FOR HONOR Preview

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For Honor, a medieval hack and slash game, is the latest game being developed by Ubisoft Montreal.  There has been a huge amount of anticipation of its release, and they recently held a closed Alpha test, letting some knight-hungry gamers blow off some steam before release, in the form of butchering other lucky testers.  I was fortunate enough to be sent a code for the Alpha, and had an amazing time decapitating other players.

The game pits 3 historical factions against each other, in probably the most historically inaccurate amalgamation of time periods and factions possible.  The game brings together the notorious Vikings, the elegant and dangerous Samurai, and the armour-clad and imposing Knights.   Each faction has the same 4 archetypes for their characters, but they all have their own unique traits and movesets that make the character roster for each faction very diverse.  These archetypes are Assassin, Vanguard, Heavy and Hybrid.

Each category of character offers up new pros and cons, the Assassin offers speed and mobility in replacement for power and durability, typically making them a glass cannon.  The Vanguard is the most well rounded character type out of the 4, offering a good balance of strength, durability and mobility, complemented with a vast moveset giving the player a lot of options when it comes to how to play this class.  The Heavy speaks for itself somewhat; a Heavy is a man mountain, built for playing defensively, but definitely not a pushover when it comes to offensive capabilities either.  These different templates allow for a great deal of replayability and makes exploring each character interesting and different.

In the Alpha there were only 2 of the 4 classes available for each faction.  These included: the Raider and the Berserker for the Vikings, the Kensei and the Orochi for the Samurai, and for the Knights, the Warden and the Conqueror.  Every class shown off so far was extremely diverse, offering a very personal play style with each new character.  I went in to the Alpha rooting for the Samurai, and came out an ardent Viking supporter.  From the videos of For Honor at E3, other trailers and the odd gameplay video released over the past few months, I went in to the alpha with a single-minded passion, dead set on becoming a Samurai Assassin, an Orochi.  Over the first few days I grew in skill, vehemently learning my craft as an Orochi, becoming more and more lethal like a sharpened blade.  I enjoyed my time with the Orochi,  cutting swathes through many inexperienced players, and outclassing many fellow Orochi, but gradually I branched out and explored the other options open to me; not wanting to play the Orochi to the detriment of the other factions and classes that seemed to offer so much as well.

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After the speed and finesse of the Orochi, the devastating damage and useful moveset of the Raider played very differently, but after the Raider came my personal favourite, the Viking Berserker.  An extremely underrated class, often passed up in favor of one of the easier to master classes, they can do devastating damage with uninterruptible chained attacks and can catch up to many fleeing opponents.  So what makes all of these classes so unique? Well each class that fits an archetype sticks largely to a specific template, for example, the Assassin characters all favour speed, agility and relentless attacks in lieu of strong individual attacks or a stalwart defense; but each class then branches off into their own set of moves, their own individual play style.  The Orochi is geared towards counter attacks, waiting for the opponent to strike and using dodges and deflections to deal massive damage to the attacker, but the Berserker is purpose built for unleashing an endless torrent of light and heavy attacks on the opponent, but they both share the nimbleness and partial frailty of their Assassin template.  This gives each character a very personalised feel, and when you find the right character for you, you have an sense of fulfillment when you become effective with a hard to learn class, which often pays off well as they have a plethora of complex moves ready to annihilate an ill prepared opponent.

In the full game, there is going to be 5 different game modes at release, but in the Alpha only 3 of these were available to play; Dominion, Brawl and Duel.  Dominion is a 4v4 objective based game mode, where the Defenders and Attackers fight against each other and have to capture objective points to gain points.  Once either team has over 1000 points accrued, then the enemy team starts to break and only has one more life each before the game is over.  To nullify this the opposing team has to push the enemies points back below the 1000 mark.  They can do this by capturing more points, as each capture gives your team 100 points and strips the enemy of 100, while also giving you a steady income of points per second as well.  Brawl is a 2v2 mode where the only objective if to fight the enemy pair, although at first it is split into two 1v1s on a small map, whoever wins the best out of 5 rounds wins the match. Finally, we have Duels which is the same as Brawl but purely 1v1, best of 5 rounds wins the match.

My favourite game mode, along with the majority of the Alpha testers, was Dominion.  It could get frustrating getting ganked a lot, as there’s nothing to stop a 4v1 happening if you have an inept team, just like a real battlefield, but all in all, this game mode really shone for me.  A stand out part of this mode was the middle point, point B, perpetually caught in a struggle between the lesser AI controlled soldiers from each side of the battle, constantly going back and forward between the two teams.  This could be swayed in your teams favour with a few swings of your axe however, as you crush the oncoming hordes of lesser men, feebly attempting to bring you down, and failing miserably.  I usually played very objectively, or tried to at least.  The majority of teammates I was paired with totally ignored the objectives as is standard in a lot of objective based multiplayer games.  This lead to a lot of ganking going on, for those who don’t know, ganking is the act of mobbing together with the rest of your team and mercilessly cornering one poor individual and giving him the most unfair fight in history.  This can, however, be combated with pure, unadulterated skill.

Now, I say that ganking can be fought with skill, with the proper training and reflexes anything is possible in this game, but For Honor can be extremely hard at times as well.  It is by no means a pick up and play type of game, you won’t play for an hour and become a god-like warrior on the battlefield, holding fast against the whole enemy team whilst barely breaking a sweat.  For Honor requires patience, dedication, and equally in my experience, fast reflexes.  You can take the time to learn your chosen  characters moveset, practice the timing of every move against a bot, which are still no pushovers by the way, so be warned.  However at the end of the day, against a person, you will face unpredictability much more often than when facing an AI.

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This requires you to be able to react quickly to every new enemy that you come across.  Are they making beginners mistakes you can open up and exploit?  Have they got a glaring chink in their armour, leaving themselves open to attack after a chain?  These are the things you need to be on watch for, as they can make or break your combat success, and unfortunately for those looking for a quick gore-soaked hack and slash murder-fest, is only honed with experience.  But don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing, far from it in fact, I deeply enjoyed how intricate the combat became and how many elements there were to it.  The movesets, the uniqueness of each character, the precise timing needed, the reflexes, the foresight, identifying patterns in your enemies game, all of these things make the Art of Battle system one of the most rewarding and wholly satisfying combat systems I have ever played.

All in all, I have immensely enjoyed myself playing the For Honor Alpha, and was left feeling bereft, with a voracious hunger for more of the same once the Alpha test had ended.  This game really houses an intricacy and depth I honestly did not expect of it.  I, as well as many others just wanted to keep on playing, which equates to a huge success for Ubisoft Montreal.  For Honor comes complete with action, tactics, battle strategy and more, offering not too steep a learning curve for new players, making it easy to learn, but very hard to master.  Just as you think you’ve reached your pinnacle, someone else can come along, humiliate you and make you feel as though you’ve just started playing again.  The only downside with the whole experience would be some minor connection issues, caused mainly by the decision to use peer to peer servers as opposed to dedicated servers, although Ubisoft have done this previously in Alpha and Beta tests and then moved up to dedicated prior to release, so I expect that in this situation as well.  Overall, I would definitely recommend For Honor in it’s current state, and am wholeheartedly looking forward to it’s future beta tests and full release on February 14th 2017.  Best Valentines day ever.

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