Ubisoft’s For Honor is a million miles away from the game you’re expecting. The studio traditionally makes ocean-broad, puddle-deep open-world games where the challenge comes from finding hidden collectables. With that in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking For Honor was going to be a fairly standard hack-and-slash. It is, however, essentially Street Fighter with bloody huge swords.
The beta offers nine different characters split across four classes; the Vanguards, the Heavies, the Assassins, and the Hybrid. The first you’ll use are the Vanguards, who are designed as an all-round class. Don’t expect every Vanguard to be the same, though. Akin to Overwatch and MOBA games, different characters within a class in For Honor have varying techniques and approaches.
Each of For Honor’s three different factions get their own unique spin on a class. In this case the Knights get the Warden, Vikings have the Raider, and the Samurai field the Kensei. Since the Vanguard is designed to be the easiest class, all three are broadly similar. The Kensei’s huge blade allows him longer range than the others, and the Raider’s bulk means he can literally pick enemies up and run with them, but swapping between them results in a feeling of familiarity. Provided you understand For Honor’s systems – how to position your sword, how to block and parry, how to manage your stamina – you’ll be able to hold your own against many opponents.
Things become very different when you begin to branch out through the other classes. The Conqueror, a Knight Heavy who uses a shield and flail, feels entirely different to use. He rolls with the punches far more readily, with blows bouncing off his shield like hailstones. His flail feels somewhat less impactful than the Warden’s clanging sword, but when landing a perfect thudding blow with it you can crack skulls. He’s certainly a heavy, and that comes across in the more cumbersome nature of his controls.
The Warlord, on the other hand, has an entirely different feel, despite being in the same class. He’s considered a harasser, and Ubi have made this clear by the way his weight feels powerful and dangerous, rather than armoured and slow. This Viking would rip your jaw from your skull and shout obscenities down your gullet. His sword is brutal and carves precise, weighty paths through armour and bone. The Viking classes seem to revel in the violence they cause, making them the more entertaining faction to play as.
In the same column as the Conqueror and Warlord, but most certainly not a Heavy, is the Nobushi. This lithe character is considered a Hybrid. A hybrid of what is up for debate, but I’d personally guess at Beelzebub and Voldemort. Quite how this broken mess of a character has made it as far as the beta is beyond me, but boy is it OP. While not impossible, it is difficult to best a Nobushi in single combat, and playing as one almost guarantees results. All this despite being labelled as a ‘hard’ character.
See, the Nobushi uses a polearm, which means they can jab at enemies long before they come into range. They also have an ability called hidden stance, which allows them to strike without giving away which angle the blow will come from. It’s a technique that’s so far removed from the base rules of the game that playing with or against them is an entirely new experience.
That’s not to say the Nobushi is an inherently bad design – it’s exciting that For Honor’s characters are so different – but it’s clear from the beta that there’s desperate need of a re-balance. At present the Nobushi is being used in every match, and you can tell players have realised it’s the best character by the amount of high-level ones dashing around the arenas.
The final class available in the beta is the Assassin, made up of the agile Orcohi, the twin axe-swinging Berserker (Ubi: consider naming her the Funserker), and the Peacekeeper. The latter is a crouched lady with two huge, imposing daggers that she swings around with astonishing speed.
Facing her as a Vanguard is genuinely intimidating, as even with your solid striking speed you’ll find it tough to chain together the defensive stances and attacks required to take her down. The HUD icon that flashes as enemy blows fall seems to be constantly lit red during an encounter with a Peacekeeper, and a skilled player can quickly swap between all three attack directions to make defending with a slower character feel all but impossible.
That’s the thing about For Honor’s combat. Ubi’s previously established Assassin’s Creed swordplay has taught us to hold the block button and our blademaster will do all the hard work for us. But in For Honor you have to manually adjust the angle that you’re defending against. Fending off a relentless flurry of strike from an assassin is exhausting work. As you’d expect, it’s incredibly sweet vengeance when you can finally break their attack and strike them down.
There’s not long until For Honor releases on February 14, and there’s certainly some balance work to be done. The game’s tutorials are also incredibly obtuse, with vital advance technique instructions hidden behind a maze of menus. There’s plenty that needs improving on. But that’s what a beta is for, after all. For Honor’s problems can be fixed, and I really hope they are, because it’s the most refreshing, bizarre, and fascinating game that Ubisoft have made in over a decade.