Knights. I think, at one time or another, we’ve all fantasised about being a knight. Donning that heavy plate, brandishing the largest, heaviest sword we could imagine and leading the charge, cutting through swathes of enemies and standing triumphant on top of a pile of your enemies lying dead and defeated all around you. Yeah, Knights are cool. And so are Samurai. Oh, and Vikings too…
The surprise announcement of the, then unknown For Honor, during Ubisoft’s E3 2015 conference caught me by surprise. The on screen game play promised much. Realistic sword play, feeling the weight of every swing and blow and a genuinely brutal display of martial combat from 3 entirely different cultures. As Leonardo Dicaprio playing a surprised Calvin Candie once said ‘you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention’.
I’ve managed to get into the For Honor closed alpha and finally see for myself if the greatness I had built in my mind translated into a great experience. I’m happy to say, for the small hour or so I’ve played, I can see the potential this game has. However, I can also see some pitfalls that just hides behind the fun this game is trying to show us.
The alpha comes with a few modes available to try. We have Domination, which is a standard 4 vs 4 capture and control mode but with AI rank and file troops filling the void. Not only does the AI act as cannon fodder for you and your team to slowly grind points from but they also give the game mode a sense of life and bring with them the atmosphere you would expect from a hectic battlefield. Then we have 1 vs 1 and 2 vs 2 duel – which has the potential to be very sweaty, best of 5 bouts.
The game has a surprisingly deep combat system. At the core we have a stance system. Using your right stick, you set this stance. Either top, left or right. This sets you up to automatically block blows from an enemy using the same stance, but is also where your hits will come from when you attack. Switching between stances is quick and becomes an important part of the ebb and flow of combat as you quickly switch between stances to block your enemies attack. Even switching stance between blows to throw your enemy off. Then you mix in light and quick attacks with heavy but slow swings. Guard breaks, parrying, feignts, throws and then you have the combo moves. You find you’re left with an interesting hybrid of a third person action game with a combat system that promises the depth that’s usually reserved for a street fighter type brawler. Button mashing through this will only get you so far. The minute you come up against another player who knows the intricacies of the combat system, the punishment will come swiftly.
The three factions have very distinct fighting styles that compliment the cultures they come from. Samurai preferring speed and deftness , Knights doing things with bastard swords I never thought were possible and Vikings literally throwing their brute strength into a flurry of brutal blows and swings. Each of these factions have, what can be best described as classes, which further diversify the styles for each other. After a few games with the standard Knight class, I switched over to the Samurai Orochi class. A fast, nimble assassin type character that I was managing to achieve a lot of success with. I was pulling off combo moves, parrying blows, pivoting on the spot and stabbing with a confidence I didn’t have before. One such move had me deflect the swing from my enemy and a panic push of the buttons activated a counter which had my Orochi spin 180 on the spot and stab his sword behind him – right into the stomach of my opponent. The animations are seamless, it’s like you’re watching a murderous ballet being performed in front of you. I won’t lie, the display made me feel like a complete bad ass.
However, Once I started to go up against more than one opponent at a time, that’s when any semblance of skill or control went out the window for me. I failed and struggled to defend against the flurry of blows that came at me. But equally, I was going up against players who seemed more comfortable handling multiple opponents, Blocking blows from multiple directions. So I know the combat engine is up to the task once you learn how to.
But, this is where one of the main pitfalls lie. This doesn’t feel like a pick up and play game. It feels like it needs investment, time to get to grips with the combat system. To learn each of the classes moves and limitations. I didn’t play enough to establish if recognising animation frames in the moves will become key to mastering the score boards. But given the depth I’ve tasted, I would be surprised if it doesn’t become an important part of this games tools set. There is definitely fun to be had here, even if you have no intention in dedicating a lot of time. Just be aware that this is a game that feels like it will covet those who are prepared to invest the time to learn it’s intricacies.
At the end of each game, there is the chance that you may gain loot. Well, materials to be exact. These materials can then be broken down to improve the equipment you already have. How far and deep this system goes, I’ve no idea at the moment. Especially regarding how it may affect your characters performance in the game. I’ll certainly need more time exploring that side of things.
One thing I was genuinely surprised to see in the Alpha was examples of the microtransactions that’s going to be implemented. The previously mentioned upgrading system requires coins that you accumulate by playing the game. Ubisoft are offering various piles of coins to buy but I haven’t delved too deep into that side of things yet. So I’m not entirely sure of what else you can buy and what effect it will have to your game play, whether it will be restricted to purely cosmetic additions of if purchases will lead to ‘pay to win’ territories.
Graphics wise, it’s certainly a looker. It feels stable enough, but you can see where the engine strains a bit when the screen gets busy and particle effects are being flung about the screen from ambient explosions and the sparks from the clashing of steel. It’s definitely responsive enough and at no point did I feel as if the controls were fighting me. But it is only an Alpha and there is plenty of time left for the team to refine and perfect the engine running the game.
For Honor has the potential to be a great game. It’s different enough to carve a space to comfortably sit in amongst it’s peers while providing a deep combat system that appears to reward those who are willing to spend time sharpening their swords. But at the same time I do worry that the combat system will be seen as niche and a healthy community will struggle to evolve around it. The full game is promising a campaign of close to 10 hours of content and I’m hoping we will get a choice of more game modes to get medieval in. While Domination is a fun diversion, I feel the versus modes is going to be the bread and butter for any die hard Honor players. My hope is more game modes will provide the variety to keep a large healthy community of players fighting