Vikings aren’t really big on subtlety, and that’s doubly true when they’re huge, shirtless, axe-wielding Vikings with rings in their braided beards. So when For Honor’s hulking Raider leads an assault on a bandit camp, it starts exactly the way you’d expect: he throws a sentry’s severed head at the front gates and then charges straight through them.
So began our latest stab at For Honor’s story-driven campaign, which this time focused on two perspectives: the Raider, who fights to reclaim food stolen by a local tough named Ragnar; and Mercy, a fast-moving Peacekeeper who slips into a Viking camp while working for For Honor’s central antagonist, Apollyon. We also had the chance to take up arms as three new heroes in multiplayer, ripping it up across multiple modes as the monstrous Shugoki, the defensive Warlord, and the fast-moving Peacekeeper.
Destroy All Bandits
First, though, let’s get back to the Raider, who continues his rampage through Ragnar’s camp by hacking through a few token weaklings. While the rank-and-file enemies can’t withstand more than a few axe strikes, they still use the Art of Battle system to attack and defend, meaning you can’t just carve through them by mashing buttons. Instead, you have to switch the Raider’s stance to outmaneuver them, move to block their incoming hits, and take their special abilities into account; when fighting a Warlord, for instance, you have to use an unblockable strike to chop through a turtling technique that makes him invulnerable from every direction.
Supplementing the Raider’s imposing Dane axe are a handful of secondary abilities, including a healing function with a gradual cooldown, and Fire Flasks, which can be found scattered around the stage as pickups and hurled with the destructive power of incendiary grenades. We also discover something we hadn’t noticed before: if you’re surrounded by enemies and locked onto one of them, you can block incoming attacks from other foes just by shifting your stance in their direction. There’s no need to worry about whether they’re coming in high or low unless they’re the object of your direct attention, something that makes dealing with multiple threats much more survivable.
Enemy resistance does little to slow the Raider’s incursion into the camp, as the Raider and his computer-controlled allies recover food supplies and knock over braziers to burn down enemy-spawning huts and archer towers. Before long, you come face to face with Ragnar himself, who – after a brief duel surrounded by onlookers from both sides – decides to flee. What follows is our first-ever break from For Honor’s close-quarters fighting, as the Raider chases Ragnar on horseback through a snowy forest trail, narrowly dodging obstacles and axing any would-be pursuers who come up from behind. At the end of the chase, Ragnar gets a throwing axe in his back, and the Raider magnanimously offers him a chance to change his ways – which he refuses. Following a quick execution, Ragnar’s men prove less stubborn, and agree to join the Raider’s growing Warborn army.
Under Cover of Night
The campaign then shifts gears to Mercy, who’s sent to clear out a Warborn fortress that’s in Apollyon’s way. (Apollyon, for her part, is opposed to recent attempts at peace after centuries of war between the Knights, Vikings, and Samurai, and wants to do everything she can to get all three factions back to fighting each other.) A Peacekeeper – which is to say, the Knights’ Assassin type – Mercy sports a hood and a wicked pair of short blades. Like her Viking and Samurai equivalents, the Berserker and Orochi, she doesn’t maintain her stance the way other heroes do, which means you need to tap up, left, or right on the right stick every time you want to block or direct a strike around an opponent’s defenses. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff for the speed she brings to the fray, though, which lets you interrupt the attacks of enemies while they’re still winding up their swings, or dodge out of the way a little more quickly than other fighters.
Set on a cliffside trail in the middle of a snowy night, Mercy’s stage is a solo run that has the feel of a stealth mission, in that you’ll frequently surprise the Vikings as they stand around campfires or patrol in small groups. This isn’t a stealth game, however, so any illusions you have about quick, hidden kills will quickly be shattered the first time you encounter an enemy. Luckily, Mercy doesn’t need to quietly slit any throats, as her speed and strength are more than a match for any opponent or group. And when you absolutely need the element of surprise, she can find small caches of the Fiat Lux – a flashbang favored by the Knights – to blind her foes for a few crucial seconds, giving her an opening to make short work of them.
\Eventually, Mercy makes her way up to the fortress, and finds a convenient way to not just clear the fortress, but to obliterate it: by jamming the wheels of its gate mechanism, she can build up enough tension to make the chains rip free of their restraints and tear the place apart. The only catch is that there’s a big, very tough Raider standing between you and victory, and his frequent block breaks and throws – which involve him kneeing Mercy in the face, and which leave her momentarily dizzy – is a lesson that dodging is often a better tactic when dealing with a stronger opponent.
On the Battlefield
In addition to the two campaign missions, we also had a chance to storm the multiplayer modes with three newly added heroes: the Warlord, a Viking with a sword and shield who can become briefly invulnerable from all directions; the Peacekeeper, the dual-blade-wielding assassin detailed in Mercy’s section above; and the Shugoki, an imposing, demon-masked giant who wields a huge studded club known as a kanabo.
The Shugoki is a personal favorite. A brutally effective tank that can plow into enemy ranks and soak up damage while dealing hefty amounts of it, he’s as adept at crowd control in Dominion matches as he is at flattening opponents in duels. His only real drawback is his slow movement speed, which makes catching elusive opponents in elimination matches a challenge. The Warlord, meanwhile, is a Heavy, like the Shugoki and the also-intimidating Conqueror, but he’s not quite as devastating or as resilient. He can, however, block while attacking and crouch behind his shield to defend from all sides. This makes him a formidable defensive player, better suited to targeting individuals and counterattacking than he is to plowing through enemy lines.
For Honor will be available for Xbox One, PC, and PS4 on February 14. For more on the game, check out our previous coverage: