For Honor Closed Beta First Impressions – Glorious Duels, Woeful Skirmishes

When For Honor was first announced, the biggest thing selling point of this medieval brawler is how the combat works. It’s slow, it’s deliberate and has potential to be something awesome. Ubisoft may have themselves one of the most unique AAA release they are going to put out with this. It’s not open world, it doesn’t have a lot in common with bigger Ubi games, and will have a full single-player campaign alongside its main bread and butter multiplayer suite.

After spending around 5 hours in the closed beta, I walked away satisfied with For Honor, but it has a lot of kinks on its armour for me to recommend everyone to get this day one. If you can tolerate a few specific niggles, namely a really good internet connection and a passion or appreciation of either fighting games or Souls-like combat, you are in on a great experience.

Amazing Visuals

Right off the bat the game looks astoundingly beautiful. Ubi games always plagued with the “graphics downgrade” stigma but For Honor is an exception. The three maps on offer provide excellent detail. The castle walls and crumbling walkways look great up close, particles from clashing swords and smoke around the battlefield sells the tone of a medieval war. There’s also different weather and time that drastically change the look and feel of the maps. Granted, most of them are pretty small in size, but it fits for what the game aims to be.

Animation work is also sublime, making killing grunts feel satisfying and dueling against enemies something to look forward to. The UI can be a bit too much, as you can see in the various in-game screenshots here, but rest assured many of these HUD elements can be turned off to your liking.

The Combat System

The combat system is where For Honor shines the brightest. It delivers what it sets out to be, a deliberate and slow pace with visceral impact. The guard button locks on to enemies that are not grunts, where you will be able to guard in three different stances- left, right and top. You can tell what the stances are from a HUD element, or just look at the characters- each stance is uniquely animated.

Match the guard stance with the attack stance to successfully block, and hit where the enemy with a different stance to land a damaging hit. It reminds me of the simple three stance combat seen in the indie game Nidhogg, which is a surprisingly deep and fun fighting game.

Speaking of fighting games, a lot of the combat mechanics from For Honor draws parallel to fighting games. There’s move lists, there’s a throw (guard break, as it’s called in-game) and throw tech. It even has parries. And the combat flow when on 1v1 draws even more parallels. Footsies/ neutral game is there as you change up stances to mess up the enemy’s reads before making a swing. Canceling moves is a feature- with a button dedicated to cancel heavy attacks. Combos, trades from invincible moves and mixups are also in there.

And it all works brilliantly.

Though there is one cheap thing about the combat: environmental kills. On some duel maps there’s just too many opportunities to just throw your enemy off the ledge to their doom, or to another floor where you can finish off in one “death from above” move. It looks cool and satisfying to pull off, but there’s so many of these hazards new players can easily be exploited to be thrown off to their doom. Protip: Learn to tech throws, and go do the advance practice mode before diving in the multiplayer.

And if you’re thinking that button mashing is the way to go: it isn’t. There’s a stamina meter ala Dark Souls, and each attack animation takes a while unless you know how to properly cancel them or connect to another attack for a combo. You can easily defend against a button masher, adjust your guard accordingly and strike back little by little.

The Characters

For Honor features 12 different heroes representing the three factions: The Knights, The Vikings, and The Samurai. Only 9 were available in the beta, but each has their own movesets and specific properties. Vanguard heroes like the Warden are the most straight-forward to play, but assassin heroes like the Orochi cannot hold a block indefinitely so you need to utilise its extra mobility to dodge attacks.

Each hero is extremely customisable, from cosmetic changes to your colour patterns and emotes to gear that changes stats as well as offering a different look. Each of these heroes have their own set of progression, where levelling up the heroes unlock more cosmetics. Understandably, each match won’t lock you to any of the three factions. Anyone is free to select any hero. This is probably to avoid segregating the player base- imagine if there’s imbalance to the factions and the most popular one is stuck on queue and can’t find matches against other, smaller factions.

The Metagame

As such, the use of factions is on the metagame. While we saw the concept of a metagame applied in Ubisoft’s online racer The Crew, For Honor takes that system and make it one step better. Either as the three factions, each match you have played will give you access to war assets, which can be plopped in the world map to defend your territory or attack new ones. After each turn, you will see the lands change hands due to the war assets everyone in the community has deployed.

If you hopped in after a while, the game will recap the changes so far in the war, which will also has some cosmetic affects on each of the map in consequent matches. Rewards of loot is promised at the end of each season, that lasts for 10 weeks, with two weeks making up a round, and with a turn happening after six hours.

