conquest, and even Tron: Evolution. Although successful to varying degrees, none have come closer to realising that dream than For Honor, Ubisoft’s next big gamble.
Slated for release next February, a closed alpha build of the game was available to play over the weekend. Stunning visuals aside, it’s a far cry from the publisher’s usual lineup of shiny sandbox sequels. Instead, For Honor almost feels like a passion project, as if someone who shares my dream was suddenly put in charge of a world class development studio. This might not be too far from the truth.
At its very core is a complex yet effective combat system that relies on three major components: awareness, timing, and footwork. When in proximity of an enemy player, reaching for the left trigger will prompt an duel-like scenario. Using one stick to move your character, the other is used to toggle between three different stances. Whether holding your weapon up or to one side, this stance denotes the direction in which you will attack or attempt to deflect incoming blows.
What’s most important about this system is always being able to see you and your opponent’s current stance. During an attack, a flashing red icon will give the defending player a chance to block, dodge, or even parry. Therefore, in order find an opening, you’ll need to judge their movements accordingly, striking weak spots or using your surroundings.
Needless to say, button mashing will get you nowhere. You might score the occasional hit, but wasting stamina will often mean losing your head. In that respect, For Honor can be likened to traditional fighting games such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Although there’s a constant urge to let rip on an opponent, patience is key.
In short, combat is far more tense and involving than you may think at first. Each of the game’s playable classes bring their own unique movesets, feats, and other quirks into the mix. With their flail and shield combo, Conquerors have a low base damage, but they can survive even the hairiest of situations. Berserkers, on the other hand, are way less durable though can dish out an infinite chain of attacks. Even with a dozen or so hours under the belt, each battle will come as its own learning experience. That said, you don’t need to master every advanced mechanic to start enjoying yourself.
Aside from duelling players one-on-one other game modes include 2-v-2 Brawls and more more popular 4-v-4 Dominion. It’s here, we assume, that most will spend their time, grouping up with friends and strangers for bigger, more objective-based battles. Both teams clash as they vie for control over three checkpoints. While two of these can simply be captured and left unattended, checkpoint B on the alpha’s sole map required a bit more effort to secure. Positioned at the centre of each battlefield, this zone is typically flooded with AI grunts. In order to push the frontline in your team’s favour, you’ll need to mow down enemy pawns using an array of brutal pre-set animations. Although fairly harmless on their own, groups of AI soldiers can easily bog you down, especially when trying to square off against one or more enemy players.
Speaking of multiple combatants, this is another aspect Ubisoft Montreal seem to have gotten right. Being outnumbered has its natural disadvantages though there are ways to overcome these perilous encounters. Those who choose not to run can stand their ground, triggering a enhanced “Revenge” state if they can survive the damage they’re taking. It’s another advanced mechanic to remember, though one that could help stop players from constantly ganging up on lone stragglers.
Away from the battlefield, there is plenty to do in terms of character customisation and monitoring a hefty log of daily missions and challenges. Loot and experience can be earned from matches which combine to improve a character’s core attributes while also unlocking feats and other specific perks. Those who enjoy tweaking the character’s appearance will also find a wealth of cosmetic options from sword hilts to helmets.
For Honor is a refreshingly bold take on the multiplayer genre and one that could trigger a new wave of melee-focused online games. The combat system isn’t perfect though it marks a new and intuitive approach to an age-old problem. Despite making a solid first impression, it’s tough to gauge whether For Honor will catch on in the same way that other Ubisoft properties have done in the past. Although there’s an immediate sense of appeal, it will likely be too complex for your average punter, especially those making the leap from Call of Duty or similar online games. Between now and release, there’s a pressure on Ubisoft Montreal to smooth out some of its learning curve without dumbing down that core experience.