For Honor’s Combat is a Needed Change After a Shooter-Dominated Season
Ben Sheene / Dec 15th, 2016 No Comments
Since the days of vanilla Destiny, I have grown more attached to the world of online shooters. My group of friends have torn through a range of games from Call of Duty to The Division to Titanfall 2. Picking up a gun and pulling the trigger is fast-paced and thrilling. A headshot delivers instant gratification and deathmatch fests last an enjoyable handful of minutes.
This season has cemented the gargantuan presence of shooters in the world of online gaming to the point where many gamers may feel overwhelmed. For Honor is working toward something different. It retains elements of shooters, fighting games and MOBAs while offering combat that only few games have barely scratched the surface of.
A Call to Arms
For Honor is a game about personal, intimate conflict between small groups of players. In taking on the role of a knight, Viking or samurai, there should be no expectations of massive killstreaks and bullets whizzing past. This is a world in which swords and morning stars dominate the battlefield as blood coats steel. To inflict damage on another player you need to be within swiping distance rather than behind the scope of a sniper.
Describing the mechanic’s of the game’s combat can be quite difficult without experiencing it first-hand. It’s complex, requires pinpoint timing, and is in no way easy to master. Attacks are conducted in three directions with the right stick. The right button is a light attack while the right trigger is a strong attack; hold the button longer and hit harder but leave a wider widow to be hit.
When an opponent prepares for an attack, the three directional cones flash red. Do you block in kind? Try and make a swift jab? Maybe a quick stun attack? None of that may matter because that other player can just as soon change their mind at the last second and attack in a different direction. Unless you had lightning-quick reflexes and managed to parry or block a red gash is going to form on your hulking warrior.
There is more depth and more subtlety in the combat. Different warriors move faster or slower and have unique methods of attack. Perks and items come into play that boost damage or can give a brief edge when cornered. An extensive tutorial puts you on the path towards becoming an informed combatant. Some of the advanced techniques can feel overwhelming, but the basics are accommodating to all players.
Developer Ubisoft Montreal’s medieval combat system isn’t just about directional swipes. It contains as much nuance as equipping the best attachment to a gun or chaining the right flow of moves to overcome a raid boss. Not every player who jumps into the game will explore these nuances, but the ones who do will be rewarded with swifter, more gratifying success.
Outwit and Outlast
The mind games that develop in a match of For Honor are captivating because of their ability to turn melee combat into a violent dance where fighting is as much art as mechanics. Watching each warrior transition into blocking animations gives you an idea of how long it will take to make those instant, health-saving decisions. Toying with each attack strength molds into move sets and combos that would raise the eyebrows of Street Fighter fanatics.
Combat in For Honor is equal parts trying to predict what another player will do and adapting on the fly with your own strategies. It’s also intensely personal because even when you are squaring off against more than one opponent, everyone is face to face and scanning the other up and down waiting to make a move at the last possible second.
Players experience this intimate tension in the PvP Elimination and Duel modes. Elimination is a 4v4 mode where each member of one team spawns in front of a member of the opposite team in a large map. There’s two options: attack your opponent head on without support or run for your life and try to help one of your friends.
I would like to say that matches of elimination I played at a For Honor preview event hosted by Ubisoft were smooth and calculated, with me and my teammates communicating efficiently to victory. But that would be a lie. Instead, everyone wildly ran around trying to corner the enemy team or get the jump on unsuspecting players.
It was a blast. In between bouts of laughter watching my oafish Shugoki samurai chase down a spry Peacekeeper knight, I would scour the battlefield for powerups. In Elimination, players can briefly stand over circles that reward extra armor, bonus damage, health recovery or speed boosts. These bonuses can change the outcome of a match, but you better hope another player isn’t hot on your heels as they can only be claimed if you are the only warrior standing in the glowing circle.
Unlike traditional elimination modes, death doesn’t entirely mean you are out of the match. Players are only completely dead if an opponent whittles down their health and performs a gory execution. Missing the execution button prompt can be easy in the hectic moments of combat.
Elimination matches can either be small pockets of humorous insanity or strategic exuberance. Defeat and victory are forged with communication. It’s important to go into a match with the right team composition. Teams need balance between light, medium and heavy combatants. The Berserker viking could be able to trade blows with heavier classes but it might be wise to use the larger stamina pool to race to an ally’s need.
Duels are exactly how they sound, pitting players against each other in a 1v1 battle of brawn and wits. Duel might be the best mode for players to literally throw themselves into the crucible and hopefully be forged into better fighters. It’s the best opportunity to pick one fighter and test their moves against other players. You would be surprised at how much you learn about For Honor’s roster when there’s no support system to run to.
Elimination and Duel go a long way to highlight what makes For Honor so appealing at a time like this. Competitive online games live and breathe on a thriving community that sticks around for the long haul. Look at League of Legends or Counterstrike or any of the other games at the top of Twitch.
Yet, For Honor’s similarities are split between the PvP modes of Dark Souls and the back and forth of most fighting games. It’s a formula that feels unique unto itself and, more importantly, a breath of fresh air at the start of 2017.
What gives me confidence in For Honor’s longevity isn’t just it’s gameplay though. A lot of great multiplayer games can burn bright at launch and fizzle out in a matter of weeks. But if the development team and publisher actually make the push, a game’s community can do more than thrive — it can grow.
Ubisoft’s release of Rainbow Six Siege last year wasn’t at the best time. The game came out late in the year alongside a large helping of other big names. Siege was primarily a multiplayer game with few solo features, which can apparently doom a game (I’m looking at you Titanfall 1). The game was a blast to play and quite different from other traditional shooters, but it struggled to make noise.
Fast forward a year later and Siege is heading into its second season of content with a strong, dedicated fan base. Ubisoft kept the game alive and it looks to be using a similar approach to For Honor. The game will implement a mode called “Faction Wars,” where player align themselves with one of the game’s three factions. Victories and commendations all go toward moving your faction ahead of others.
At the end of certain milestones that cap in weeks or months, every player in the winning faction will be granted cosmetic bonuses unique to that period of time and that faction. Multiplayer maps will bear the colors and banners of the winning faction. This will keep players logging in. Ubisoft also says that future maps and modes will remain free so as not to split the player base.
For Honor is heading towards a promising start for a new franchise. A release date early in the year means it should face little competition to help build momentum out of the gate. The game’s incredible combat and the developer’s boldness to do something unique is what players should really be looking forward to. Because melee combat has never been this engaging in a game before and right now, nothing holds a candle to For Honor.
For Honor releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC Feb. 14, 2017.
tags: For Honor , For Honor preview , preview , ubisoft , Ubisoft Montreal