For Honor kicked off a closed alpha test this weekend and we got some hands on time to try out the intense warfare.
If you’ve missed the memos to date, the game features a strange set up where ancient warriors of different ilks end up in the same place and time. There’s a gorgeously animated CG intro which basically just tells you they’re all here, so deal with it.
And that’s just fine, as I strongly suspect the main game isn’t going to spend too much time on set up either, though there will be a full single player mode.
The Alpha was all about multiplayer, presenting a number of different game types and the free choice of any of the three factions- The Legion, The Chosen and The Warborn. Knights, Samurai and Vikings, in case you were wondering.
For Honor starts with a tutorial, and you’re going to want to pay attention because this isn’t just a sword and shouting hack a thon. There’s a good bit of skill involved in staying alive on the battlefield.
The main difference is the way you protect yourself, holding down a lock-on/guard button and then using the right stick to choose one of three angles – left, right and up. You’ll have to watch the stance of your opponent and shift to the right orientation to block their attacks.
Your stance also determines the kind of attack you make, leading to a careful frenzy of parry, move and slash that’s finely balanced and very satisfying, though there’s definitely a learning curve.
The matches themselves give you plenty of chances for duels. Though there are low level AI enemies they’re easily carved through and mostly just there for the fun of an easy kill. The real battle starts when you spy a higher level enemy, and they might even be a real life person.
To make this easier, they’re naturally taller and more imposing than the peons on the field, with distinct armour and plenty of flamboyant flailing.
Once you lock on, it’s pretty much a fight to the death. Some sub-classes are faster or more defensive than others, and there are extra moves like a defence breaking slam which gives you a tiny window to slice and dice. Oh and there's also a rapidly depleting an energy bar which can leave you open or provide a last gasp stab for victory.
These mechanics really are marvellously well tuned, and satisfyingly deep. You can feel it most clearly in the Duel mode which pits you against a single opponent. The flow of these matches can turn (literally) on a knife’s edge, with a small mistake leading to a brutal takedown.
Brawl is a 2 v 2 mode which has some interesting quirks, like being able to rush to your buddy’s aid once you’ve finished off your opponent and vice versa but the real meat of the alpha test was in Dominion.
This combines the familiar zone capture rush of many multiplayer offerings with the delicate melee combat and the more broad mechanics of a busy warzone. Taking out low level enemies is easy but you can find yourself suddenly in a fight with a trained killer, or even more than one.
With 4 v 4 human players things quickly get both frantic and messy, in a way that’s probably quite similar to a real battle. Calm and careful duels give way to mass melees and a desperate attempt to hold your area long enough for backup to arrive.
At this early stage, it’s already a lot of fun, if a tad repetitive. Levelling up is quite slow and the differences between the various classes feels a bit too subtle right now.
The chaotic moments (and there are many) are likely that way by design but right now it feels far too easy to be outnumbered by other human players, and it’s next to impossible to defend. Now that may be down to my own lack of skill or merely a realistic representation of fighting but it can lead to frustration.
Still for an alpha this is a remarkably polished piece of software, which is probably no surprise for a title with hundreds of developers from one of the biggest companies in the world. The graphics are stupendously detailed and the animation impressively fluid. It was also a very smooth experience for the most part, with just a handful of disconnections that were quickly resolved.
There’s a lot of potential in what For Honor is peddling here- mostly stemming from the robust battle system and the intriguing commitment to intimate combat. That’s enough of a hook to get players interested and it will be up to Ubisoft to give them a reason to stay, while also hopefully presenting single player fans with some decent content.
Right now, it feels a little on the dark and serious side, which is in keeping with the fantasy setting but it might get a little dreary over time. A little more variety and Ubisoft could have their next big franchise in the making.
For Honor is set for release on the PS4, Xbox One and PC in February, 2017.