For Honor Preview - E3 2016
Storming the castle
The somewhat medieval hack and slash game For Honor, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, was a visceral highlight from E3 2015. At last year’s expo, fans had a chance to get their gauntleted hands on the PvP mode of the game, while at E3 2016, I had the chance to get my blade sharpened in two story sections of For Honor.
For Honor feels like a mélange of a number of titles. Visually, its environments, especially that of the samurai castle we saw at Ubisoft’s press conference, give a strong Onimusha, gothic Japan vibe. Its combat system, the “Art of Battle”, is reminiscent of the Arkham series of Batman games. That contextual nature to where and how your strikes land, creating a fluid combat system, is always a joy to both watch and control. Another interesting mechanic is the attack/defense system, which strongly reminds me of Kengo: Master of Bushido, in which the player could employ one of four stances. However, in For Honor, you have three stances, and to block an attack, you must match your opponent’s stance. Finally, mowing down numbers of faceless grunts brings to mind games like Koei Tecmo's slasher fest Dynasty Warriors. So, the question is, do all these influences (at least in my mind) lead to a satisfying visceral experience?
In the first part of my For Honor playthrough, I found myself besieged in a castle, with an army of the Blackstone Legions knocking on the drawbridge, wanting to come in. When my commander decided to ignore them, the Blackstone Legions quickly manned the trebuchets and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was soon in the boots of a Knight, or “The Warden” as the knight is known, who is one of the three playable warriors: Knight, Viking, Samurai. Think of the knight as warm porridge in Goldilocks, not too hot (fast), not too cold (low damage), just right. Your standard balanced character.
Battle started with getting familiar with the controls as two enemy knights blocked the way ahead by one of the castle’s parapets. It’s simple: you lock onto a character, which also functions as block, and you have three methods of attack at your disposal: light, heavy, and guard break. To successfully block an attack, just mirror the enemy’s stance. Simple, right? At first, yes, but we were only just getting started.
There a number of different flavors of enemies on For Honor’s battlefield. You have your grunts, blade fodder, really, who you can easily just dispose of with quick or heavy attacks. With the seamlessly nature of combat going from one opponent to the next, battles play out like you’re the leader in some epic Ridley Scott film (if we’re talking knights). Mowing these enemies down feels cool and, like in those movies, everything comes to a halt when you see a strong opponent part the crowd. For me, this happened in a small clearing, when one of the tougher enemies came swinging towards me. A quick lock-on later and I was flicking my right thumbstick to quickly parry a succession of blows. Then, I launched into my own flurry of quick attacks—dodged a blow—then finished with a heavy attack, which led to an “execution”. These are finishing moves, and my knight deftly decapitated his foe.
Moving onwards and slaying more invaders, I was getting into the swing of combat. No stranger to this hack and slash genre of game, adapting to the new guard mode happened quickly, and it was a thrill searching for my next encounter. To give me a little help in staying alive, I had a series of buffs at my disposal. Second Wind simply replenished my health, while other abilities allowed me to debuff my opponents and increase my stats; standard fare, but extremely useful.
When the time finally came to finish this area, my last opponent was a champion from the Blackstone Legion's forces. Guards around us parted into a circle, letting me go head to head with my final opponent. My approach was a series a deft light attacks, and then waiting for him to attack as I shuffled out of the way and then unleashed a heavy attack. I was happy to say that I came out of the battle mostly unscathed. The finishing execution was a sure strike into my opponent, taking him out of the fight. After the battle died down, my mercenary knight became a full-fledged “knight”, being knighted by the Blackstone Legion, and apparently changing my alliance as swiftly as I had chopped off heads.
My playthrough as the Viking in For Honor was the same as the demo at Ubisoft’s presentation. This mission takes place in the Myre, which we were told is halfway into the campaign. I played The Raider, one of the Vikings from the campaign. And we’d come here to do what Viking’s do best: pilage. The crew and I arrived on longboats, crashing against the shores of a samurai castle, with the objective being to capture the location and defeat the main samurai. Shortly after hitting the beach, I ploughed onwards and ran into my first batch of enemies. Here, I found the difficulty had ramped up a little, and I had to employ more finesse to my slower, more powerful character. But when the Viking hits, he hits hard. Enemies crashed to the sand in my wake and I could then rush to the wall to begin climbing the outer castle.
While traversing the outer wall, I had to be mindful of samurai flinging chunks of stone at me from above, swinging out of the way of their missiles. At the top, my Viking’s axe found the temple of one unfortunate samurai, and soon my reign of terror began anew. One of the Viking’s useful abilities is that his guard break allows him to then grab his opponent and manhandle them against a wall, toss them onto spikes, or simply launch them off the battlements. Utilizing a series of quick attacks and then guard breaks to toss a foe against a wall, then follow up with a crunching knee to the face, became my winning strategy.
Along the top of the battlements, combat became tight, meaning that I had to be more wary of my surroundings, especially when there are tougher enemies prowling the area. I couldn’t simply focus my attack on one target, instead having to switch around. However, I had to hover my finger over the right thumbstick with each new opponent picked out, because they’d already have a series of attacks incoming.
So, I soldiered on, opening gates, flinging attackers out of my way—basically doing all the hard work for everyone, until I finally encountered the boss of the area. Unlike the champion knight from before, the samurai leader was no stranger to rapid successions of attack. I did have a trick up my loincloth, though. A debuff that I had be saving. I slammed it on the boss and then started wailing on him with my axe. His health quickly drained, and I was sure to dodge out of his path when he went on the offensive. Upon seeing an opening, a swung my axe in a heavy attack, then finished the boss with a crunching axe head to the chest, brought my battle to its end.
For Honor was a thrilling, visceral gaming experience, and the fluidity in battle, coupled with the technical possibilities when facing off with an opponent, make for an extremely satisfying game. For Honor will be releasing on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on February 14, 2017.