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Damn! For Honor is Really Difficult to Master!

But that's not necessarily a Bad Thing.

Analysis by Jaz Rignall, .

This weekend I sunk some time into the closed Beta of Ubisoft's upcoming sword-slinging melee combat game, For Honor. Ever since I played it in December, I've been looking forward to getting back to grips with it. My first encounter with the game wasn't particularly auspicious: I was slow to pick up its fairly unusual control scheme, and my first few attempts at combat were unsuccessful to say the least.

This time out, I spent a lot more time with the tutorial, practicing the timing of my swings and, more importantly, becoming familiar with the ins and outs of blocking and parrying. There are some games whose controls just click into place, and you don't need to think about them at all. Unfortunately, for me, For Honor isn't one of them: I don't find the way its numerous offensive and defensive maneuvers are executed particularly intuitive, and I really had to learn how to play the game. I think a large part of the difficulty I'm having in picking up the game stems from the fact that For Honor delivers something completely new in terms of its game mechanics: I have no prior frame of reference.

Consequently, it took quite a bit of practice before I started feeling even remotely adept with my character's weapon – despite having already played For Honor beforehand. Indeed, that's the reason why I practiced so hard. I know from prior experience that this isn’t a game where you can wade into combat, rapidly spamming your attack buttons. Do that, and unless your opponent is as equally inept as you are, you're not going to win any battles.

That's because For Honor's combat is actually quite nuanced and complex. Not only do you need to implicitly learn the fundamentals of its control scheme so you can intuitively pull off moves and combos, you also need to be able to read your opponent and react to their movements accordingly – otherwise they'll simply take the initiative and demolish you before you even have a chance to fight back. Additionally, you have to take into account that weapons have a certain amount of heft and momentum to them, and that most moves take time to wind up and then follow through.

It's a lot to take in all at once, but practice definitely makes perfect. For me, one of the keys to truly getting my head around the way For Honor's combat works was learning the cadence of its action. Press the buttons too quickly, and your character feels clumsy and uncoordinated as he or she attempts to transition from one move to another. However, as you begin to master the timing of those transitions, the hero starts to feel a lot smoother and more controllable – and you begin to get into the flow of combat.

That flow is actually quite slow and steady, but the odd thing is that you still need to be able to react very quickly to your opponent's moves to ensure that you can block or parry them. This means watching your opposite number like a hawk, and always making sure that you can quickly move into a blocking stance as they wind up their attack. It took me quite a while to know how to read an opponent correctly, and even now after playing the game for hours, there are still certain classes whose moves I'm not familiar enough with to be able to consistently and effectively fend them off. Again, it's just a case of needing more time with the game, but it simply feeds into what I'm ultimately saying, which is For Honor is – at least for me – a game that requires investing a fair amount of time into if you're really interested in mastering it.

Another area where For Honor has a surprising amount of depth is in the breadth of its classes. While they all play fundamentally similarly in terms of their controls, classes have their own unique moves and playstyle that can make them feel very different from one another.

I started off with the all-rounder Warden, a well-balanced fighter who's one of the easiest, or rather, the least difficult character to pick up and play. Swinging a two-handed sword is slow, but after some practice I found it was easy to switch between attack and defense, and I ended up sticking with this class for most of the time that I played. I also gave the Peacekeeper a whirl, which pretty much feels like a glass cannon. Initially I tried going toe-to-toe with enemies, but I kept on getting absolutely slaughtered. But then it occurred to me to try using the character's speed to close in on the enemy, fire off a couple of offensive moves, and then run away before they could counter. I'm sure it was annoying playing against those sorts of tactics, but they worked surprisingly well.

The other character I tried was the Nobushi, which uses a longer-range Naginata weapon that can be quite devastating to those who don't know how to counter it. Indeed, I've read some player feedback claiming that this character is a little too overpowered at the moment, but I think those views probably come from players who didn't figure out that you need to parry or dodge their initial move, and then close the gap and counter-attack. If you don't do that, you're going to be poked endlessly and will end up bleeding to death.

