Date Played: 12/04/2017
Played On: PC
Available On: PC / PS4 / XBO
Played: Tutorial & A Few Matches
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
These days it's rare for any AAA game to come with a demo or trial version to play around with before deciding if you want to throw down the full price of purchase. For Honor is no different, but it offered up an 'open beta' a few days before the game launched, which served as a good demo for me, as I discovered why I won't be buying it.
That's not to say that it's a bad game. For Honor is basically the AAA version of similar titles like Chivalry or War Of The Roses, that take medieval themed battles into a multiplayer arena. In all cases the gameplay loop is simple and involves some standard multiplayer modes like deathmatch, domination, and some form of assault to name a few. The nature of melee combat tightens the focus to one-on-one battles and small skirmishes, instead of large cannon fodder assaults that are all too common in modern shooters.
I enjoyed Chivalry, but by the time I tried to play online, I was terrible at the game compared to all the experienced players I was matched with, so stopped playing. I also enjoyed War Of The Roses, but the combat was too deep for my own tastes, as I got destroyed in every match by more experienced players, so I stopped playing.
Along comes For Honor with its AAA graphics and production, but a similar focus on melee combat and one-on-one battles, so once again I am intrigued by how it would play. To be blunt, I enjoyed it, but I jumped in on the last day of the open beta and was slaughtered by more experienced players, so I stopped playing.
There's a theme to these games that I found far more telling than the quality of the game itself. These are games for the kind of person who is not put off by continuously respawning and getting destroyed by other players over and over. The loop is for those who want to bang against the wall until they get better and eventually level up their own skills to take on the mad skills of everyone who owned them on the way to the top. I see the appeal, but I'm not that person.
I don't mind challenge (I love the 'Souls' games as much as the next person), but I've learned that I prefer a different kind of progression. I've never been a big fan of multiplayer-only games, but only when playing against strangers. Fighting your friends and shit-talking each other is fun no matter what game you're playing, but having a bunch of people I don't know taunting me online is not my idea of a good time.
So when I say that For Honor feels like a really good game, it's because the only part I didn't enjoy was the online multiplayer. So if you're the kind of person who loves that multiplayer competition, it might be worth checking out. If you're like me and would rather go solo, it might be one to skip.
Thankfully, For Honor's combat is its strongest feature, which helps in a game all about weighty, up close combat. There are a few different classes to choose from, which are basically loadouts for different play styles. There's the viking with a big heavy axe for slow-stompy strikes, or the quick assassin who skips around with a couple of daggers.
Each class does what you would expect and conveys their play style through their character model well. That big knight with heavy armour and a shield - he can take a hit. That stealthy looking assassin dressed in cloth - can't block, but slips out of the way with ease. The visual language of the game goes a long way in helping you understand each archetype's strengths and weaknesses, even in the midst of battle.
Some maps are filled with 'creep' armies made up of pawns who fight on your side to push territory back and forth, much like a MOBA creep. As a player character you can plough through the creeps easily to help your own pawns gain some ground, and gain some experience for yourself in the process. The real For Honor starts when you get locked in a battle with another player and have to focus on more than just shouting and throwing a sword around.
Much like other melee focused games, there is a simple stance-based system at play when duelling with another player. If you're locked on to an enemy you will automatically block an incoming strike if your stance matches theirs. Indicators on screen show your opponents current stance, which bring out the cat and mouse gameplay where you want to be able to block their strikes with the same stance, but hit them with a different stance so that they can't block you.
I found it could get silly sometimes when an opponent would constantly switch stances and their indicator moved around erratically. The meta might show that this is a good tactic to keep someone on their toes, but it doesn't fit thematically into the game where every archetype has realistic swings and authentic models. Would a samurai approach you slowly and thoughtfully, or would they jump around, swinging their katana wildly around their body to try and distract you? I'm not sure what's more authentic, but the latter feels more like a video game.
In addition to the core stance mechanic, there are also simple button presses for block breakers, counters, etc. I really liked how these more advanced techniques were not bogged down with complex inputs, leaving the difficulty to timing instead of dexterity.
It's clear that the developers have tried to make the combat enjoyable and skill-based, but accessible and satisfying. In the few matches I played, there wasn't one moment that I blamed the game for messing me around. Every time I got hit it was because I had been out-played by another person, not because the game failed to respond properly or spaz out. For Honor does a great job of sucking you into the tunnel vision and focus of a melee battle. Often I found myself forgetting my surroundings as I concentrated hard on my opponent, attempting to read their every move and intention.
From the open beta, I can't really fault For Honor. Of course I hope that the full release will include more maps and game modes, but I'd be saying that after playing a demo for any game. I didn't even look at the meta game that involves putting resources into factions on a map for some reason, but it's nice knowing that there's more to it.
My take-away from For Honor's open beta is that the combat was enjoyable enough that I might consider playing a single-player campaign if it reviews well, but I have no interest in the bulk of the game, because I'm not into multiplayer focused titles. The fact that I want to go back at all speaks volumes about how satisfying the gameplay actually is.
If you're into the multiplayer side of life, then For Honor might just be the game for you. It's polished, tight, and every encounter feels dire and rewarding. Definitely a game to keep an eye on in the months ahead.