Disclaimer: The For Honor impression provided below is for the PC closed beta. David’s PC, used here, has an Intel i7 4930K processor, nVIDIA GTX 1070 video card, dedicated WD VelociRaptor HDD, 16GB DDR3 RAM, and is running Windows 10 Pro 64-bit.
With less than three weeks until launch, Ubisoft opened a closed beta for its newest title For Honor. For Honor is a third-person melee combat game which pits an unlikely trio of knights, Vikings, and samurai against each other to capture and hold territory for reasons yet to be fully explained. The final game will feature a campaign as well as an expanded competitive multiplayer component.
In the closed beta, players have access to 9 of the 12 characters from the full roster (three for each faction) and are restricted to multiplayer game modes which consist of 1v1 Duels, 2v2 Brawls, and 4v4 Dominion matches. 1v1 and 2v2 game modes are single life death matches which feature a best of 5 rounds system. Dominion is played by attacking and holding three points labeled A, B, and C. A and C are stand-alone, but B is captured by helping your cannon fodder fight their way through the enemy AI soldiers. The AI soldiers aren’t particularly interesting to deal with and the chaos of clunkily mowing down cannon fodder (who cannot be locked onto) allows for players to get ambushed regularly.
After installing the game, the opening cinematic introduces the players to a massive earthquake striking the lands of the knight faction—the game alludes to the same happening to the Vikings and samurai, leading to world conflict. Once the cinematic closes, players are prompted to pick a faction. This choice has little impact in general gameplay, as it does not limit the playable characters, but the faction chosen is the one the player represents on the game’s territory map. After each match, the player is given the opportunity to deploy “War Assets” to attack or defend territory from the two other factions.
Once a faction is selected, players are sent to play through a brief tutorial which serves to, rather bluntly, introduce the general combat mechanics unique to For Honor. From a high level, combat is broken into offense and defense. Each character has two attacks, a block, and a stun move called “Guard Break.”
Attacks and blocks are done in one of three directions. Guard Breaks are non-directional, but you can double guard break to shove an opponent backward, left, or right. While three directions and three offensive options don’t seem like much, it provides a reasonable level of depth to the combat without getting too complex.
Expanding on these mechanics, markers appear during combat that indicate the direction the enemy is blocking or attacking. A white marker is displayed when defending and red when attacking. If timed correctly, a block becomes a parry, allowing in a quick swipe or two. Attacks are given a hierarchy, with light strikes taking priority over heavy strikes and Guard Breaks having the lowest priority. This feels a bit off in practice, however, as light strikes can interrupt heavy strikes but Guard Breaks cannot.
Customization in this game is fairly extensive. Each character has multiple armor and weapon load outs that can be adjusted and customized with unlocked equipment to match your desired playing style. Along with armor and weapon mods, the appearance of each can be adjusted. An interesting addition to the customization in For Honor is the ability to set the gender of some characters. This is purely cosmetic and provides only slight variations in the way characters look and sound.
Party play is available, but as I’m the only Dashing Nerd with beta access, I haven’t used it and can’t comment.
Strengths & Weaknesses
It’s clear the combat was designed around 1v1 fights with everything else in the game taking a back seat. In the 2v2 Brawls, combat quickly devolves into to a 1v2 match and the solo player is unlikely to survive. This ultimately comes down to the fact that the animations are a bit clumsy outside of 1v1 encounters and the combat wasn’t designed to help you defend against multiple opponents. the 4v4 Dominion games are also presently a bit of a mess as people figure out how to play and network issues get addressed.
I started on day one of the beta and played a lot of Dominion and Brawl. The gameplay was smooth and I had zero issues. As the weekend went on, the number of players dramatically increased and overall game performance decreased on my end. Constant network issues when playing with humans led to a lot of frustration as your network performance seems to be tied to your frame rate and a low frame rate creates input lag. Also network lag doesn’t affect the AI, so often you’ll be attacked in the middle of a lag spike without the ability to defend yourself. This led to me dropping Dominion and Brawl for the rest of the beta to play 1v1 with the AI as that seemed to be impacted the least.
Overall, For Honor’s combat system is fairly well thought out for 1v1 duels, but feels incredibly clunky when fighting multiple opponents. The inability for you to turn when not locked on in Guard Mode also creates frustration when fighting cannon fodder. Lack of prioritization of the Guard Break move makes using it extremely situational, but absolutely satisfying when you successfully kick, shove, or tackle an opponent off of a cliff.
Performance, when not hindered by overloaded Ubi-servers, was good. But when the servers are stressed, the game becomes nigh unplayable. If history repeats itself, as it tends to do, the first several weeks after the release of For Honor will be rough.
Overall, I’m pleased with what Ubisoft has provided gameplay-wise. For Honor is interesting from a mechanics standpoint and delivers a satisfying 1v1 melee combat experience. At the same time, it’s held back by the inflexibility of that very system to perform well outside of the 1v1 environment. Couple that with Ubisoft’s less than stellar launch infrastructure and you’re left with a title that should probably not be a day one purchase.
Keep an eye out for For Honor when it sieges store shelves on February 14, 2017.