Okay, yes, ignore the samurai and viking characters for a moment but if you’ve been watching stuff like Games Of Thrones’ Battle of the Bastards and wishing there was a game like that, then this is probably it.
If you’ve missed the core mechanic at the heart of For Honor then it has you shifting your weapon between a left, right or upper guard - blocking attacks by matching your enemy’s position when they swing, or trying to land a hit by getting around their block. It’s a nervous match of wits as you and your opponent switch and juggle positions, trying to fake each other out and swipe at any unprotected angles. And it’s extremely satisfying when you get it right: blocking, dodging and clanging blades until you score a hit and open up your chance to hack your way to a win.
Because it relies on reading body language and timing, the simple mechanics still manage to have depth. Especially when you throw in special moves like shoulder barges or back-stepping swipes that evade attacks. Game of Thrones is the obvious point of reference for action with swords but if you’ve watched anything where people scramble around in the mud trying to push metal into each other then this nails that desperate fight to not be the dead one.
Multiplayer matches throw this battle mechanic into the full chaos of war as armies of AI grunts clash in sprawling rabbles. Four player teams take them and each other on to control zones for points. There’s an almost tennis like structure here as scores rise and fall. Hit 1000 and you enter a break mode where it becomes possible to permanently kill the opposition and win. The ebb and flow means this can happen several times and it’s interesting to play something where the balance can shift back and forth.
This throws in plenty of the usual multiplayer trappings as well, like different characters with different abilities. There’s an all-rounder knight, tank-like viking, faster Samurai, and the one I clicked with: a very agile but weak-hitting assassin. My success there was mainly due to the special moves built more around evasion, and a darting attack that can hit at any range - it can be blocked but time it right and it’s a sure fire leveller against slower, sturdier foes.
The emphasis on skill and reactions means this tests ability and mastery more than anything else. The combat feels like a trad 2D fighting game, with hints of Dark Souls and Bloodborne’s PvP - fleshing out those game’s more basic attacks and parrying with a more communicative back and forth. Get into the rhythm and fights can become all consuming as your attention zones in on your opponent's sword and what it’s going to do next.
That focus is especially obvious in the duel mode which is pure one-on-one action. Just you and another player locked in mortal combat. That’s a tense change of pace, creating a more traditional fighting rhythm as you test your opponents mettle and metal looking for a weakness. The online focus is almost a shame here as battling another human with such a tactile mechanic begs for some on the sofa rivalry. If you want to try it for yourself before it comes out on February 14 next year, you can throw your hat in the ring for the .
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