Everyone remembers the battle scenes from Braveheart. The ones where two armies of metal (or kilt) clad figures square off, before charging at each other into a maelstrom of carnage. These epic scenes were what immediately came to mind as I played For Honor at E3 2015.
The game had a surprise announcement during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference. Being a totally new IP, it was odd to see it without having had something leak, or any kind of rumors ahead of time. But beyond that, the game wowed the audience just off of its premise.
Taking vikings, samurai, and medieval knights and putting them into an arena together is already pretty cool, but the battles and combat looked so interesting on top, that gamers took notice immediately. After getting some hands-on time with the game, I can easily say that that notice is well deserved.
For Honor doesn’t really play like other sword combat games, this was immediately made clear to everyone who tried out the demo. “It plays more like a first-person shooter” my instructor told me. Almost all controls are limited to the control sticks and the triggers, with buttons kept to the side for smaller actions.
By pulling the left trigger you go into guard mode, putting up your sword to protect yourself, while simultaneously locking onto an enemy and preparing to strike. Once your sword is up you have to choose a direction to guard, either up, left, or right. Hitting the trigger or bumper will then perform a quick or strong strike from this directions as well.
These simple mechanics work so well for sword fighting that it surprised me that I hadn’t seen them before. During one-on-one matches, using these systems made the game truly feel like two knights dueling with each other. Watching the other player’s movements and actions was key, as I tried to determine where they might attack, and when.
Likewise I could go on the offensive, hurling sword swings at them with abandon, but if they blocked them then I would be exposed and vulnerable. Conversely, if I sit there and block the whole time then they can probe for a weakness, and then finish me off once they break through. The only other maneuver available is a shield break, but it is more for high level play, so it wasn’t too useful here.
In a sea of military shooters and scifi adventures, For Honor stands out for all the right reasons.
Of course, this was for one-on-one matches, while the actual mode we were playing was four-on-four, allowing for lopsided fights. In the mode I tried, two teams try to take control of three points on the map. Owning two of them will cause your team to gain points, while owning all three will put the other team into a no-respawn mode. This last bit is actually extremely interesting, and created a lot of tension in our game.
If the other team captures all three spots, all four players on my team had to rally and get at least one of them back. If they could work together long enough to take us out then the game would be over. This becomes especially important when you realize that in 2v1, 3v1, or anything but a straight 1v1 fight, there is very little chance of survival.
Team coordination is key, so much so that even in the chaos of E3 my team began to work together, something that almost never happens in demos like this. We would yell over the mics where enemies were attacking from, and where we needed help. Calling out things like “one enemy at B” or “they’re charging C” is the sort of banter usually reserved for FPS games, but here we were doing it for a sword combat title like it was no big deal.
Some other bits of info about For Honor include the fact that there will be a single player campaign, but they aren’t talking about it just yet. Also, players can choose from the three classes, but we only had knights available, however they were in many different forms. Finally, AI bots also litter the landscape, and while they aren’t a huge threat to you, they can swing the balance a bit if you are overwhelmed or don’t take them out periodically.
For Honor E3 2015 Premiere Trailer
During the 20+ minutes I spent on For Honor, the match ebbed and flowed, with both teams taking the lead and then losing it shortly after. The ultimate victory came when my team rallied to take all three capture points. We then shut down their attempts to gain one back, taking out three of their men in the process. The last knight made a final push toward C, but as all four of us converged upon him, swinging our swords with wild abandon, there was nothing he could do.
For Honor was a pretty big surprise announcement from Ubisoft, but the bigger surprise is that the game is so much fun, while remaining unique and interesting. In a sea of military shooters and scifi adventures, For Honor stands out for all the right reasons.