Over the course of the closed beta, I’ve played over eight hours of For Honor’s multiplayer component. I don’t think I can remember any other game that I have swung so wildly between love and hate with such frequency.
I’d played it briefly at E3 2015 and thought it was an interesting take on combat and multiplayer. I hadn’t played it again until the beta over the weekend and on first impressions it seemed like nothing much had changed.
Not to suggest that change was what was required. When I played at E3, For Honor felt polished and fully realised, but still in its infancy. The combat was an engaging blend of rock, paper, scissors and was a huge breath of fresh air. For so long, multiplayer was all about shooting and guns and melee combat was game after game cloning Batman: Arkham.
For Honor is something different. It comes from Ubisoft of course; one of the less risk averse publishers and one that seems willing to try new things and experiment. For Honor is definitely an experiment, but is it a successful one? After the closed beta, I’m still not sure. In fact, I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Love and hate are very similar emotions and in the heat of battle, everything gets mixed up.
For Honor’s greatest claim is its Art of War combat system. Players can choose their stance – Left, Right or Up – and the opposing player needs to mirror this stance in order to block attacks. It’s meant to make battles tense and gripping affairs. The system is designed to make players feel that they’re fighting for their lives and everyone small movement means life or death. And sometimes it succeeds.
You can use light and heavy attacks, guard breaks, parries, throws and more to get the best of your enemy. Block enough attacks and you’ll be able to trigger revenge mode. Once triggered, your health and attack power are temporarily boosted, allowing you to either defeat the enemy who’s been hammering you, or make a quick escape.
In theory this system should work a treat and sometimes it really does. The rest of the time though, it seems as though your enemies can just mash attack until you’re dead. Maybe the people who killed me are just skilled enough that it looks like mashing to my untrained eye? Or maybe they really were just mashing?
The problem is; I can’t tell the difference. I can’t figure out how to combat or counter them and no matter how much training I do or video guides I watch, I’m still at a loss. What further complicates matters is that the different classes all have different stances, different attacks and different strengths and weaknesses. When you first come up against a player who knows what they’re doing, you’ll be obliterated. It won’t feel nice and you’ll want to rage quit.
This issue arises because For Honor wears the costume of a pick up and play competitive multiplayer title, when in reality it’s something closer to Armored Core. No, it doesn’t have giant robots doing battle. But it does have a phenomenally steep learning curve. Each faction has – at this stage – three classes. The default Vanguard class is the all-rounder and is pretty similar across the board, but beyond that, things get tricky.
Usually, in multiplayer titles, each class is different, but generally play the same or similarly enough that they’re easily understood. In Destiny for example, the Guardians’ super moves are the main separator. In Overwatch, the characters are hugely different, but only have a couple of abilities which are easily learned and their overall attacks are easily identifiable.
In For Honor, each class beyond the Vanguard plays entirely differently. Depending on which class you’re playing as, you’ll need to adopt a different strategy each time. The way a Vanguard fights against another Vanguard is not how they’d fight against a Peacekeeper, Kensei or Berserker. There are 81 possible match-ups with the current classes. If you focus on just one class, that’s still nine battle styles you need to remember and become proficient in. In For Honor, one size definitely does not fit all.
In addition to learning the various fighting styles, you’ll need to keep an eye on your health and stamina gauges. Run out of health and you die, obviously. Run out of stamina and, well the same thing usually happens. Without stamina you can’t dodge roll or sprint. When that happens the enemy usually swarms you and separates your head from your body.
Not to mention that whether you play Dominion (4 v 4), Brawl (2 v 2) or Duel (1 v 1) you’ll need to adapt your fighting style yet again. It’s a lot to take in. It’s a lot to learn and it can very quickly and easily become overwhelming.
This may all seem rather negative, but I don’t mean it to be. For Honor is a game that asks, no, demands that the player give it attention and time. You can’t jump in and expect to be an all-conquering hero in a matter of minutes. You’ll need to fight and train and die to learn. For Honor is not a casual pick up and play game, it’s particularly hardcore. Fans of the Souls series are going to be its biggest fans.
