Ubisoft is one of those studios that seems to have been content for the past few years to churn out billions of decent but unexceptional sequels in big franchises like Just Dance, Assassin's Creed, and Far Cry. This is fine, but the studio has shown through games such as Child of Light and Grow Home that it's also fully capable of putting out newer content that's far more different than it's usual work. For Honor, an upcoming action game from the company, seems to sit somewhere in the middle, somehow managing to feel both very familiar and very new, simultaneously.
For those of you that haven't been following it, For Honor is a hack-'n'-slash action game with a dynamic and fluid combat system that feels unlike anything else that we've played before. The full release will see you playing as one of three factions: Knights, Vikings, and Samurai, across both a single player campaign and a PvP online mode. If nothing else, it's a fascinating new approach to a tired genre, but there are some concerns as to how long it'll be before the gameplay overstays its welcome.
In the demo we played through, we assumed the identity of "The Warden", an all-rounder type character in the Knight faction, as he helped fight off a castle siege from an opposing army. In terms of presentation, the game does a terrific job of immersing you in the environment; the din of clashing metal and warrior cries is omnipresent, and regular set-piece moments such as collapsing sections of the wall or incoming boulders launched from catapults ensure that there's never a dull moment. It gives off the feeling as if you're really seeing this battle happen, something that many games try and fail to convey.
Of course, the foundation of the game is found in the combat sections, and this is where things get really interesting. It seems that many action titles nowadays are focused on increasingly more fast paced and frantic combat, where your main character is a veritable whirlwind of death that blows aside anything that comes his or her way. There's still that element of badassery to your character in this game, but encounters are slowed down significantly and made into much more personal affairs.
The combat is basically centred around left, right, and up, which represents one's footing and the direction your attack takes. Locking onto an enemy puts the camera over your character's shoulder and puts you in a sort of duel stance, where it's just you and the other guy. A prompt will warn you which direction an attack is coming from, and moving the right stick in that direction will adjust your character's stance so they can block it. It works two ways, though, so you must make sure that your attacks come at an angle that your enemy isn't blocking from.
As for the attacks at your disposal, you have the typical light, fast attack, heavy, slow attack, and guard break. And, of course, it wouldn't be a modern action game without brutal combo finishers, which are activated by using a heavy attack near the end of the fight. This, combined with the fascinating directional system, makes for battles that are much more methodical in their approach, but also feel much more rewarding than your typical action game. Heavier foes feel like worthy opposition, and victory over them feels like it's something that's been well-earned. The animation is fantastically done, and every block or strike that you successfully pull off has a satisfying amount of heft to it. Moreover, you feel quite powerful as you chop through dozens of fodder enemies with one or two blows each, working your way towards the next captain or a similarly competent enemy.
The only real concern, then, is whether or not this setup has the longevity to last an entire game. We certainly enjoyed it when working through the demo, and could easily see how it could sustain a few more hours of enjoyment, but there will have to be more nuances introduced for it to really last. While the combat was a great time in this demo, there seems to be a very real possibility of the gameplay growing stale or boring with enough time, so it will be interesting to see how the developer addresses this in the final release.
Ultimately, For Honor is shaping up to be a unique, new entry in the hack-'n'-slash genre. The presentation has all of the high production values one would expect, and it draws you in in a way that few other games can manage. The combat is initially very fun to mess around with, and the methodical approach is a refreshing step back from the typically fast-paced nature of action games, though whether or not it will translate properly to a full length game remains to be seen. At any rate, this will certainly be one to keep an eye on as it nears its Valentine's Day release date.
Is your inner-warrior eager to give For Honor a go, or will you be knocking Ubisoft's attempt at the melee action genre on the head? Raise your sword and shield in the comments section below.