I was able to participate in the For Honor alpha over the weekend. For those of you who aren’t aware, For Honor is a game representing sword battles between Knights, Vikings, and Samurai. While the game will have a single player story mode, a lot of the focus in the demonstrations to date, including the alpha, were solely the multiplayer mode(s).
When first loading the game up, you are welcomed by a gorgeous video that sets the stage for the battles to come while highlighting the history of the three classes briefly. From there, you are immediately taken to a training area to help familiarize you with the controls. As For Honor is attempting something rather new and unique, it’s essentially a requirement that you successfully complete the training. The first thing that struck me upon loading into the game world were the graphics and art direction. You can tell they are aiming for realism and a certain grittiness to highlight the setting. It serves the game very well and as a fan of castles, knights, swordplay, etc…..it instantly put a smile on my face.
Just as impressive was the sound design. Sound is a very important aspect to me and with a game highlighting fierce sword combat amidst a battlefield, it’s critical to the setting. Fortunately the game shows well here too with the clang of swords ringing out and shield blocks reverberating through my speakers, all while the yells, hollers, and screams echoed from beyond.
The training is rather straightforward in teaching you the basics of attacking and blocking, but can also then be extended to help familiarize yourself with the main game mode against AI opponents if you choose. Blocking is done by holding the left trigger and then one of three directions ; left, right, or overhead. The goal is to match the direction the attack is coming from so you can then parry and counter. While this sounds incredibly simple in theory, doing this when someone is rushing at you with various attacks can be quite tricky. Attacking is done in the same vein with holding one of the three directions and then choosing either a quick or strong strike. As you would expect, quick strikes are faster but do less damage while strong strikes require wind up but payoff in increased damage should you land them. Dodging is critical and can be done in any direction at any time by taking a simple step backwards or to the side. Again, the direction and timing of your dodge is key in either making an opponent miss, or causing yourself to be in harm’s way. Lastly, you can also interrupt an opponent’s block with a quick shoulder charge which you can then attempt to combo into a strike. All of these components come together to create rather strategic one on one battles which certainly impressed me. If you aren’t focused and responsive, you can die very quickly. But when utilized correctly, you and another player can truly have some epic conflicts. As I believe anyone would hope, losing a tough fight is controller crushing but winning is oh so joyful. Winning a one on one battle is then further emphasized by the ability to execute your opponent. The alpha allowed two such executions that varied by hero choice. As you would expect given the setting for the game, they were brutal and the ones I used ranged from cutting off your opponents head to snapping their neck with a mace. Glorious. Of course, the game wouldn’t be complete if you couldn’t then taunt your opponent to drive the win home. Thankfully, you can levy a variety of taunts at your opponents at any time.
The alpha presented three game modes to the players. Duel was a pure one on one battle between you and a single opponent. This mode was a great way to truly hone your abilities in one on one combat without any other distractions. Brawl is a two on two mode that essentially acted like a “doubles” version of duel. You each face a single opponent across from you to start, but as soon as one player dies, it is now a two on one situation. I imagine that once players get a better grasp on the mechanics, Brawl could produce some amazing highlight reels of players killing two opponents and winning the round after being down two to one. The rounds in both Duel and Brawl are over quickly and as such, winning a match means winning multiple rounds in a best of five. Lastly, the main game mode of For Honor is Dominion. Dominion is a four on four battle where you fight over the traditional A, B, and C objective areas to earn points. Kills and capture time continually add points for your team with the first team reaching 1,000 winning. Adding a further wrinkle, the maps are loaded with AI soldiers as well who are battling and will, in a small way, help a team capture or hold points. It reminded me most of a medieval Attrition mode from Titanfall, and frankly that’s a very good thing as I found the mode very enjoyable. This mode truly gives the feeling that you are part of a larger battle and the ambiance it creates is memorable. Fighting over an objective to then see one of the four core enemy characters approaching created a strong sense of tension. Once engaged and locked on with the enemy player, the rest of the AI soldiers leave each of you alone and again, it all comes down to your ability to win a one on one battle against your opponent. It is worth noting though, that of the four human players on each side, there is nothing preventing you from teaming up on an enemy. Several times while trying to capture an objective I was rushed by two enemy players which led to my demise each time. It’s clear to me that a coordinated, communicating team of four will have a large advantage in For Honor. Lastly, you are able to play any of the game modes above purely against bots or against real players. This is an excellent option as it not only broadens the options for play, but will help newer players acclimate more easily.
Where For Honor surprised me the most is in the area of profile and hero customization. Taking cues from most modern shooters, progression looks to have a firm place in the game. This is very welcome as it will be key to its longevity. First, you are able to design a crest for your profile represented by a shield. As someone who was brought up sternly on English history and with family crests around the house, I enjoyed this small touch greatly. While the profile shield is a nice addition, it’s the hero customization that truly impressed me. For each hero class, you can fully customize your look from full outfits, armor material, colors, etc….all down to each individual piece. If you like a specific design and color you can use that across all of your materials and armor pieces, or you can mix and match to your heart’s delight. As game with set classes and designs, this is a very welcome addition to add some uniqueness for each player on the battlefield.
Each hero will also have a set of skills and passive bonuses that you can set before a match as well. There are four slots for each hero, each containing three different options that you can unlock over time.
Most importantly in my opinion, is the game contains loot you can earn (called “Gear” in-game). After a long Dominion match that we won, I unlocked a new hilt for my mace that gave me a bonus to my revenge attacks. I wasn’t expecting this aspect to be in the game but I think, again, this is going to greatly add to its longevity. Some of the future possibilities were demonstrated by the game displaying an “Ubisoft developer only” hero who had unique items and frankly, looked incredible. I can’t wait to build and customize my knight over time so I strike pure fear into my opponents on the battlefield. My only early concern would be around making sure there is some sort of leveled matchmaking system in the game to ensure the playing field is even. On that front, we will have to wait and see how Ubisoft handles it.
As you play, you earn Steel that acts as currency in the game. Using that currency, you can unlock packs of Gear of varying quality. Again, For Honor is taking queues from other popular shooters who are using the pack system to offer rewards over time. While I enjoy these systems, it’s seem obvious to me that you will be able to use real money to buy extra packs should you choose (like Halo, Overwatch, Gears of War 4, etc…) and I just hope that it isn’t necessary nor gives players an advantage to do so. Ideally, real money purchases (if added) will only contribute to cosmetic items.
Daily and weekly challenges and events look to be in place too ; another welcome feature. They are broken out by AI and PvP challenges and reward bonus XP and/or steel upon completion. You can also accept up to three “contracts” which are custom challenges you choose for yourself.
Overall, I was very impressed with For Honor’s Alpha. Outside of a single match where I faced a technical issue, the game ran well with no hiccups, lag, or input delays even at this stage. Battles were intense and rewarding, the customization is impressive, and the depth of profile progression was positively surprising. The delay to 2017 is a good one in my opinion as the more depth and polish this game receives the better. Ubisoft has a potential gem on their hands here and I would hate to see it get decapitated early due to a poor launch. Personally, I can’t wait to rejoin the battlefield.