09.14.2015
For Honor Impressions: Medieval Multiplayer Madness
In today’s industry, introducing a game with new ideas that lacks an existing user base is a difficult pitch, particularly for large publishers. Breaking that trend, Ubisoft has decided to try their hand at what’s best described as a multiplayer-focused melee combat game with For Honor. Announced at E3 2015, the game pits Vikings, Samurai, and Knights against one another for a yet unidentified reason in small-scale multiplayer battles. At PAX Prime 2015, I had a chance to try it out for myself along with a small group of friends, and despite a lengthy 4-hour wait in line, we all walked away engrossed and ready for more.

The demo on display was 20 minutes long, with two teams of four lining up along the sets of TVs. The only faction available at the show was the Knights, and after a brief character customization, each player was dropped into a cohesive tutorial. It covered the familiar basics; movement, sprinting, light and heavy attacks—the works. However, the primary purpose of this training period was to introduce the game’s unique but simplistic combat mechanics.  When locked on to an opponent, the player uses the right thumbstick to direct their blade; up, left, or right. This will both determine the character’s angle of attack when striking as well as their stance of defense. When facing an opponent, there is no H.U.D. to decipher their stance asides from a brief indication in the form of a small white dot in the direction of an enemy’s swing. Otherwise, it is all visual judgment of the adversary in order to gauge their form and react quickly enough to block or land a strike.

When facing an enemy NPC’s it’s relatively straightforward, but contending against other real and wildly unpredictable players is very difficult to keep up with. In my time with the game, intense duels were thrilling but seldom. More commonly I found it myself catching my enemy off guard by charging in aggressively, or having difficulty defending myself once I was already being wailed upon. Luckily, there is also a parry break attack to resort to when having trouble finding an opening in a rival’s formidable defense. While it was difficult to get a full grasp on the combat in the short amount of time, I still believe these mechanics lay out a solid foundation to allow the potential for experienced players to find themselves in proper, exciting skirmishes.

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In regards to match structure, rounds begin with players fighting for points, gained either by slaying foes or capturing control points placed across the map. It becomes clear very quickly that teamwork is integral to dominating each round, as it’s only feasible to defend against one assailant at a time. Without an ally to fight alongside, lone wolves will find themselves very vulnerable to being ambushed by a group and left only with the options to vainly challenge the opposing odds or retreat in search of assistance. Additionally, the game puts in place rewards that players can earn by attaining a certain amount of points in a single life, such as artillery bombardments to direct onto the field. While it is a feature familiar to most modern multiplayer titles, it is welcome here and adds extra threats to be cautious of.

Apart from other players, each team also has waves of weak infantry NPC’s that will flood the control points, although they don’t prove to be much of a threat and serve as little more than obstacles to be weaved or cleaved through between each faction. Admittedly, it is a lot of fun to get lost in the slaughter as you hack your way through enemy troops, but it can often distract from an incoming opponent. Once a team has reached enough points, the opposing faction is thrown into a “breaking” state in which they can no longer respawn upon death. However, if that team can manage to steal enough points back through kills or capture points, they will be relieved from this breaking period for another chance, turning many battles into a tug-of-war to the death. The team left standing or with the most points by the end of the time limit are the victors, which unfortunately did not happen to be us.

Had it not taken so long to reach our controllers, I would have loved to jump right back in line for another match. For Honor isn’t looking to shake the industry or make us evaluate what we know about multiplayer gaming, but it is certainly a well crafted game that is fun to play with unique enough core mechanics to have it stand out on it’s own. I anticipate hearing more about it from Ubisoft in the coming months.

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