E3 2016: For Honor’s Brutal Combat Impresses Again
At E3 2015 Ubisoft debuted For Honor, a brand new action game focusing on the brutal art of swordfighting. The knights, vikings, and samurai of this war-torn world dazzled me during that show, giving me high hopes that this year’s E3 would give me even more epic sword battles to feast upon. Ubisoft happily obliged, introducing a brand new chapter in the game’s campaign mode and letting me once again take up my sword against the enemy hordes, and I left E3 2016 just as high on For Honor as I had the year before.
The two-part hands-on demo started with a mission similar to the demo I played last year: I was given control of a knight defending a giant castle from an invading force of other knights, the reasons for their quarrel never really explained to me. As I moved through the castle I was met with two types of enemies, grunts that could be dispatched in one or two swings of my swords, and Captains that took a little more effort to take down. Fighting a Captain employed For Honor’s signature stance-based combat, which is just as tense and exhilarating as before.
Engaging the Captain put me in one of three stances --- sword raised overhead, sword to the left, or sword to the right --- and allowed me to switch between the three at will. My opponent was also switching stances before attacking, and if I could match his stance I would block his attack. If not, I'd take damage and would perish after too many failed guesses. I could strike at him whenever I wished as well, and so long as his stance didn’t match mine I’d score a hit too. If we stalemated for too long, I could grab the enemy and throw him, opening him up for a few free strikes. This combat style creates a cat and mouse dynamic, as you attempt to lure a stance out of the enemy in a rock-paper-scissors style of battle that never got old.
After defeating a few captains I found myself in the castle courtyard, where I was chosen as the lord’s number two and represented him in a trial by combat, facing off against the invading captain’s right hand man. As exciting as these swordfights are in the midst of chaotic battle, I felt even more tension building when it’s just the two of us swinging at one another. After I bested my opponent, the invaders agreed to leave, but not before the leader made me one of his knights and ordered me to follow him. I wasn't given an explanation as to why I now had to leave the castle I just successfully defended, but I suppose that will be answered in the main game.
The second half of the demo dropped me in the same battle shown during Ubisoft’s press conference, with the Vikings sailing to take on the Samurai in one of their strongholds. In researching the game, I decided that I would likely choose VIking as my faction when the game eventually launched, so to be able to take my preferred style for a spin was a very welcome experience. Just as I expected the Vikings are monsters. This particular warrior swung his mighty axe around as if it weighed nothing at all. Of particular note was the wall-climbing section, which made me scale a wall while dodging falling debris and arrows shot from above. Reaching the top was tough, but getting there and splitting the head of one annoying archer was very satisfying.
The occasional Samurai captain would appear just as the previous mission, again initiating the rock-paper-scissors battle system from earlier. I thought the battle style might change depending on the faction being played, but I was glad to have been proven wrong. Hand-to-hand combat boiled down to swinging different weapons at one another anyhow, so whether I had an axe or a katana in my hand, I would be able to fight the exact same way. Eventually my Viking friend made his way to the leader of the Samurai stronghold, whom I engaged in the normal method before besting him and claiming his fort for myself.
I cannot get enough of For Honor’s brutal action, and I’m sad that demo was only two sections of what I hope will be an extensive campaign. I’m okay with shooters and the genre's dominance in video games, but once in a while it’s great to just pick up a sword and take on an opponent more directly. For Honor scratches that itch to pure satisfaction with a second straight strong E3 showing, and I can’t wait for Valentine’s Day so I can rejoin the battle and finish what I’ve started.
For Honor will be available Feb. 14, 2017 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.