For Honor Beta Review

As you may have heard, Ubisoft is not sending out review copies of For Honor ahead of its release tomorrow. They claim that’s because the game needs to be more populated with real players – an excuse that publishers accept or ignore at their convenience. But I don’t believe they’re hiding anything. I’ve played quite a bit of the alpha and beta versions of the game, and I think it could be one of the best new franchises of the year. “Could” is the operative word here, because the main question hanging over For Honor is its longevity and variety. So even if you assume our review won’t be until Friday or Monday, it’s probably not till weeks or months later that the game’s true worth will be revealed. The beta ended last night though, so that means there won’t be another chance to try before you buy- which is a shame, because For Honor is an unusual game that needs time, even though when playing you pick up the basics within minutes.

Although there is a story offering some explanation for what’s going on, For Honor is a pretty abstract kind of game. It’s based around the simple premise of “what would it be like if medieval knights, Vikings, and samurai were to fight each other?” A fantasy scenario, not unlike the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors crossover, is constructed to explain how and why this is happening, but the game has no interest in historical accuracy or portraying historical figures as they actually were. Considering this, For Honor being a primarily multiplayer game is fine by me.

Although there is a story campaign complete with a broad range of gameplay mechanics such as stealth and horseback-riding, it’s clearly not the focus and its quality, or lack thereof, is unlikely to have much influence on the final game. Instead, Ubisoft has taken a number of familiar online shooter game modes and altered them for use in a melee action game. Dark Souls meets Call Of Duty would be a rather graceless way to describe it, but it’s not entirely inaccurate. In previous previews I’ve described For Honor’s combat as being not quite like anything else around, but thanks to the release of Nioh that’s no longer quite true. The two games are still very different, but your character’s stance is key to the combat in both of them. In For Honor, you can attack or block in one of three directions, the idea being to fake out your opponent, or break their guard, so that you attack them in a direction they’re not blocking. Flailing your sword about with no plan will get you nowhere, with fights against skilled opponents usually becoming standoffs with flashes of intense action.

With four classes per faction and a wide range of different weapons, shields, and special moves to unlock as you gain experience, there’s a pleasing amount of complexities in the game. However, where the real excitement comes in is dealing with human players who are trying to game the system. Although For Honor can be played almost like a traditional fighting game (there’s even a one-on-one Duel mode) you’re still free to run off and hide if things are going badly. Or do the reverse and get a group of your mates to gang up on just one person. This is of course perfectly fair and realistic, even if it doesn’t feel that way when you’re the one being ganged up on. This is no doubt why even the biggest mode allows for only 4 vs. 4 battles, where the need for teamwork is paramount. That of course requires voice chat, which is unlikely to happen between strangers. Matchmaking is key here, especially once some players get more organized, but again it’s going to take time to see whether there are any balance problems.

Introduced in the beta was the Faction War meta-game, where your success is tallied up along with everyone else in the world, across all platforms, that are playing the same faction. Rewards take the form of war assets which you can spend on a Risk-style map, with an overall winner being declared at the end of a 10-week season. You can still play as any type of character, regardless of your faction, so you’re not tied down in that sense. And if your faction is victorious, you stand to win some highly bragable rewards. With For Honor already promising post-game support in the style of Rainbow Six Siege’s free DLC it’s clear that Ubisoft has thought long and hard about how to sustain the game’s appeal over the long term. They’re obviously aware that longevity is a serious question, but there’s also the problem of voice chat, and the fact that the two-player Duel mode still threatens to be the most entertaining part of the game.

I don’t know how things are going to turn out in the end, but at the very least it’s exciting to play a big budget game that is not only a brand new franchise but also a genuinely new type of experience.