Note: A beta this close to release is not a beta in terms of testing gameplay and features. The game is 12 days from launch whilst I am writing this and I expect the build of the game released for the beta is at least a couple of months old. Server stability can be summed up simply; Saturday night 1v1 and 2v2 game modes were acceptable in terms of connection issues and 4v4 was impossible to stay in a game. However, on Sunday night it cleared up and I experienced next to no server connection issues.
Last weekend the For Honor closed beta took place, and while it was a closed beta the online counter at one time told me there was 50,000+ players taking part just on PlayStation 4. Furthermore, not only was I fortunate enough to receive a beta key Ubisoft also gave three extra keys allowing you to bring three friends into the fight.
For Honor is clearly Ubisoft’s attempt to mix up their titles and traditional launch schedule of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, with their ocean wide but puddle deep environments, the challenge typically comes from finding the hidden collectibles. On the surface For Honor could be mistaken for a hacking and slashing, button mashing, all in brawl but the more I played the beta the more I realized that there is a significant learning curve in this upcoming title and there is ALWAYS a counter for an opponent’s move.
In the beta we had access to nine characters spread across the three factions; The Knights, Vikings, and Samurais. For the opening hours I played as the Warden, the long sword wielding armored knight, and immediately noticed how responsive the controls were. The basic controls (for a controller) utilize the right stick to choose which angle you would like to guard at; up, down, left, or right. R1 and R2 initiate light and heavy attacks respectively while L2 keeps you locked on to a target, square is shield bash, and X is dodge. For each character the game provides two short tutorial videos (basic and advanced) along with a short ‘moves set’ section which gives you the basics on how to engage with the character. However, the ‘moves set’ does not contain the combo strings for each character as different moves can be activated at different times and this is where the intrigue in For Honor starts.
The moves set page is not an exhaustive list of the combat moves your character is able to perform. Upon becoming frustrated with being killed at the beginning of my time with the beta, and feeling under-powered I sort help on reddit and the Beta forums. I found that details on how to perform combo strings are not in the game and that it is far better to experiment for yourself and learn how to fight with your character. For example, I was using the Conqueror, a large beast of a man carrying a large kite shield and a flail. In my earlier games I was being absolutely dominated by the faster classes because I simply couldn’t keep up and my attacks were slow, though lethal. After the fourth or fifth loss in a row I took to playing far more defensively, charging my heavy attack behind my trusty shield and bidding my time. When my opponent made a mistake, it would cost them. Big time. Sure enough after practice I began to learn how to operate the Conqueror, hiding behind my shield and preparing to launch devastating strikes upon my opponents. With the help of my friends playing as faster more aggressive characters we very quickly started to dominate battlefields. With the addition of parrying and feinting (Heavy classes cannot feint attacks) the combat gets quite intense with lots going on before anyone takes any damage. Furthermore, while locking on to one enemy, if another approaches you from the side and tries to swing at you the UI alerts you of this giving you the chance to block or even parry and counter the attack without changing targets. This is done using the right stick, the same as if you were block an attack from an opponent you are locked onto. This feature gives you the slightest chance of being able to retreat from combat where you are impossibly outnumbered and hopefully even fight two people simultaneously, though I’m yet to see anyone do that.
Though a brief example, my experience with the Conqueror is a brief insight into how For Honor goes deeper than a typical hack and slash fighting game. The beta only lasted three days and I feel there was a lot left to discover in this deceptively deep, melee combat game. The combat mechanics feel tight; the controls are responsive and intuitive and most missed blocks or parries are down to bad input rather than a control malfunction. Fights are intense and the animations and aesthetics of the characters look amazing. The game feels balanced with most fights being lost simply because your opponent was better than you or due to a lack of practice with a specific element of combat (being able to counter the guard break move is a must). And that is one of my complaints with the game. There is no extensive list on how to use your character, Ubisoft does a good job at explaining the role of your character but I spent far longer looking online for wikis and tutorials to learn the more complex moves and combos for my chosen character. Despite this small complaint, I had fun with the For Honor beta which was all too short. The competitive nature of combat is overwhelming and the thrill of winning a close fight is addictive. Tie this multiplayer with a full single player campaign, which will be playable in coop, and I’m really excited for the direction For Honor is headed.