To me, that's evidence of For Honor's potential depth of combat. In some respects it reminds me of playing Street Fighter II for the first time. There seemed to be certain moves and combos that were impossible to deal with. Turned out that they weren't - we just had to learn how to play the game properly to be able to defend against them. For Honor feels like it's in the same spot. There seem to be counters for pretty much every move - players simply need to learn the way their characters work to be able to exploit them properly. At least, I hope that's the case.

Despite my complaints about how tricky For Honor is to pick up and play, let me state for the record that I'm enjoying playing it. I'm just pointing out my own difficulties learning the game to see whether anyone has had a similar - or indeed the opposite experience to me. It's just so unusual in this day and age to play a game that feels so different and new, and I'm interested to hear how other people are getting on with it.

In the meantime, Ubisoft announced earlier today that there will be an open Beta for the game from Feb 9th to 12th. And keep an eye out for our full review of For Honor when it's released in a fortnight.

For Honor Preview: A Whole New Sword Game

Jaz plays Ubisoft's upcoming sword fighting game, and talks to creative director Jason Vandenberghe about how it was developed.

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Comments 9

  • Avatar for Roto13 #1 Roto13 11 months ago
    I tried the beta but couldn't be bothered to put the required effort in. I can see this game getting a lot of negative reviews from people who refuse to learn how to play. I've seen it happen so many times before.
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  • Avatar for marcalan #2 marcalan 11 months ago
    I tried the beta this weekend also and from what I played it intrigued me. Not enough to preorder, but a probable summer purchase.

    I would say there is a frame of reference for some, but it's a bit obscure: Bushido Blade 1 and 2 for the PlayStation. Bushido Blade ran on a similar combat system of high, medium and low attacks and blade positioning was critical to success. For Honor reminds me of the old BB games, just faster and throwing in some Dynasty Warriors in the dominion mode.
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #3 NateDizzy 11 months ago
    Pretty much how I feel about For Honor as well; it definitely takes quite a few cues from fighting games. Sure, nothing in it is as mechanically complex as doing instant air dash combos in Guilty Gear, but it'll still require a hefty amount of practice to "git gud". Hell, if I wasn't already knee deep in fighters, I'd probably give For Honor a shot.Edited January 2017 by NateDizzy
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  • Avatar for docexe #4 docexe 11 months ago
    @Roto13 Yeah, I fear that will be the case. I like the concept behind the game and its battle system, but I wonder if it actually will be popular enough due to its complexity compared to other multiplayer games.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #5 chaoticBeat 11 months ago
    For Honor kind of seems like a perfect multiplayer counterpart to Nioh in a way. I'm trying not to get seduced by anymore games with the Switch right around the corner but the footage of this game is exciting to me. I want to get in on that open beta (right before launch); the ubisoft entry page on the last beta seemed broken for me.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #6 link6616 11 months ago
    @marcalan That description actually sells me quite considerably on this.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #7 VotesForCows 11 months ago
    @marcalan I was just chatting with some friends the other day about how great it'd be to have a new Bushido Blade. Interesting comparison!
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  • Avatar for DedicatedDark #8 DedicatedDark 11 months ago
    Loved the game. I can understand the trouble, for just regular playing you need to atleast play to lvl10 before you can competently just wield the base mechanics.

    Then it took me another 2 days to master 1 class with most of its nuances, the tutorial only teaches the very basics, class specific skills and things like attack feinting need to be learned on your own. Lvl2 AI is better than 95% of the player base. It's hard to master but I felt rewarded when I just became competent.

    One of the best multiplayer game I've played.
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  • Avatar for Jason-X #9 Jason-X 11 months ago
    Ubisoft keeps sending me invites for the beta, but I've been ignoring them up to this point due to having too much on my plate as it is. You've definitely got my interest piqued now, though. Thanks!
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