I’m going to be honest: I’m really kind of over most combat in gaming. I’ve shot, stabbed, gutted, and smashed a lot of NPCs in my day, and not a few players as well. That isn’t to say I dislike it. Though I prefer there’s some social/political weight behind my actions (like in a good PvP game), I can enjoy mindless lobby killing with friends as well, at least in short bursts. However, once in awhile, a concept comes along that reminds me that combat and games isn’t finished, and the systems can still be improved. That’s where Ubisoft’s For Honor comes in.
I really wish I’d gotten some time with the game’s behind-closed-doors multiplayer demo, but instead, I only got to play a single player experience demo with a built in tutorial. I played as a knight referred to as the “warden,” which reminded me of my role in one of my favorite RPGs, Dragon Age. Similar to my DA warden, this was a strong, silent protagonist with a mysterious background and a great future ahead of them. I was able to choose between a male and female, but at least in my demo, there was no character customization beyond gender (and my demo handler wasn’t sure if there was any difference in the hitbox sizes, so min-maxers will need to wait a bit longer to find this out). There’s sort of classes with different strengths and weaknesses, like the samurai assassin’s ranged attacks at the cost of weaker defense, but my demo didn’t expose me to this. What I did get to see is a single player narrative against AI that was reasonably interesting story wise, as the good and the bad aren’t spelled out, but clearly it’s the weak versus the strong, and you show yourself to be the strong, of course.
The real meat of the game, though, is its Art of Battle System. Similar to medieval European ideas of sword fighting, the usual five stances are simplified into three: high, medium, and low. Like in real life, you need to match your sword’s position with your opponent’s to block them, so if your opponent moves their sword high, you need to flick your right joystick up to match the position and block the hit. It’s like rock, paper, scissors except the attacker wants anything but a tie and the defender wants a tie. You can also simply attack faster when your opponent opens themself up to an attack by switching positions, but if you miss, you’re left open. In the unlikely event you find someone who can perfectly match you, there’s a guard breaker, though it takes a bit longer to execute and thus leaves you more open. There are ultimate moves, but they require finding power ups on the field.
Against AI, the system is fun enough. It takes some getting used to, and though it sounds easy enough, there’s enough heft in your actions and delays from your swings that your moment to moment choices have some real heft. It reminds me of times in my childhood where my brother and friends would fight with toy lightsabers or wooden weapons, in that, unlike with real weapons, a single blow isn’t going to significant damage, but it does enough that you learn rather quickly to not let anything slip through your defense. You’re strong enough to take a hit, but fragile enough that there’s immediate consequences for your mistakes.
That’s where the above trailer comes into play. we can see that multiplayer is based on base capping, but the fights are about more than mindless slaughter. You should expect to kill two guys at once like you might in some other games. You’re going to be in simple fights that require close attention to detail while trying to read your opponent, giving a mix of twitch skills and an ability to read others. Against AI, the speed of combat was decent enough, but it remains to be seen how this plays out from a multiplayer perspective. I have high hopes though, as there are few games I can think of that have this level of polish, feel this simple, this accessible, but also fairly deep.
Related: For Honor, Hands On, Preview