Last week, Ubisoft set up shop in the Microsoft Loft in downtown San Francisco and allowed a select group of journalists to preview the newest features of Ubisoft Montreal's upcoming strategic brawler, For Honor. With three chunky new features to share, the team was visibly excited. And after a three hour test drive, we think we know why.
Before letting us at the controllers, the team introduced the first new feature: Faction War. After pledging your allegiance to one of the factions—Vikings, Knights or Samurai—your job is to help that faction control as much territory as possible on an expansive world map. That's done by taking part in multiplayer matches. “All of your actions in game, whether you win or lose, will have an impact across all three platforms. No matter if it's PS4, PC or Xbox One,” said Producer Stephane Cardin.“You won't play in the same game, but when you win a match, you impact the world across all three.”
For Honor makes the effort worth your while; after each match, you get rewards in the form of War Assets which can be used on the world map either to attack enemy territory or defend your own. Results are tracked over three periods of time: turns, rounds and seasons (six hours, two weeks and ten weeks, respectively) and at the end of these, further rewards are given to players according to their faction's level of dominance. Seasonal rewards include steel, an in-game currency used to buy upgrades, scavenger tickets used to open loot boxes, and season-specific backdrops for your shield and banners.
Along with tangible rewards, winning gives your faction the satisfaction of seeing the visuals of in-game maps change to reflect its prowess. Brand Director Luc Duchaine explained: “We have twelve maps (with many variations.) Depending on who's controlling it and where in the world the map is, we're going to change not only the weather, and time of day, but also the art inside the map. The trees, the backdrops, props, AI minions and art assets.”
Though Faction War was obviously off the table for a three hour preview, the team next let us face off 4v4 in For Honor's fast-paced Dominion and brutal Elimination modes. Regardless of faction, For Honor lets you play any Champion, and we went for a muscular female Viking called a Raider who carried a nasty-looking axe. Both teams were dropped first in the middle of a rustic Viking village and then in a Japanese compound. Both maps were interestingly-constructed with various levels, hiding places, and deadly hazards like spikes and drops. Buffs also peppered the maps, giving Champions more defense, speed and attack power. Early on it became clear, success wouldn't happen without strategic use of AI minions and more importantly, teamwork.
That's because combat in For Honor is no joke. Not only is it brutal and gory (picture splattering blood and decapitated heads) it takes a while to master. This is mainly due to its unique control scheme. Both attacks and defense moves are angled via a radial reticule controlled by the right thumbstick and this takes more than a little getting used to. On top of that, targeting is done by holding the L2 button while left-thumbstick-moving your hero and attacks are done with the R2 instead of the XYBA buttons. Players accustomed to standard third-person action controls could struggle at first, overcoming long-held muscle memory.
Post-multiplayer matches, the For Honor team set us up with two different single player missions. The first began in a Viking village where a hyper-aggressive Viking splinter group—at the behest of warmongering super-villain Apollyon—were victimizing their own. We again chose to play as the buff female Raider. Clearly-marked objectives led us through the village where we fought and burned our way to stolen stores of food. Our rampage wound through the town to a kind of Viking long house where we confronted and battled the leader of the thieving scum.
This macho jerkoff managed to escape though, forcing us to chase him down on horseback. This proved the more exciting portion of the mission since it had us steering around fallen rocks and trees while fighting off rogue Vikings and dodging fireballs thrown by the boss. Disposing of the guy was definitely rewarding.
Mission two let us try out one of the three new Champions: the Knight's faction's dual-wielding Peacekeeper. Starting in a mountain pass at night, our goal was to pass a series of small encampments and reach a huge fortified gate. The Peacekeeper's uniquely suited for such a thing, being an agile assassin. (Incidentally, some of For Honor's heroes can be played as either male or female, but the Peacekeeper is exclusively female.)
Time and again, we were confronted both with groups of bloodthirsty enemies and For Honor's exacting control scheme. Fortunately, our special healing Feat (“Feats” are what For Honor calls Champions' active and passive abilities) kept us alive despite the occasional misdirected attack. Time was called before we could wind our way to the top of the mountain and finish the mission, but what we did see of it was both beautiful and challenging.
Along with the Peacekeeper, team Montreal introduced its other two new Champions: the Vikings' Warlord and the Samurais' Shugoki. The former carries a sword and shield and the latter a huge studded club. They also mentioned three upcoming hybrid classes we were unable to try: the Vikings' spear-and-shield-carrying Valkyrie, the Knights' halberd-wielding Lawbringer, and the Samurais' Naganata (polearm) expert, the Nobushi.
Challenging though it might be for some players to conquer For Honor's control setup, doing so promises to be worthwhile. Its customizable (Feats, weapons and armor patterns) classes are cool-looking, and Champions' attacks pack quite a visceral punch. On top of that, its beautiful multiplayer maps provide ample opportunity for unforeseen deaths and hair-raising escapes. Finally, what little we saw of its single player mode hints at interesting things to come. Ubisoft Montreal promised too that all content updates will be free and though “shortcuts” can be bought, every item and advantage in the game can be earned just by playing.
For Honor's closed beta starts January 17, 2017 and the full game is set for release on February 14. For more information about For Honor, visit Ubisoft's official For Honor website.