For Honor Alpha Review | Release Date: February 14, 2017 Platforms: PS4 (version tested), Xbox One, PC
FIRST REACTION VIDEO: https://youtu.be/74SdmmNmxnc
For Honor’s trailer portrays the futility of war. Three factions furiously fighting for so long that the original reason for their conflict is lost to the ages. Now, we get to join the battle between the Vikings, Samurai and Knights, the campaign letting us play as a chosen hero from each of the three.
For the first mission, we join the Knights, who must defend the castle from an attempted invasion of the Blackstone Legion – their role in this battle is a little unclear, but it seems their intention is to ensure this conflict rages on for eternity.
I’m immediately struck by how gorgeous For Honor is. The wonderfully vivid lighting, the detail on the Knights’ armour, the flame effects as arrows rain down from archers onto the troops’ castle. It all looks incredible, and it’s a joy to run around this fort and take in the detail.
What is a little less polished, however, is the dialogue. Granted, this is a world where men are men who drink beer and kill for a living (you can play as women, too, but from my experience in the game the enemies you face are exclusively male), but the voice-acting is so on-the-nose that it becomes comical at times. Think of a 1970s dubbed martial arts movie and you’re probably somewhere close.
Finally heading into battle we’re introduced to the controls, and there’s an interesting rock, paper, scissors mechanic in play. You must hold L2 to lock onto an enemy, pressing it again will change which unfortunate foe is next for the sword, then you must hold your sword in one of three stances, using the right stick. Matching the stance of your opponent means you can block their incoming strikes, then respond in kind by striking from a different stance with light or heavy attacks.
When facing a tough opponent, it can create decent encounters that require patience and good timing, although it can be a little fiddly switching from right stick to face buttons (X is dodge, Square is guard break) in order to become an effective swordsman.
For Honor However, the mechanic can run into trouble when the numbers aren’t in your favour. Because you’re forced to lock on in order to engage in combat, dealing with multiple enemies at once can be a bit fiddly. You have to release and press lock-on each time you want to switch target, and the combat mechanics are purely for dealing with one foe. There are no sweeping or area-of-effect strikes like in Dynasty Warriors, you’re only bet is to dodge roll your way out of trouble and try and keep all enemies in front of you, limiting the chances of being flanked.
However, there are opportunities to take on large groups of enemies and do serious damage, as there will be instances when you face much weaker opponents that can be killed with one hit,
Just to create that sense of all-out war. These moments are great in fleeting spurts, but can become tedious if they outstay their welcome. From the closed Alpha I played, they’re used wisely, with these one-hit weaklings peppered amongst tougher enemies just to keep things interesting.
Eventually, we defend the castle, and then must take on a boss: the Blackstone Legion leader’s elected champion. This is where the mechanics shine: when the battle is tough. Balancing stamina, keeping an eye on your enemy’s stance and knowing when to dodge and guard break can be thoroughly entertaining. I wish there was a way to turn off the HUD so I there are no arrows telling me my foe’s stance, and I must deduce it only through body posture.
I hope this changes before the Valentine’s Day launch.
I then switch to playing as the Vikings against the Samurai, and this is a much greater challenge and also far more entertaining, mainly because the Vikings are a much more fun class. Slower to attack but dealing much greater damage, the Viking hero can also pick up and carry enemies great distances on his shoulder, meaning you can throw them off ledges or launch them onto spikes. I pull off both moves and it’s immensely satisfying.
My time with the closed Alpha culminated in a 4-versus-1 match against my favour, a giant Samurai leader capable of dealing immense damage. If that wasn’t enough, I also had to deal with and his cronies.
I’m fighting desperately, hammering lock-on to make sure I attack the most immediate threat and it’s here where the system struggles. Because movement lacks the intricacy of a Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, it feels like I lack the control to manipulate my character within combat.
Sometimes I was acting out of desperation rather than calculation. Frantically fleeing for space, unable to attack the crowd of enemies simply because locking onto one opponent meant I was vulnerable to the other three. I wish there was a more organic system, just to make the battles have a little greater sense of flow to them.
Overall, the combat has the potential to be great, and I did have fun in spite of these shortcomings. This is a meaty brawler. It is the closest we’ve come to a payable 300 game, and that makes me interested to see more from For Honor.
Plus, with a man as fiery as Vandenberghe at the helm, I’ll definitely be following this title with a keen interest. If he is able to translate even half of his passion and energy into For Honor, I’m on board.