For Honor captures something that most video game melee combat can't: a substantial sense of mass. There's a certain satisfaction to every swing of your blade or blunt weapon: the clang of a successful parry as metal smashes into metal, a whoosh as you narrowly dodge a counterattack, and the guttural thud of landing the killing blow as your sword smashes into your enemy's body. That kind of weighty, thrilling feedback is at the core of For Honor, Ubisoft's third-person action game that offers single-player and multiplayer duels alike. After diving into For Honor's alpha test, we know more than ever about its distinct brand of ancient warfare; read on for a full breakdown, from the very basics to the finer details.
You can't have epic duels without expert combatants, so For Honor plucks three distinct factions of the hardiest warriors who ever lived to duke it out in historically inaccurate (but undeniably magnificent) clashes. You've got your choice between Samurai, Vikings, and Knights, who are known in For Honor's universe as the Chosen, Warborn, and Legions, respectively.
Whether you decide to fight as the noble Knights, cunning Samurai, or resilient Vikings, you're never locked into your allegiance; picking a side is more about which faction resonates with your aesthetic and combative sensibilities. What truly determines your playstyle is your chosen hero class, with all three factions having their own distinct variation of four basic archetypes. There's the middle-of-the-road Vanguard that balances offense and defense, the slow-but-resilient Heavy, the all-out aggression of the Assassin, and the adaptable, technical style of the Hybrid. No matter who you choose, you're going to charge onto the battlefield swinging.
If you thought For Honor would be limited to chaotic 4v4 skirmishes, take heart: this hack-and-slash fighter doesn't solely revolve around team-based multiplayer. For Honor made its debut by showcasing the 4v4 Dominion mode, which sees eight players warring over three capture points spread out across a decently large map. But in the months since its unveiling, For Honor has revealed more modes that should significantly change the flow of battle, from intimate brawls to sweeping single-player campaigns.
On the multiplayer side, you can battle on the small scale with the no-respawn, best-of-five rounds of 1v1 Duels or 2v2 Brawls, or engage in the extended all-out wars of the Dominion's point-based 4v4 (which I'll explain in a bit). Contrary to what you might assume, these modes let heroes from any faction team up, so Knights, Samurai, and Vikings could fight side by side in the same four-person squad. Then there's the story campaign, which can be played solo or with a co-op buddy. And wouldn't you know it - the campaign actually infuses some context into this fantastical world of endless melee warfare.
You have to hand it to Ubisoft for giving For Honor a narrative that elaborates beyond the simple question of "What if history's greatest warriors had a big fight?" The stunning campaign cinematic (which you can watch up top) tells the story of a realm where each faction finds itself displaced in space and time after an earthshaking cataclysm. The tense confusion that followed when these masters of melee combat met led to a struggle that would kick off "a millennium of conflict" - so narrates Apollyon, the big bad of For Honor's world.
Apollyon and her Blackstone Legion army act as the non-player antagonist to all three factions. These renegade Knights are bloodthirsty manipulators, orchestrating strife between the other factions to ensure that there can be no peace. You'll play through the story campaign as a specific hero from each faction - the Samurai's Orochi, the Viking's Raider, and the Knight's Warden - as they war with one another and cross paths with the Blackstone Legion. It's still unclear how deep the story goes, like whether or not these warriors (besides Apollyon) have names or dialogue, but intriguingly, the story threads will supposedly explain the state of the multiplayer battles.
For Honor's clashes feel fantastic, courtesy of some incredible animations and the intuitive Art of Battle system. If you're familiar with the dueling in War of the Roses, where the direction of your sword swings is crucial, For Honor's mechanics feel similar (if more streamlined). At any given time, you can square off with an enemy by holding the left trigger, angling the camera to focus on your opponent (who can choose to engage you in turn or flee to another fight). In this stance, your right stick controls the angle of your weapon: up, left, or right.
The trick is that these three stances determine the direction of your attacks (including light and heavy swings, as well as riskier guard breaks) and blocks (which are automatic so long as you're matching the direction of an incoming swing). Both you and your opponent are able to clearly read the other's stances when locked in a duel, so each standoff becomes an intense game of rock-paper-scissors as you both try to guess and counter the other's plan of attack in real-time. It's like the graphically gorgeous successor to Bushido Blade (minus the one-hit kills), and the weighty animations convey a real sense of heft with every laborious swing or last-second deflection.