The game modes available in the beta are as mentioned; Dominion, Brawl and Duel. Dominion sees eight players do battle in two teams. Three points must be captured and held on the map with point B being arguably the most important. Located in the centre of the map, B is where the AI controlled soldiers run and try to sway the tide of battle to their team’s favour. By capturing bases and defeating enemy heroes and soldiers, players accumulate points.
When one team reaches 1000 points the enemy breaks rank and begins to flee. When this happens there are no more respawns for the fleeing team and if all four are killed the match is one. However, if one of the heroes on the losing team can manage to capture a point, they will rally and regain the ability to respawn.
Dominion is a brutal tug of war that emphasises zone control and PvP kills more than any shooter in recent memory. Being a lone wolf is never an option as being attacked by two or more heroes at once usually ends in your death. For Honor puts a huge emphasis on the rhythm of battle too. Withdrawing to recover and regroup, knowing when to fight and when to flee and forcing errors on the enemies’ behalf far outweigh getting kills.
Brawl is 2 v 2 and does away with the AI soldiers. The maps are smaller and there are no respawns. At the beginning of each round, you are paired up with an enemy hero and the aim is to defeat them quickly enough to assist your team mate. A personal favourite in this mode is to use the Vanguard’s guard break/charge attack and get a one hit kill by throwing the enemy over a cliff. It’s so damn cheap, but I don’t care. It’s effective.
Duel is 1 v 1and follows the same rules as Brawl. It’s the most tense mode, in my opinion and it’s also the mode you’ll most likely rage. When you get your arse handed to you 0 – 5 and you can’t even land a single hit, you’ll wonder if you shouldn’t quit gaming altogether.
That is, until you get a few wins under your belt, start to figure out the rhythm and the patterns and perform your first few executions. The best I’ve seen so far is the female Berserker’s. She brings the enemy to their knees with an axe to the shoulder, knees them in the groin and swiftly removes their head. Ouch.
The premise of For Honor remains something of a mystery, not that it matters much for multiplayer. Still, it’s an undeniable thrill to see Vikings, Knights and Samurai face-off, even if it’s also pretty weird. For my money, Vikings are the best faction, but that comes down to personal taste. While playing I had different people watch and ask why I hadn’t chosen the Knights or Samurai. “Vikings are the best,” I’d say. They didn’t agree.
In the beginning of the beta (and I’m assuming full release) players choose which faction they belong to. It doesn’t restrict your ability to choose a class or play heroes from other factions though. Your faction choice only affects the meta game; Faction War.
Faction War is the results of each and every multiplayer match on a global scale and cross-platform. Whenever a match is finished, every player is granted War Assets that can deploy across the regions their faction is fighting in. Deploying War Assets assists the factions into conquering more regions.
Once a turn has been completed, the figures are tallied up and the regions divided. Faction War is split into Seasons which have five rounds and each round is split into turns. After a round has been completed, players are given rewards based on their Faction’s performance. Rewards are also granted after each Season.
Details of the rewards aren’t fully known at this stage, but seem to be cosmetic in nature. This seems wise so as to prevent the team that wins becoming even stronger and winning more often. Along with cosmetic, there’s a deep and complex customisation system that governs your characters secondary level rating; Loadout. Think of it like Destiny’s Light Level.
The higher your armour and weapon rating, the higher your Loadout. Whether this affects your performance remains to be seen, but it’s definitely an incredibly addictive and deep aspect of an already incredibly deep and addictive game.
With the beta over, I’m waiting impatiently for the full release. I did and I do swing between love and hate for For Honor, but not because it’s not incredible, but because it is and because I want to get better at it sooner.
We’ll have plenty more coverage of the beta over this week so stay tuned.
For Honor’s closed beta was played on PS4 by way of a code given to PowerUp! by Ubisoft.