Midst the fog of war, as dozens of bodies clad in armor strike out at each other creating a cacophony of ringing metal, thumps, and screams, your mind goes quiet as a proud warrior - different from the rest - strides through the chaos and advances toward your position. An apocalyptic war is unfolding all around you, but you pass through it as if in a dream, focused solely on your opponent who is now within striking distance. Has he come alone? Are any of your comrades still alive? Are they near? Do you make the first strike, or wait for your enemy to make his move first? This is the thrill of For Honor, and it's the battle following that first exchange of blows that makes this game so gripping.
Competitive melee combat at its finest
For Honor is first and foremost a competitive multiplayer game. This is weapon-based, melee combat evolved, and it's everything you hoped "sword fighting" in video games would be when you were younger. While the multiplayer experience features multiple modes, the highlights of every match regardless of game mode are the duels and small skirmishes between you and opposing players.
There are three classes in the game - knights, vikings, and samurai - and each faction has four playable heroes which all represent a different class or play style. Though all 16 heroes have their own move sets and unique abilities, strengths and weaknesses are pretty much the same across the four class types. Vanguards are balanced, medium range fighters. Assassins are quick and deadly, but vulnerable. Heavy warriors are basically the tanks, powerful but slow. Hybrid warriors are just that, a complex mixture of styles with heroes that generally prefer longer-ranged weapons.
Every duel is unique.
The sheer variety in class and weapon types, especially considering that every player will use his or her hero differently, ensures that every single duel is a completely new experience. This is where For Honor truly shines. The combat system gives you total control of your avatar. At any given time you can hold a stance which readies your warrior to strike or defend from the left, right, or from above. Attacks, combos, parries, and grapples from multiple directions all have their advantages and counters, and watching two skillful players engaged in a duel is a true spectacle. For Honor has the potential to become probably the most watchable esport I can imagine.
There is no dull skirmish. Every swing of your weapon has consequences, and the learning curve is formidable. After hours or playtime with a single class, I still felt like I was learning the nuances of their combos and counters. At a recent preview event I spent nearly three hours playing exclusively as the Peacekeeper, and in the closing minutes I had a developer named Stephen giving me hints and suggestions that opened my mind to entirely new offensive strategies. The complete freedom given to you to control and manipulate these warriors is addictive. It makes you feel like a total badass, like you could really handle yourself on the medieval battlefield after a few hours of play.
The most fun I had during the preview event was my time playing Elimination. In this mode there are no points to capture, and no bots running around. It's a straight-up 4v4 deathmatch. At the beginning of each round you'll spawn in front of an enemy standing maybe 25 yards away, and you'll have to immediately decide whether to engage them head-on or else retreat to find your three teammates wherever they are on the map.
Immediately racing forward to engage your enemy is a rush, but it's not always the smart thing to do. If you die in Elimination mode, you can't respawn - an ally has to come revive you. Of course, they risk standing still and vulnerable for a short time while they attempt to bring you back, but in a 4v4 deathmatch every team member is vital. If your enemy is able to perform an execution on you, you can't be revived at all. This of course gives you an incentive to execute your enemies whenever possible, but you leave yourself open during the execution animation, and there are usually other enemies nearby. You see? Every moment of every duel or skirmish presents the player with many decisions, and every decision has game-changing consequences.
Try it for yourself.
You need to get your hands on For Honor to truly appreciate its depth. I found that, much like Overwatch, I kept falling in love with whatever hero I most recently used. During the closed alpha I used the Warden for hours and didn't think I'd ever part ways with my beloved long-sword. Then I played a round with the Conqueror and found his defensive advantages intoxicating. Most recently during the preview event with Ubisoft I found the Peacekeeper's speed and combos to my liking, and she's the hero I can't wait to play more of in the upcoming closed beta. Other preview participants wouldn't shut up about how awesome the Shugoki is, and you can see for yourself how intimidating he can be in the trailer above.
If you'd like to meet me on the battlefield and try For Honor for yourself, you can sign up for January's closed beta here. Your performance there will affect the game's Faction War, a meta war between all three factions that spans every game mode across all platforms. We'll have more on that later.