Viking, Knight or Samurai? You won't need to pick as For Honor lets you sample them all.
It was first shown at last year's E3 and since then things were eerily quiet, that is until Vikings came storming onto the Ubisoft E3 presser and fulfilled the trinity of Knight, Samurai and Viking we were promised. Apparently these three very different warriors (or raiders in the case of Vikings) have been locked in conflict for a thousand years. So we're left to assume this isn't one of those historically accurate games.
At the heart of the conflict is Apollyon, a warlord and master manipulator who'll you have to overcome in order to move past this constant conflict. The campaign is divided into three as you play as either the Kensei (Samurai), Raider (Viking) or Warden (Knight). We expect there to be clashes, but perhaps also towards the end some sort of common enemy to overcome... At least that's what it all points to at this stage.
In many ways For Honor comes across as the game Crytek's Ryse could have been. It's grand and epic, and relishes in the brutality of close quarters combat. Yet there's so much more to the gameplay, and it takes a while to unlearn sloppy habits you may have picked up in more forgiving hack 'n' slash titles. Here you need to time your attacks, and use your cunning to best what essentially amounts to a series of duels, while you swat down grunts in between the more substantial encounters.
As you've no doubt seen from the gameplay clips at E3, attacks come from three directions and you match them to block. Enemies tend to attack in a fixed pattern so once you've learned those the action grows more fluid. Additionally there is the guard break move that allows you to break the guard of an enemy and then pick them up. If there's a nearby cliff or perhaps some spikes you can quickly dispose of your opponent that way. It mixes the action up a bit, and makes for some satisfying moments. It may not really require that much skill, but it still feels good.
The indicators that show from which direction an attack is coming from can be turned off, at which point you'll then need to learn how to read the animations to see where the next blow will likely hit. It makes for a much better experience though, as it leaves you free to take in what's happening on screen rather than focusing on the prompts. We also found that we relaxed and got a bit sloppy as a result of the prompts, but that may not be the case for everyone.
Another interesting area that we only scratched the surface of are pick-ups and abilities. We picked up health potions, and their use is obvious, but we also had a "revenge" ability that charged up and that allowed us to do more damage for a short period of time. Hopefully there will be more of these abilities to help mix up an experience that could otherwise run the risk of being a bit monotonous.
The visuals are naturally a big selling point here, but to be perfectly honest we felt they were a bit underwhelming when viewed up close. There is certainly time for polish between now and release so perhaps it's not a major concern, but with a game that's so focused on zoomed in combat that only rarely opens up to more expansive arenas, you'd expect the visuals to blow you away, and we weren't blown away.
After getting a look at the basic gameplay at last year's E3 with multiplayer and Knights in focus, it became clear at this year's E3 that Ubisoft are putting a lot of effort behind For Honor. The campaign is playable in both solo and 2-player co-op, and the multiplayer still promises to be an important part of the package with plans for both alpha and beta testing as the game enters the final stages of development. We're still a bit on the fence with regards to the fiction; it really sounds like your standard action matinee, but those can be epic in all the right ways if delivered with flair. If Ubisoft Paris nails the execution and make us care about the story we may have a classic on our hands, if not it will be forgotten about as quickly as Ryse: Son of Rome.