For Honor Hands-on Preview

Ned Jordan
In Short
A firsthand look at some of For Honor's multiplayer modes and single player missions.

With its knights, Vikings, and samurai locked in battle, For Honor may look for all the world like a third-person action game. Well, in a way it is that, but there's a lot more to it than that. When two knights met on the battlefield do you think they both figuratively mashed their attack buttons until one of them keeled over? Of course not, and that's the approach that For Honor takes.

First the basics. When you face another warrior, either player or AI controlled, you'll face off in a duel to the death. You'll need to look for an opening and exploit it with good timing while keeping your opponent from doing the same to you. There are three guard positions in For Honor that are controlled with the right stick that will protect you against swings that come at you from your right and left, with the third protecting you from overhead attacks. Similarly, you can attack either of your opponent's flanks or make an overhead strike. If an attack is made while the defender is blocking from the same direction, the attack will be safely parried. Those are the very basics, but there's a lot more to the fight system than that. First, there are both light and heavy attacks, trading speed for power between the two. There's a knock-back push that you can try to use to break your opponent's guard, or if you're in the right spot, into a torch or off the castle wall. Things get more complicated by the fact that there are three factions, each with a unique roster of warriors with their own sets of skills and preferred weapons. The differences aren't simply aesthetic ' you'll have to become familiar with your warrior's strengths and know how to use them to take advantage of your current opponent's weaknesses. There are certain attack sequences that you can take advantage of that are almost like fighting game combos, and that can be broken by your opponent with the a well-timed block or counter strike. I wouldn't go so far as to say that For Honor is like a fighting game, but it certainly takes inspiration from fighting games to make an action game strategic. When I played the game at E3 For Honor felt more like a paper-scissors-rock affair of picking between three attack and three defensive positions, but the game is much deeper than that and you'll have to adjust your tactics based on who you're facing. And that 'who' can be plural as well. You may find yourself facing off against more than one enemy warrior, and you'll need to extra diligent to fend off strikes coming from multiple attackers.

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Three multiplayer modes were made available during the hands-on press event I attended, Dominion, Elimination, and Duel. Dominion is a control point capture and hold mode, with three points and two teams of four players each. The middle control point is also a clash point where AI controlled minions from both teams enter the fray. As an elite warrior you can tear through these minions, but they can dink you to death or leave you wounded when a full-health enemy knight arrives on the scene. This mode puts another interesting twist on point capture gameplay by adding a final round to the battle. Once one team holds enough points long enough and kills enough enemy players to score 1,000 points, a new phase begins in which the team in the lead must hunt down the players on the other team. There are no respawns or revives at this point, and the mode transitions to a survival death match. If the team in the lead eliminates the other team at this point, they emerge victorious. However, the hunted team can make a comeback by capturing a control point or eliminating enemies, pushing the enemy team back from victory and the match back to being contested. Dominion is an enjoyable mode, with the fights over control points ranging from one-on-one face-offs between two players to multiplayer brawls in the midst of an army of AI-controlled soldiers.

Elimination is another team-based mode that supports four player teams. Players begin the match paired off with an enemy at different locations around the map. You can choose to immediately square off against your opponent, or turn and run. There are a couple of tactical reasons that you might want to run, the first being that your chosen warrior may not match up well against your opponent's warrior, at least as far as your skills go. The other reason is that you can try to create a two-on-one matchup early in the round, quickly putting your team at an advantage. Elimination is played in rounds, with each round ending when one team is eliminated. The match consists of up to five rounds, with the first team to win three rounds taking the match. Elimination allows players to revive teammates, although players that are defeated with an execution move are out for the remainder of the round. The end game in a round often turns into a game of cat and mouse, with the team in the lead trying to flush out the remaining players while guarding against revives. Communication is vital in Elimination, as players need to call out enemy sightings and call for help when they find themselves facing multiple opponents. There's a lot of room in this mode for a variety of team tactics, and it will be fun watching these tactics evolve after the game has been released.