The ability to contribute to the bigger picture has convinced me playing more matches than I should. Each match, win or lose, allows you to deploy one war asset to the map and help the war efforts. If you to keep on playing, pick a less popular faction. The Knights are in need of your support.

Aside from that, there’s a series of daily quests, community quests and player-selected quests that will award you some XP and currency.

The Game Modes

The game has three modes in multiplayer: 1v1 duel, 2v2 brawl and 4v4 dominion. Duel is just you against another person (or AI bot), with a best of five round. It’s the purest mode- where mastering the combat mechanics takes center stage. Same goes to brawl, but with two people per team. If you finish off your main opponent quickly you can support your teammate in a 2v1 fight, or clutch it on your own if your teammate has fallen first. Then there’s dominion, arguably the main mode of the game, which is a bit of a mish-mash of MOBA and multiple control points capture modes.

The Problem With Dominion, and Other Potential Issues

And this is where things sort of fall apart. Dominion places you and three others in a skirmish map with three capture points- one of them is the main battlefield where the grunts of each side will funnel to and battle, the other two are on the flanks, each one near one of the two team’s spawn. The goal here is to get as many renown points- the threshold being 1000- by capturing points and slaying enemies. Once the threshold is reached, the other side will be “breaking”, and to end the fight you have to kill all four players that has now lost the ability to respawn.

Also, since the breaking side is not totally out of the game just yet, they can still surmount a comeback by reaching 1000 renown points. Then it becomes a sudden death where the last team standing wins.

Sounds simple, but adding up the already complex combat system, the gear system that alters stats, feats that you can equip in a loadout that unlocks as you reach a number of renown points ala leveling up in MOBAs, a revenge meter that once filled up by blocking a lot of attacks in succession gives you a temporary buffs while stunning nearby enemies and you have too many gears turning at the same time.

It’s overwhelming at first, especially if you only did the basic tutorial and go straight to multiplayer. The advanced tutorial is a misleading name, as it is still required if you really want to understand all the basic gameplay. Fortunately the tutorial and training mode are all designed well and should get you quickly grasp all of the system For Honor is throwing at you. The video guides for each hero is also very helpful.

My first few hours involved being frustrated with getting punished by throws (learn throw techs), dying easily in an unfair 2v1/3v1/4v1 encounter (left and right stance block attacks from the right and left side, use the revenge mode- and if you are outmatched, RUN!) and getting confused how the feats functioned.

At this point, if you’re not comfortable with the combat it’s going to feel clunky and bothersome, and you’re not wrong. The action in dominion is really hectic if you keep on fighting on the main battlefield, but it feels better when you are contesting at the other points where you can have your duels and brawls without the interruption of dozens of other NPCs getting your way.

However, it can be even worse if you don’t have a very good internet connection. For Honor relies on P2P connection for multiplayer rather than using dedicated servers, meaning the host, one of the players in the session, could have an advantage should any other player could not have a decent connection to that host.

While there was no instances of odd movements due to lag, instead everyone suffers a framerate drop to ensure everyone can be synced in. If a person got disconnected, the game would take a momentarily pause. In my experience I received a few dropped matches- which is frustrating when you are about to win but got denied of all the rewards- no XP, no loot, nothing.

Also, remember the customisable gear? Of course it is included, that’s how they can sneak in blind boxes, where you can get random loot. At least so far the loot are not that terrible- some gear has aesthetic differences which is cool, and if you happen to get duplicates, you can dismantle that for salvage (which is oddly faction-locked). That can be used to further upgrade existing gear to a higher level.

To me, this is all just busywork from enjoying the already complicated (but rewarding) combat. At least gear stats won’t make any difference in duel and brawl modes, so those two are still the best way to experience For Honor’s combat at its best, but it doesn’t make Dominion any interesting with all those stats.

Closing Thoughts

For Honor has some potential to be one of the better AAA games this year simply for being different: It’s brand of weighty and slow-paced combat is surprisingly deep, it looks stunning despite the 30fps lock on consoles (which the PC version is not subjected to) and has a lot to offer in terms of content to keep you engaged and coming back for more matches with the gear and metagame.

But prepare to fumble the first few hours until you know what is going on. The 4v4 Dominion mode is daunting to play at first as there’s too many mechanics and system operating to keep track of, and the slow combat is not for everyone. If those are not an issue for you, prepare for a good time. Plus it will have a single-player campaign on launch, a little cherry on top of an already loaded package.

For Honor is set to release on February 14 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

First impressions article based on the closed beta build on the PS4

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