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The sound of steel clashing rings out from high above the castle walls. Flaming arrows flurry at your feet as you rush forward. From across the battlefield, a fierce barbarian locks eyes with you. As you swing your blade through throngs of underlings, you charge at your enemy. Wielding your weapon high, you dive once more into the blood-rushing heat of battle.
For Honor, the latest competitive multiplayer offering from Ubisoft Montreal, drops players right in the middle of brutal, medieval warfare. Inhabiting an alternate history where warriors from across the globe have come together to face off, the full package will also include a single-player campaign that explores the logical reasoning behind these fantasy-driven battles. After a few multiplayer beta tests, however, it’s clear that For Honor‘s claim to fame will be the tense, gritty online components.
While first-person shooters and real-time strategy games now dominate the multiplayer gaming space, For Honor emphasizes one-on-one melee combat over anything else. Though some may consider this a remarkably risky move for such a high-profile game, obvious care has been poured into giving each class a distinct feel and affording players the chance to quickly adapt in brand new encounters.
Each of the three factions include both heavy and light hero classes, and none of the playable warriors feel too similar to the others. For example, the Vikings’ Raider class wields a lengthy great axe, but moves significantly slower than other classes with weighty weapons. On the other hand, faster classes like assassins can move more freely but perish quickly.
Combat in For Honor is tied to Guard Mode, a focused control scheme that comes into play when two opposing heroes approach each other. From there, each player is free to move between stances. Depending on whether they hold their weapon to the left, right, or above their head will influence the flow of the duel.
When targeting an opponent, a display wheel will constantly indicate the direction of incoming strikes. Part of the balancing act in these duels involves reflexively shifting stance to match your foe, or catching them off-guard with a quick strike. For Honor prioritizes patience, as most victories are decided by a streak of continuous back-and-forth rather than outright domination.
The core mechanics of blocking and attacking work seamlessly with the variety of weapons offered in each class, and present players with a steep learning curve that rewards experimentation. As easy as it might be to choose one hero and pour dozens of hours into leveling that class up, gear can be earned to customize each class for adaptive battles. General tactics remain consistent outside of a few combo moves, and the game encourages players to change up their character choice depending on the situation.
Though you’re locked into your selected hero for the duration of a match, For Honor’s variety across multiplayer modes never flips the script on what kind of battles to anticipate. Dominion is a spin on Domination-style control points, with two teams competing for three segments of the map. AI soldiers litter the battlefield, but are little more than a distraction for players to slice through.
This mode is likely to become standard fare for casual sessions of For Honor, thanks to the beginner-friendly objectives. That’s not to say there isn’t strategy involved, because the point-scaling victory requirements allow for tide-turning rallies from either side. Once one team reaches 1000, the enemy team will be denied from re-spawning. While the team is breaking, reclaiming any control point will bring back the tug-of-war.
The other multiplayer samplings are more focused on moment-to-moment confrontations, pitting one or two players against each other at a time. These tense duels tend to be slow and drawn-out, as each player anticipates the move of their opponent. For Honor borrows mechanics from both third-person shooter and fighting genres, but still feels original.
For Honor launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on Feb. 14.
AJ Moser is a Brooklyn-based reporter who focuses on video games, movies, and internet culture. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Game Informer, and Big Spaceship.