For Honor preview: hands-on with story mode and multiplayer

One thousand years ago, cataclysm fell upon the world and stoked the flames of war between three warrior nations comprising of Vikings, Knights, and Samurai. That ostensibly endless struggle has carried on until this very day. One thousand years of bloodletting and sacrifice for the sake of dominion, and now it’s your turn to prove yourself among the hardened warriors.

As the three nations collide to retain and claim new lands, an outside group emerges called the Blackstone Legion. This ominous group is led by Apollyon, a ruthless and unforgiving female knight. She doesn’t see the world as Vikings vs. Knights vs. Samurai, but as a world divided between wolves and sheep. Her objective is to build a new nation made of wolves from the three cultures of the game. Thus sets the stage for our story.

If it wasn’t clear already For Honor is a game about war, but unlike the Call of Duty games and Battlefields of the world For Honor pulls you into the close-up, unforgiving, and brutal reality of melee combat. Taking three iconic types of medieval warriors, you also get to see some favorite hypothetical matchups come to life right before your eyes.

Watch us play The Sabotage mission

 Now there are a number of medieval melee combat games out in the wild already, so what makes For Honor unique? Well, first up it offers an entirely new way to fight. Using the right analog stick, players can shift their warrior to one of three attacking or defending stances; left, right, or overhead. If an enemy that’s facing you is blocking their left side, quickly switch your stance to overhead or left and strike where they’re exposed. Conversely, if an enemy is attacking you, switch your stance to match the direction of the oncoming attack. All strong enemies and opposing players fight and defend in the same way as you, so survival and victory rest upon how quickly you can react to your enemy’s movements and how good you are at catching them off guard.

The full abilities of your combat arsenal are deep and varied, and I had barely enough time to even scratch the surface. At its base you have a light attack, heavy attack, dodge roll, sprint, block (using the right analog stick), and block break. These make up the foundation of each warrior—for the most part. Beyond these core moves, each class of warrior has a hefty list of combos and special moves to learn, and on top of that you can assign and earn special abilities called “feats” to even further tailor your play style. Some of the feats shown off during the preview included gaining a massive sprint boost for a short period of time, restoring a portion of health, and throwing fire bombs.

For Honor constantly emphasizes letting you ‘play the way you want.’ Although that’s overwhelmingly one of the most overused buzz phrases in the industry today, For Honor makes a strong effort by offering a solid variety of warriors split into four classes: Vanguard, Heavy, and Assassin (the fourth has yet to be announced). By combining its classes, combos, and feats it seems that For Honor may very well keep its promise to let you ‘play the way you want.’

A few developers commented on For Honor as being like a medieval Call of Duty (specifically regarding the multiplayer, which I’ll get to in a minute). After spending several hours with the game I’ve come to realize that a far more apt comparison would be to call it an evolution of traditional fighting games, like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Although completely reimagined, the stances act exactly the same way as high, medium, and low attacks in fighting games, and in order to avoid being hurt by attacks your opponents throw at you, you have to match their attacking position when blocking. Having block breaker moves and combo sets just reinforces that idea.

Watch us play Raiding the Raiders mission

Mechanically speaking, For Honor will take some getting used to. At times it was hard to know if the game wasn’t responding as it should, or if I wasn’t. Timing was a constant issue but will hopefully just be something that comes with practice. However, I definitely would’ve liked it if the right stick was more responsive to quicker and smaller movements. There were a number of times where I knew where an attack was coming from with plenty of time to react, but I didn’t push the right stick far enough in that direction for a stance shift to register. The rest of the game ran very smoothly overall with some minor glitches here and there. The only real technical issue I experienced was poor sound quality when sounds peaked, otherwise combat and general physics of the world feels authentic, with character movements and weapons being sensibly weighted.

With the comparison of fighting games in mind it makes sense that where For Honor shines is in its multiplayer. Elimination, Duel, and Dominion are the game’s three multiplayer modes. Elimination is a best of five rounds, 4v4 team deathmatch where players get only one life to finish off the enemy team. Defeated players can be revived by fellow teammates as long as a player isn’t executed—or thrown over an edge. This makes paying attention to downed enemies just as important as knowing where the active players are because a single revive can dramatically change a round’s outcome. Elimination also features perks that are scattered around the battlefield for players to pick up, like damage or defense up, health restore, and sprint boosts. For the most part, Elimination is purely hack-and-slash chaos, but it is easy to see it becoming a highly skilled and tactical game mode once players learn the ins-and-outs of the characters and combat controls.

Again, having compared For Honor to fighting games a couple times already, it seems obvious that its strongest game mode is the pure and simple Duel. In all other game modes it’s extremely easy to get overpowered, and can feel simply pointless to try to resist when faced with more than one opponent. Duel, however, pits your skill against a single opponent. You’re forced to read and react to the enemy player’s movements and exploit their weaknesses. You also have to understand the class you’re playing against in order to be successful as well. This mode simply feels like the purest form of the game, and one that I can easily see myself going back to.

Watch us play Elimination mode

Dominion is the same as Elimination in a lot of ways, but is essentially For Honor’s version of Domination in Call of Duty, or Supremacy in Battlefront. Holding control points and killing enemy players will earn your team points, and the more areas under your team’s control the faster you’ll win. Once a team reaches 1000 points the opposing side can no longer revive fallen allies. At that point the objective becomes eliminating the enemy team and whichever team has the most points when the battle’s over wins.

The culmination of every victory and loss across all multiplayer modes on all systems (PS4, Xbox One, and PC) is reflected on the world map in a meta-game that For Honor calls Faction War. Before you begin playing online you have to choose which faction to support, and every victory you have online will add to that faction’s territorial gains and universal score. Faction War is split into turns, rounds, and seasons. Every 6 hours the turn will end and contested territories will be given to the faction that won the most multiplayer matches in that area. After every 2 weeks the faction that controls the most territory is declared the winner of that round, and any member of the winning faction – that played at least one multiplayer match – will get rewarded with items like bonus in-game currency. Finally, after 10 weeks the season will end and all members of the faction will be rewarded with specialty character ornaments, in-game currency, and emblems. Between seasons of Faction War, For Honor will receive significant content updates that may include new maps, character gear, or even new playable characters.

For Honor’s focus clearly is on its multiplayer, but that was even more evident after playing two separate story missions. Its premise of three vastly different warrior nations at constant odds while an outsider gathers the most ruthless warriors from each tribe to surpass them all sounds extremely promising, however, it’s hard to see it living up to the pitch. Throughout the game you will play as various warriors across the factions as you explore its dedicated storyline, but–with few exceptions—I found each character I saw in the world to be unremarkable to the point of making them nearly indistinguishable from one another. Clearly there are strong aesthetic differences from faction to faction, but within those groups the differences are exceptionally minor.

I expect that some of my concerns about the story being somewhat disjointed and lacking a real grip on players will be expunged after playing it in its entirety, but I can’t help but feeling that it will still fail to meet expectations. However, I have full confidence that For Honor’s multiplayer will constantly bring people back time and time again, especially with its dedicated updates and Faction War meta-game. I was initially worried that the combat of For Honor would quickly start to feel repetitive, but the fact that there are 12 unique playable characters with highly individualized play styles quickly quelled that concern. For gamers that look for strong story in their purchases, I cannot say that my time with For Honor proved it to be the game you’re looking for. For gamers who love multiplayer focused games, or who are just looking for something new and unique, it seems you’d be sorely amiss to let For Honor pass you by.