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Duel mode is the one-on-one match mode. Similar to Elimination, this is a best-of-five series of duels, but there's no one around to revive you if you fall. This mode is played on small arena style maps, so there's no need to track down your opponent and nowhere to run if things start going badly for you.

When For Honor releases in February, these multiplayer modes won't only exist in isolation. Faction War will ask you to pledge your allegiance to one of the three factions in the game, and the results of each multiplayer match will earn points for the winning faction and allow it to capture the territories on the world map in which the matches take place. Faction War is divided into turns which run for six hours and are used to determine which factions own each territory that was fought over during the turn. Rounds run for two weeks and the faction with the most territory after a round ends will win rewards that allow players to earn special gear. At the highest level is the season which runs for ten weeks, and at the end of a season players receive rewards based on the success of their chosen faction ' and then it all begins again. Some of the rewards will be exclusive to a season, so it pays to return to the game to take part in each new season. Another one of the interesting things about Faction War is that the maps will change to reflect the status of the war. The layouts will remain the same, but the looks and styles will change depending on the each territory's location and which faction controls it. There will be four to six variations available for each map adding some much needed variety to the usually static map rotation in multiplayer games.

I had a chance to play around with the game's customization features and they are pretty extensive. You can customize the different parts of your weapon, for example choosing a new hilt for your sword, as well as components of your armor. You can further customize these with different crests and patterns, and then select from different color schemes to apply to them. There are also further embellishments you can add, such as attachments for your helmet. I was able to create a unique look for my knight, and that was just with the stock items available when you start playing the game. Once the Faction War items start rolling in the odds of you facing your doppelganger on the field of battle will be just about nil.

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In addition to the time spent with the multiplayer modes, I was given the opportunity to play through two of the missions from the game's campaign. The game is set on a parallel world of sorts to ours, except that in this world a cataclysm has driven the world's Viking, Knight, and Samurai factions to war over some of the world's remaining livable space. There will be missions for each faction that will tell the story from multiple perspectives, and one of the missions that I played was drawn from the Vikings' story and the other from the Knights'.

The Knight mission puts you in control of an assassin, a class that's a fast attacker but that is relatively fragile. This class' preference for smaller faster weapons also means that it is at a disadvantage while on the defensive and doesn't hold its guard position indefinitely as the other classes do. This class requires striking first, fast, and often, while keeping out of the way of opponent counterattacks. The mission is structured around a stealthy act of sabotage, so you're on your own without any allies. Your advantage here is that the enemy isn't expecting you, and you'll be facing isolated small groups of guards or patrols. Now you may think that this means that this mission is an exercise in stealth tactics, but stealth doesn't really come into play in For Honor. The best approach is to get in close enough to be the one who initiates the battle and then press your advantage before the enemy can recover.

The Viking mission was quite different, putting you in the role of a berserker leading a raid on a rival Viking faction's fortified village. This mission features a full-out battle, with you and your allies clashing with numerous enemies. The enemies in this mission include both the basic foot soldiers that are like the AI-controlled minions in the multiplayer matches as well as enemy warriors that will require you to use your dueling skills. The mission culminates with a showdown with the enemy chieftain.

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The two single player missions that were made available to me indicate that the game will take a varied approach to its mission structure, and not merely recycle the multiplayer action for use in the campaign. The style of battle between the two missions was quite different, and there were a number of objectives in each that went beyond merely eliminating the enemy. While I found the multiplayer matches to be more intense, the campaign looks like it will be able to deliver an enjoyable experience in its own right.

My time with For Honor left me looking forward to the next time I'll have a chance to play the game. The action in the game is rather unique, blending some of the better elements of both action and fighting games. Developing the skills to succeed will be enjoyable, as will learning the nuances of each class, both in controlling and in facing each one. For Honor won't be a game for button mashers, but if you like your fights to be a bit like a chess match you'll probably find yourself enjoying the game.

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Transmitted: 2/22/2024 1:19:20 PM