It's hard to believe that, for a company that's been around for more than 30 years, Ubisoft doesn't have a huge catalogue of hack-'n-slash games. For those complaining about the French publisher's perceived lack of varied output, For Honor should represent a drastic change from its usual open world action-adventure fare. Interestingly, though, Ubisoft Montreal's first go at the genre in a long while feels remarkably like a shooter, despite having no guns.
Let's just get some context first: For Honor is set in a world in which three factions have been fighting each other for thousands of years. The Legion is made up of knights, The Chosen consists of samurai, The Warborn are vikings - and they don't like each other very much. What's more, a warlord called Apollyon is actually manipulating each faction to fight each other endlessly.
It's a bit of an unremarkable setting, but one that leads into an excellent metagame. When you start For Honor, you choose which faction you want to be a part of, and from then on, all multiplayer matches that you win and lose will count towards your faction. All multiplayer skirmishes take place within a map made up of hexagonal battlefields, and at the end of each gameplay cycle (usually taking 12 hours), each faction's wins and losses are counted up and they gain or lose territory based on how well they've done in the previous cycle - sort of like Planetside 2, just not in real time.
In the beta, these battles consist of one of three modes: Dominion, a 4v4 mode in which teams battle to capture points on a map with the aid of AI soldiers; Brawl, a 2v2 mode based on quick battles; and Duel, a 1v1 showdown. Dominion stands out as the most enjoyable mode here, as the contrast between slaughtering hordes of AI soldiers and then engaging in careful one-on-one duels with other players keeps you on your toes, and the sheer amount of soldiers on screen adds to the atmosphere.
Duel is where For Honor's gameplay is supposedly at its most tactical. Holding L2 locks you onto your opponent, and using the right stick you can change the placement of your weapon to be on your right, your left, or above your head. Not only does your weapon placement decide where you can attack from, but it's also the side in which you block your enemy's attacks. This system adds tension and some strategy to fights as you gauge what position your opponent's weapon is in and plan your attack from there.
As well as the usual light and heavy attacks, you can also push square to break your opponent's guard, leaving them open to attack, or double tap it to throw your opponent across the ground. Guard-breaking is where battles are won in For Honor, and though it adds complexity, duels can feel like a square-mashing fest at times, which detracts from the fun a little.
Still, for a game that's supposed to be slow and steady, in the Brawl and Duel modes For Honor feels as quick as a shooter, not in the movement of the players, but the length of the rounds. During our time in the beta, not one best of five round lasted more than a minute, and on average, they were lasting less than 30 seconds. While speed is fun, playing 30-second intervals of button mashing feels jarring at times, and it's clear that the Dominion mode is by far the best way to play the game at present.
Since matches are longer in Dominion, you can afford to not only play slow, but also experiment with the nine different classes present in For Honor. While Duel and Brawl only give you one life, Dominion allows for respawns, so you switch between the balanced Vanguard class, the quick but weak Assassin class, the burly but slow Heavy class, and the Hybrid class. Each class has special Feats - much similar to Scorestreaks in Call of Duty - that are activated by accruing kills without dying, and range from arrow barrages to self-healing.
From the beta, we can see that For Honor is shaping up quite well. The combat system feels weighty, the battles in Dominion are grand, and the classes feel balanced and varied. While it doesn't strive to do anything all that exciting, Ubisoft's at least trying something relatively new, even if the game is lacking a little in personality.
Did you try the For Honor beta? What did you think of it? Are you looking forward to the full release next month? Draw your sword in the comments section below.