Not every warrior has what it takes to be a big ol' boss on the battlefield. To add some more bodies into the mix in multiplayer, each team fights alongside a slew of computer-controlled fodder, who typically clash over the central B point in the middle of the map. And in the single-player, you'll have to cleave through large, Dynasty Warriors-esque swarms of grunts. As in Dynasty Warriors, your character's skills far outrank the average fighter - so you can easily strike down these weaker NPC troops with a single slash.
Bear in mind, this doesn't mean that For Honor plays like a MOBA - those soldiers are simply there to occupy the central capture point on the map, so you'll have to cut them down if you want to establish map control before periodic reinforcements arrive. Yes, they can deal damage to you, but it's highly unlikely that they'll be able to whittle your health down without significant help from a elite AI or human-controlled adversary. They do, however, have player collision, so you may need to wade through soldiers (and stab through any that particularly bother you) on your way to your current objective.
It's clear that 4v4 Dominion is For Honor's premier multiplayer mode, given that it has the most technical depth and creates the most opportunities for mercurial melee combat. And while it revolves around the sustained control of three capture points, it doesn't work exactly like the control modes you've played before, where the match ends as soon as your team reaches a target point total. You do still accrue points by capturing and holding points around the medium-sized maps (all of which are cleverly laid out so that you're never far from a fight). But the battles aren't just decided through sheer numbers, both on the large and small scales.
Here's the grand picture: once a team racks up 1,000 points, they've broken the opposing team's morale, preventing any further respawns for their player-controlled teammates. But if the losing side is able to successfully capture another point during this desperate last stand, they'll rally and re-enable their respawns, effectively sending the battle into overtime. If the match runs long enough, both teams may repeatedly find themselves with their backs to the wall, only to miraculously recover a capture point and keep the fight going.
Meanwhile, on a more granular level, a mechanic called the Revenge meter helps balance what would otherwise be unfair fights. Whenever you find yourself getting ganged up on by two or more enemies, successful blocks will build up your Revenge meter. When it's full, you can activate a powered-up state that knocks enemies to the ground and temporarily makes your strikes even more damaging. Crucially, you'll be able to see incoming attacks from opponents you aren't currently locked onto via a directional red slash, making it much easier to block attacks from multiple angles and get that Revenge online pronto.
When you start factoring in each faction's version of the four hero archetypes, things start to get complicated. See if you can remember all these names, listed by Knight, Samurai, and Viking roles respectively: Vanguards (Warden, Kensei, Raider), Heavy (Conqueror, Shugoki, Warlord), Assassin (Peacekeeper, Orochi, Berserker), and Hybrid (Lawbringer, Nobushi, Valkyrie). Every hero in the game has their own distinct look and a particular weapon they've mastered - and better yet, they've all got unique animations and combo strings. Then, as if that wasn't already enough to remember in terms of weapon types and combat specialties, each hero has their own set of Feats of Strength - four slots, with three possible options per slot.
Feats of Strength are special abilities that offer fleeting of power (all mapped to the D-pad) that unlock once you've leveled up, which is done by scoring kills, assists, and objectives. Tweaking this aspect of your hero's loadout offers a staggering number of possibilities; Feats of Strength let you do anything from the aggressive (calling in a volley of arrows or temporarily debuffing an enemy) to the defensive (buffing your movement speed for escapes or healing yourself) and everything in between. With all the possible team compositions you can piece together with the various hero classes and their Feats of Strength, it's a ridiculous amount to remember - so let's hope For Honor does a supremely good job of teaching players how to prepare for all those buffs, debuffs, and abilities that get layered on top of the frenetic combat.
There's a certain joy to fashioning your warrior's look before a fight, striding into battle with a certain sense of pride in your appearance. The customization options in For Honor let you tweak just about everything about the heroes: you can choose to fight as a male or female warrior, personalize your crest, select each chunk of your armor (helm, chest, and arms), and even pick the individual parts that make up your weapon. You simply haven't lived until you've carefully chosen the head, shaft, and pommel of the great axe you want to swing around in battle.
All these bits and pieces of gear are part of the multiplayer progression system, with all the tantalizing carrot-on-a-stick item acquisition that helps fuel multiplayer games (and could easily open the way for randomized, microtransaction item chests in For Honor, though nothing of the sort has been confirmed at the moment). After each match, you'll score XP and possibly some items depending on your team's performance, and you can break down unwanted gear for additional XP. Crucially, your set of equipment can affect all kinds of combat stats - like block damage, revive or sprint speed, Revenge meter gain, and so forth - though it's difficult to tell how substantial the changes are as each bar increases. If For Honor knows what's best for its multiplayer livelihood, it'll keep the playing field level no matter which items your opponent happens to be wearing.