KNIGHTS. VIKINGS. SAMURAI.

FIGHT!

That’s the basic premise of Ubisoft Montreal’s hack ‘n’ slash-’em up For Honor, a game that mashes up Dark Souls, Mortal Kombat, and… Battlefield into one gore-streaked medieval brawl. We recruited Matthew “I Studied the Blade” Fick, Gareth “I Can’t Believe You Stabbed Me in the Back” Runnalls, and Tarryn “I Don’t Do Combos” van der Byl for the game’s recent beta event, and pushed them into the ring.

Turns out there wasn’t much honour about it.

Matthew

For Honor has a relatively simple backstory that knows when to excuse itself, and let players get back to cleaving skulls. It sets up a conflict between the knight, viking, and samurai factions that has lasted for ages, beginning after a cataclysmic event started a war over resources. Players pick which faction to join, and fight to capture or defend territories. Battles then take place either as one-on-one duels, or cooperative multiplayer skirmishes, where the objective is to capture points and eliminate the other team.

Each faction is represented by four classes, although players aren’t limited in which classes they can play. So if you want to roleplay a viking who fights for the samurai, you totally can. Classes vary in offence and defence, ranging from hulking tanks, to nimble dual-wielders. Taking time to experiment and pick the class that suits you is vital to gameplay, although it never felt like a varied team was important in a match. Player skill is prioritised, and a team can win even with multiple characters of the same class.

The fighting in For Honor is both straightforward, and deep. Attacks are determined by your stance, and you switch between them using the right analogue stick. To block a hit, players have to be in the same stance as the attacker. It’s easy to grasp, and higher-level play leads to advanced moves like feints, dodges, counter-attacks, and grapples. Different classes have different weapons, granting changes in range, damage, and speed. So spear users can keep others at bay, while heavy attackers can take more hits.

Unfortunately, the combat loses nearly all of its intricacies outside of a one-on-one fights. See, when it’s just you and one foe, it becomes a duel. You have to read and predict your opponent, know their character class, figure out how to minimise your weaknesses, and punish them for theirs. As soon as more players are involved, it becomes and outright slugging match where being outnumbered means death. It takes away the subtleties of combat, making for a frustrating experience.

Outside of the battlefields, For Honor features a persistent multiplayer, where every match contributes to defending or capturing territory for your faction. Completing a match grants War Assets, and these can be deployed to a territory to help guard it, or capture it for your side. Depending on which territories are contested, different maps will be available, which creates a great sense of pushing the front line.

After matches, players are rewarded with experience and loot. Experience is tied into a specific class, giving players reason to invest in a playstyle, and loot gives weapon and armour customisation options which change various stats. The customisation options are highly varied, and picking a good loadout or customising your Ken doll knight’s armour should keep many players occupied.

All in all, my time with the For Honor beta was conflicted. On the one hand, the combat, animations, and the great depth of customisation was terrific. On the other, the larger scale multiplayer battles stripped the game of subtlety, and made it frustrating. However, the frustration wore off, and For Honor‘s strengths became apparent. Few other games capture its sense of being involved in a much larger conflict, and player skill is rewarded if you take the time to learn it.

Gareth 

With the recent festive season’s ensemble of great games, looking forward at this year’s line up feels like a really dull affair by comparison – seriously, there are like, two… maybe three games I am really looking forward to. But this is one of them! And when Dane finally released me from my bonds in his 50 Shades pleasure room and into the daylight for the first time in a while, it came with a condition: tell him what I think of it.

Now, I didn’t get as much hands on time with it as I would have liked, but even with my rose tinted glasses I have to admit that the game is far from flawless.

The good things first.

The gameplay was smooth (after a reboot, because before the reboot it… well, it wasn’t), and partying up and jumping into one of the three multiplayer modes was simple enough. No single-player content was included, but if you wanted to cut off a friend’s head for shiggles, a custom games option was also available. The tutorials were intimidating, but adequately cover all the most basic of bases to get you into a real game as soon as possible. The advanced tutorials were a great place to test out a new class with a bit of help from the AI, but I also found the move set in the pause menu super useful when it came to learning new combos during my respawn wait.

And now, the not so good things…

The load times are bad. Not Recore levels of bad, but on more than one occasion I waited for over a minute for a game to load after selecting a class. My amazing ping to the nearest servers (all of them in Europe if you’re playing on Xbox) is 190ms on a good day, and this is probably what screwed me over the most. The combat mechanics rely on you blocking in the direction that you are being engaged from, either up, left or right – or, if you’re anything like me, your thumbs will develop an acute but short-lived form of Tourette’s, trying to scream in every direction at once. That high ping effectively left me very little time between when the direction indicator showed up on the enemy and when I actually had to block. The result was this: a 1v1 duel against the AI was no problem, but going 1v1 against a human opponent – 10 fights later, and not one victory (the odd round or two, sure, but never three to win the match. Maybe I just suck too). I know it’s something we have come to terms with as a gaming third world country, but that kind of split-second reaction timing is a little different to leading your shots in Titanfall.

The last thing I have on this list is honour itself, of which I have found none. While there are incentives in the 4v4 Dominion games to push for, capture and hold points, nothing spoils an experience quite like being surprise-hacked in the back in the middle of a duel. People were literally abandoning points to scream across the battlefield and engage someone in a duel with their backs turned to them. It kind of reminds me of venturing into the Dark Zone in The Division (… hmm, also a Ubisoft game) where you wave at the odd passer-by, only to have them perforate the crap out of your back the second you stop looking at them, penalties damned. This was the worst. THE WORST.

Honestly, I am on the fence here. I am looking forward to seeing what the full release is going to be like, and what violent, crunchy, gruesome goodness it’s going to bring. And the ping won’t mess with the campaign (I think), so that’s a win for me. But the multiplayer left me with a sour taste in my mouth (that wasn’t Dane’s sock for a change) and will have me sitting on the sidelines until a month or two after release, or, you know, maybe forever.

Tarryn

Seriously, though, I don’t do combos. So I just got killed, like, a lot. I hate my job sometimes. Also, vikings didn’t actually even have horns on their helmets, so this is a fake game.

For Honor launches for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, on 14 February 2017.