Last night at an Ubisoft event, I had the chance to play the company's most unique and surprising announced title. For Honor is something new for Ubisoft, a 4v4 multiplayer action title featuring pitched battles between classic warriors. The trailer showed off knights, vikings, and samurai as potential combatants, but my demo was knights only. Sadness. I really wanted to take a crack at the samurai.
I had one series of expectations heading into my For Honor session. I figured the game would be a blown out version of Assassin's Creed lost competitive multiplayer. Visually, the game does share AC's artistic style, so I assumed it traded out the focus on hiding and subterfuge for all-out combat.
For Honor is nothing like Assassin's Creed.
Let's dive into the basic controls, based on the PlayStation 4 controller I used in the demo. L2 is a shared button for guarding and lock-on in the game. R1 is a fast light attack, R2 is a major heavy attack. Movement is the left stick. Right stick is where most of the action happens. Holding the right analog stick in one of three directions - up, right, or left - changes your weapon stance on the fly. Your stance determines where you'll guard and attack from.
In pitched one-on-one combat, you'll be holding L2 the entire time to keep your camera locked on your foe. If you see a light overhead incoming, simply hold up on the right stick and you'll block it. If your opponent is holding their guard on the right, you'll want to attack on the left or overhead to land a hit. For Honor is a game about timing more than guessing. A circular icon divided into three sections indicates the stances you and your opponent are holding, so there are less blind assumptions.
You could compare For Honor's combat to Bushido Blade, but it's less complex and prone to the random button mashing that characterized low-level Bushido Blade play. Once you understand the basic controls and icon system, you can reliably defend from attacks and poke at holes in your opponent's defense. In fact, with two players of equal skill, you could potentially trade blows without damage for quite a while. To prevent that from happening, there's two other available options. Square is a guard break, allowing you to slam your foe into the battlefield, and double tapping X plus a direction does a dodge roll.
One-on-one, For Honor's combat system works really well. There's nothing else that plays like it. That playability breaks down a bit when you're up against two or more players though. You can still block attacks from behind if you're holding the right stance, but it's harder to see and anticipate incoming attacks from multiple opponents and if they attack from different stances, you're pretty much screwed. If I went up against more than one player in For Honor's demo, it was a recipe for death. Most of the time, if I saw more than one enemy icon heading my way, I simply ran for reinforcements.
The only game mode available for the playable demo was Dominion. Either side attempts to hold three regions on the map. Two of the regions are forts on either side of the map, while the last one is wide expanse where AI-controlled cannon fodder fight. The static regions can be held by simply standing in their area of influence, while the mid-section depends on your team thinning out the enemy AI ranks to push your forces forward. Holding each area will offer up points over time, but you also gain a few points for fodder kills and player kills.
Once a team reaches 1,000 points, the mode's focus shifts. If you're above the point threshold, holding two or more regions breaks the enemy ranks. While in the broken state, the other team won't respawn: kill them and they're gone. Kill the entire team and you win. Your opponents can rally by taking regions back, but the stakes are raised considerably in the broken state.
The core of For Honor is different from the games I've played recently. It's not a fast paced as some first-person shooters, combat is slower and more deliberate. It's not Assassin's Creed. It's not even Bushido Blade or Dynasty Warriors, despite sharing some elements of those titles. The basic idea here is surprisingly solid, but the question is what Ubisoft is going to add on top of it. Do the other warrior types control differently from the knights? What other game modes are available? Is the game free-to-play or a premium title?
For a company that played it safe at its press conference, For Honor represents something new. The demo was pretty awesome, even if I'm not the best at playing it (my team won the first round and lost the second). I'm looking forward to seeing For Honor evolve and expand before release, but for now I can give it my early E3 2015 recommendation.