Sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong. Just two days ago, I took to our forums to rail against For Honor, a game I thought looked generic and clunky. Consider my words eaten, then, because For Honor is shaping up to be a slick, bracing brawler that I can’t wait to jam more of.
Both scenarios I played were from the game’s single player campaign. In the first, I was a mercenary knight besieging a castle held by an opposing faction. Siege machines punched sections out of the towering fortification’s thick walls and we poured in, swiping aside lesser adversaries with every swing of our swords. These men were no match for our might, and we butchered our way into a courtyard as flaming arrows zipped past and catapults laid waste to the ramparts. Here, the first challenge awaited: knights of our stature. As the cannon fodder around us died quick, ignoble deaths, we helmeted titans circled each other, pausing only to cut down errant minions. It's like a meatier, weightier, more grounded Hyrule Warriors.
It’s here that For Honor’s combat properly revealed itself. Using the right analogue stick, you hold a weapon to the left, right, or above you head, and in doing so can attack or defend just that position. The same goes for your adversaries, so keeping an eye on their stance is key to being able to repel their attacks, and useful for finding openings of your own. Think slo-mo Nidhogg, but in realistic 3D and without the fly-kicks (as far as I'm aware).
Combos are a great way to open an opponent up, and you can switch direction at any time to make your attacks harder to block. A knight’s combos include back to back heavy hits, or two quick attacks followed by a crushing heavy blow. Swords are swung slowly enough that catching incoming attacks from a sole enemy is easy if you pay close attention, but your situation can quickly deteriorate if you are fighting multiple enemies at once and don’t watch your back. That's when your positioning relative to other combatants becomes a concern.
Should an enemy have a strong guard, you've got a shield break move that varies depending on your class, but always makes a foe vulnerable to follow-up hits. It’s particularly satisfying to stagger an opponent, then follow up with a bone crunching heavy combo to finish them off. Also useful for knights is a quick attack - quick attack - shield break combo, as landing it allows you to continue your combo for massive damage.
All this happens with the left trigger held, locking on to your target. Double tap it, and your target shifts. There’s also a dodge roll, and I often found myself sprinting a few feet away from groups of captains so I wouldn’t be cornered. As stated, battlefield positioning is key.
With my fellow combatants in a fracas in the courtyard, I charged upstairs to take out some troublesome archers. Short cinematics break up the action every now and then to highlight a particular enemy move, but wisely these are only a few seconds long each so your flow never feels interrupted.
The archers slaughtered (this is a relatively violent game – sword kills are messy things), I wind up back down in the courtyard, challenging the defending army’s second in command for control of the castle, trial by combat style, because one general is clearly outmatched by the other and doesn’t want to fight. Now that I have the hang of the fighting, it’s a breeze, and I’m soon knighted by the defeated general and take up a spot in his army (the guy who hired me is a bit of a dick, apparently).
The second scenario is no less exciting: I’m a Viking storming a beach with my brothers to take a Samurai outpost. Fire rains from the sky as we rush forward from our ships, and once again it is only the higher level enemies that have me pausing to consider tactics or bothering to use the block button. The basics of combat are the same, but my combos are different, and my shield break can lead to a shoulder charge where I tackle and carry an enemy backwards – in one instance impaling them on a wall of spikes. Glorious.
So, consider me a convert. The combat system sounds tricky but feels very natural, and works well in the crowds of enemies you wade through. Despite all the models on screen, the game runs well too, with not a hint of slowdown or stuttering on PS4. Throw in consumables strewn around the battlefield and a few cosmetic choices for your fighter (I went with a skull mask Viking), and For Honor looks to have your bloodthirst requirements sated. The most exciting part? Apparently multiplayer is even more ferocious. For honor? For fun, more like.