Medieval fighter For Honor defies description

Whatever it is, I like it

Ubisoft Montreal’s For Honor seems to borrow inspiration from as many places as it does warriors.

The newly-revealed project sees medieval knights clash with samurai and viking raiders, warping time and space to bring together foes as distinct as the overarching experience that unites them.

While there is some sort of story mode to ostensibly explain why feudal soldiers from opposite ends of the planet are sharing a battlefield, Ubisoft is keeping quiet about the single-player campaign. Instead, the publisher has opted to thrust the multiplayer component into the foreground.

And what a strange and alluring experience that is. On the heels of its E3 media briefing, Ubisoft whisked the press off to a tower in downtown Los Angeles to compete in a mode called “Dominion.” There, groups of eight players skirmished in 4-on-4 matches with an emphasis on territory control.

With three King of the Hill-style zones to vie for, it’s set up an awful lot like an online shooter. And at a glance, it gives off a Dynasty Warriors vibe, with hordes inept minions fighting battles of attrition while player-controlled hero characters grapple over objectives that, you know, actually matter.

Neither of those comparisons really nail what For Honor actually feels like, though. The combat system is far more intricate than Koei Tecmo’s hack-and-slashers, at any rate. This is no mindless action game. Each and every encounter with the enemy requires a great deal of care. 

For Honor is all about sword mastery; success or failure largely hinges on one’s proficiency with a blade. Being overly aggressive is a good way to get flayed, as defense is of vital importance here. Predictable attacks are easily blocked and countered, and even knights, despite being clad in heavy plate mail, can be felled surprisingly quickly after a string of defensive miscues.

In some respects this is more of a fighting game, where opponents feel one another out with pokes and jabs, hoping to discern the enemy’s plan of attack and capitalize when given the opportunity. You really have to pay attention to where the enemy’s weapon is positioned, be ready to counter it while working to read them, and get an opening yourself.

I quickly found myself outmatched when going toe-to-toe with the developers on the other team. They seemed to move with lightning speed, feigning attacks and throwing me off balance, only to hit me from my unguarded side a moment later.

Thankfully, strategy and teamwork play a central role. When I figured out I wasn’t a skilled enough fighter to take enemies on by my lonesome, I focused my attention on sneaking up the flanks and capturing the objectives. Eventually, somehow, after flailing in the early going, our team came back from the brink of defeat to pull off an unlikely victory. (Maybe they let us win.)

On top of that, players act as field generals, earning mid-game perks called “Feats” that allow one to call in ordnance support catapults and archers, or even inspire your cohorts to fight better. Knowing how and when to play these cards figures to play a key role in turning the tide of battle.

For Honor is a fascinating fusion of genres that has me eager to return to the battlefield.

Kyle MacGregor Burleson