For Honor is one of those games that watching someone play a level of does no justice to the amazing gameplay systems present. When I first saw the game, I thought it was a rather pretty, but otherwise generic hack and slash. However everyone who played it spoke to me about it in the same revered tones that I think were uttered when the bread slicer was invented.
This year I managed to get some hands-on time with For Honor and the praise that has been poured out on it is completely deserved. The first section I played was as a knight. Your longsword is used to parry blows but holding block isn’t enough in this game. Your right stick controls the stance that you are in, or more importantly the side of your body that you are holding your weapon towards. There are three positions: left, right and above and if you block from say the right when the enemy attacks toward your right-hand side, you will block the attack. If not your block doesn’t connect and the enemy scores a hit. The exact same thing happens when you attack: if you hit the enemy in a place where their blade isn’t, your attack will find purchase. It becomes a dance, very similar to when two people meet in a duel of block, parry and risposte, as both involved test and circle one another. Add on top of this using heavy and light attacks, combos, a guard breaking move, being able to mirror an attack to parry and dodging and the dance becomes pretty complex and layered.
Combat against people with two-handed weapons is slow, but deadly if you don’t block an attack. Some of these attacks can be unblockable too, requiring some fancy footwork to get out of the way. Dodging isn’t an instant evade with invulnerability frames either, making you think about when and where to dodge to. Opponents with a small blade, like samurai with a wakizashi, are nimble and their quick attacks will slowly bleed your health bar. After fighting as a knight I played as a towering viking with a bearded axe. His attacks were really slow, but powerful and he could bullrush and tackle opponents into obstacles or off the castle ramparts. Suddenly you are dealing with slow attacks against foes who use spinning flourishes in their attacks. If you don’t pay attention, you might try block, think the attack is over, switch stance and try attack just as their attack lands. These graceful flourishes are amazing to watch as you wait for the attack to land so that you can try attack in return. They also make parries much more difficult as the timings have all changed.
After a while as a viking I fought the lord of the castle, a samurai with deadly fast attacks and resistance to guard breaks. Combat became frenetic and after doing enough damage he went into a vengeful rage, a time when he parried all attacks and his blows were so mighty that your character staggered after blocking an attack. Luckily the game then gave me a vengeance bar, so that I could do the same to this mighty foe. It was a lot of fun to dodge big attacks, find a breather to use rare healing resources and then go on the counterattack. I finished my opponent with a heavy attack, which gives you an opportunity to execute your opponent. I smashed the butt of my axe into his face and as he fell down, a mighty overhead strike to the groin finished him off.
Fighting lesser opponents is a different deal. The footsoldiers will attempt to swarm you, not worrying about fighting with honor. However their skill with the blade is poor in comparison to yours, and whole groups can be felled with a single powerful arcing attack. You wade through the battlefield, carnage to lesser swordsman, looking for those who stand a foot taller than the rest, clad in fullplate instead of chainmail. These foes require a duel and patience, compared to the ruffians you previously mowed through.
The fighting system is so natural, so logical that I can’t believe I have been playing games with swords all my life and this is the first time this system is being implemented in a hack and slash. I can’t wait to play more For Honor, it was definitely a highlight of my E3 trip.