Imagine yourself wading through a sea of warriors, clad in plate armor and sweeping away lesser men with a massive sword. As your line pushes forward you notice you’re not the only titan on this battlefield. A warrior made of muscle wearing leather rags and wielding a giant axe crashes into you, tossing you out of the mob before the two of you square off with soldiers on both sides forming a circle to watch.
You seem evenly matched at first, but after an exchange of blocks, parries and flurries of wild strikes, your enemy slumps to the ground defeated. However, your victory is short-lived; another warrior, this one with a long curved sword and a demon-like red mask, soon wades through the crowd looking to take your head.
“For Honor” is a multiplayer-focused third-person hack and slash fighting game where players duke it out on the field of battle as one of 12 heroes from three different factions: Vikings, Knights and Samurai. This lovechild of the niche ‘medieval combat’ genre and the budget of a big time publisher like Ubisoft finally brings a concept popularized by games like “Mount and Blade” and “Chivalry: Medieval Warfare” with the polish of the “Dark Souls” series into the mainstream gaming spotlight.
The story of “For Honor” takes place in a not-quite-earth world where three of the most badass warrior cultures in history somehow ended up in the same continental neighborhood. These three factions fought for ages over scarce resources, spurred by desperation after a cataclysmic volcanic event. Now, after countless years of apathetic peace, a warlord named Apollyon decides to return the world its most natural state: war.
“For Honor’s” 18-mission campaign is above average for a multiplayer-focused title. It serves as a smooth way for new players to learn the mechanics and to do some in-game world building. It also has a degree of replayability, with each mission filled with collectibles that award in-game currency. The Realism difficulty mode is particularly interesting, as it removes the in-game HUD, meaning players must counter the enemy’s attacks based only on the more subtle visual cues of their movements.
While “For Honor’s” story would be best described as ‘serviceable,’ the game excels due to the depth of the combat. There are normal and heavy attacks, as well as guard break attacks to disrupt an enemy’s block. Attacks come from three directions (left, right and upwards) and players can likewise block in any of these directions or use a heavy attack at just the right moment to parry and knock their enemy away. Some characters have a universal block that protects all three directions at once, and others are quick enough to dodge away from attacks altogether. Enough blocks will fill up your Revenge Meter, allowing you a short speed boost to break away from an enemy barrage. All these actions are governed by a stamina meter, which will slow and weaken your attacks if depleted.
Each of the 12 in-game heroes is unique, having their own set of moves and combos, appearances and stats. The lightly armored Nobushi focuses on dodging away from heavy attacks before unleashing a volley of spear strikes. Shield-bearing Conquerors whittle down an enemy’s stamina by blocking so they can finish them off when they’re exhausted and frustrated. The wild Berserker charges in and unleashes a flurry of strikes to overwhelm the enemy while shrugging off any counterattacks. Each hero can be further customized by a set talents that can be changed between matches. These can be anything from a flat, constant damage boost to a short power up after doing an execution move.
There are five distinctive game modes that can be played with others online or with AI controlled bots. The main mode is Dominion, which features 4vs4 teams fighting to capture territory in the midst of a larger battle between AI grunts. Duel is just as it sounds, with two players going head to head in a best-of-five fights match. There are also the Brawl and Elimination modes, where teams fight to eliminate each opposing member over several rounds. Finally, there’s Deathmatch, which is a 4vs4 point based skirmish.
The game also has a progression system where players unlock nine of the 12 classes and earn gear that affects their appearance and stats. In addition to gaining experience and levels for individual heroes, players will also earn in-game currency to buy loot boxes and can earn special taunts and execution moves as well.
“For Honor” does an impressive job at capturing the fantasy of a medieval battlefield. While the single-player elements are compelling for a short time, the game is carried by its fun and complex multiplayer. The complexity of the combat can lead to some brief moments of frustration, but it makes the eventual triumphs far more satisfying in the end.
Watch the launch trailer for “For Honor” below:
Mathew Brock is an Associate Editor for the A&C desk. Check out his previous review of “Fire Emblem: Heroes” or the latest installment of his column: the Gaming Week in Review. Follow Mathew on Twitter at @.