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Review: FOR HONOR Alpha

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I wasn’t expecting much from For Honor, as it flew under my radar during E3 2016. I marked it in my book as “Dynasty Warriors-meets-Dark Souls” and moved on. So, after receiving the invite to the Alpha event, I pretty much shrugged and said I’d get around to it. But, after a weekend of the For Honor Alpha, I was honestly surprised. There was an overall scale of “I’m really not digging this” to “Huh…. that’s interesting” to “I really want to get these assholes out of my base and I won’t stop swinging this sword until I’m clear.”

For those who haven’t heard of Ubisoft‘s newest IP, For Honor is a third-person action game that asks playground history buff question: “Vikings, Knights or Samurai?” The game immediately starts with you choosing from one of these three core options (I always roll with Samurai because I’ve had a slight obsession with them since childhood). Each one of these factions gives you two options: A slower, muscle-heavy sword wielder designed to finish enemies with a heavy strike or a light-on-his-feet agile fighter that can dodge and parry at the expense of strength.

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The fighting system is the star of the show here and it’s the main focus of “something new” for this burgeoning franchise. While there are smaller, weak infantry units you can usually dispatch with one or two swipes while heading towards your objective, the true meat of the game is when you are battling for territory with enemies of equal strength and skill. This causes your character to go into a battle mode that locks on to your enemy and you must prepare to block, dodge and parry. You’re given three directions of your enemy’s body to defend or attack (Left, Right or Above). If you are currently aiming above, you will block that area if your enemy attacks it and vice-versa. It gives a strong sense of “Rock, Scissors, Paper” as you try to find the proper timing and attack speed against your enemies.

Admittedly, when playing against the A.I., I found myself immediately bored as I tried my luck and won repeatedly for territory. The enemies weren’t at all interesting and combat has the slow, realistic nature of real sword fighting. Every swing feels exhausting and like a risk. It all requires timing and observation, instead of button-mashing. While this was a crutch in terms of single-player, the multiplayer is where these features truly find a place to shine.

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There are three multiplayer modes offered: Duel (one vs one), Brawl (two vs two) and Dominion (four versus four, in a king-of-the-hill-style arena). I focused heavily on Dominion, to get a stronger feel for what the developers were aiming for and I was happy that I did. While I am not a MOBA gamer, I started to really dig the feel of infantry troops surrounding you (both friendly and enemy) while you’re hunting for the strongest soldier in that pack. It gave things an epic war feeling. While the combat system doesn’t lend itself well to switching between many enemies, it does maintain the realistic peril of sword combat in a military. And for that, I can congratulate For Honor for being the first.

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The combat against multiplayer enemies will obviously be more difficult, and that’s where the game shines. While attempting to predict where to strike an enemy is fine for A.I., you also have to consider roll-dodges, parries and enemies sneaking behind you in multiplayer. It adds a level of intensity and paranoia that was far more appreciated and immersed me in the experience.

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The graphics are excellent and seems to be running on a similar engine as Assassin’s Creed‘s latest adventure, as the multiple battles around you have a variety of animations to give the war a more epic, individual feel. The textures of the clothing and armor also have the impressive movement of fabric and gloss that you would expect from a Triple-A title.

To see what comes next for For Honor as it moves closer towards Beta will be interesting. I will remain hopeful we’ll have a new IP to look forward to from Ubisoft‘s newly revitalized lineup.