For Honor’s showing at E3 2016 has been an impressive one, revealing more about two of its warriors, the Knights and Vikings, and their respective campaigns. The UbiBlog had a chance to play both portions of the demo, and came away with some new thoughts on For Honor, its world, and its unique approach to melee combat known as the Art of Battle.
Giancarlo: I played the competitive multiplayer For Honor demo last year at E3, which featured two warring factions of Knight, so I felt pretty comfortable jumping into this year’s campaign demo. Though this demo takes a moment to teach you the Art of Battle, I actually found myself slipping back into the controls rather quickly as I effortlessly blocked and counter-attacked the foes thrown in front of me. Mikel, I know you played last year as well, but you actually played the Viking demo that we saw during the Ubisoft E3 press conference. What’s the setup for that demo and what were the initial moments like going hands-on?
Mikel: The Vikings are moving to establish a beachhead and take a samurai fortress as the start of what the narrator tells us will become known as The Great Raid. That’s actually something I found striking about For Honor’s campaign; you play as a nameless hero (in this case “The Warden” or “The Raider”) who turns the tide of a battle but is remembered by someone else who’s retelling the story. The storyteller also nudges you toward objectives (i.e. “That chain was The Raider’s best option” when coming to a point where you can zipline down), which is a unique touch.
At first, the Viking level has a Normandy beach-landing vibe. As The Raider, you’re running past flaming boulders hurled from catapults, smashing through hordes of Samurai with a Dane Axe, and then scaling a wall in a quest to re-open a gate that wasn’t supposed to work at all. The Raider himself looks like he should handle in a hugely different way than The Warden, being all huge and shaggy, but it was easy to transition from one to the other, and The Raider’s raw brutality made him a lot of fun to use.
I re-acclimated to the Art of Battle pretty quickly, and it’s a little faster than I remember. As you may remember, Art of Battle lets you lock on to opponents and switch between three different stances with the right stick. If your opponent attacks you from a high stance, for example, and you switch to a high stance in time, you’ll block their strike. It’s about watching your opponent’s moves and trying to outwit them and outflank their defenses. In the Raider level, you fight a lot of foes who are above rank-and-file status and who also use Art of Battle moves, and I was a little surprised by how quickly they moved to match my stance or counter it.
Giancarlo: What I noticed this time around is that my confidence with the Art of Battle gave me time to think differently about how I wanted to attack. In fact, I’d say I was able to plan at least two three moves ahead this time around, thinking “attack right side, then left, then right, counter, then up” whereas before it was “block, block, block, maybe counter.” I know the Knight demo was meant to serve as an appetizer of sorts to your Viking demo, but the feeling that I was in control of the battle was incredibly satisfying and it made me want to take on tougher foes right away. It seemed like you faced more than your fair share of tough enemies in the Viking Raider demo, but he has a few surprises up his sleeve (if Vikings had sleeves) to deal with tough situations.
Mikel: Some Vikings have sleeves; just not this one. At any rate, playing as The Raider is an introduction to a lot of new systems in For Honor, with the most obvious one being Revenge Mode. Revenge meter is built up as you block or dodge incoming strikes, and you’ll get a big onscreen prompt when you can release it. (Your enemies can use it, too, so be careful around opponents who keep blocking your strikes.) It’s a temporary buff that makes it so your moves can’t be interrupted, and they do more damage. And if you can time it just right when an opponent attacks, you can briefly knock them off balance and deal out some huge damage.
The Raider scenario was an introduction to a lot of other cool abilities as well; for example, you have a light and a heavy attack, but pushing both buttons at the same time lets you do an area-effect swing that can clear out any low-level enemies around you and is really useful when you’re wading into a crowd. If you attack from the same angle and at the same time your opponent does, you can parry their blow and knock them briefly off-balance. And you can also cancel your attacks mid-swing, letting you feint in one direction and trick your opponents into shifting their guard.
Oh, and The Raider can also grab stunned opponents and just rush them straight into walls. This looks pretty cool on its own, but it’s lethal if you can aim them at a wall of spikes or a steep ledge.
The campaign also introduced a new way of using feats; what was your experience with them in the Knight demo?
Giancarlo: Yes! In the knight campaign demo, there were health pickups scattered throughout the environment, but these don’t give health right away. Instead, as you mentioned, they sort of function like feats do in the competitive multiplayer in that you can stock at least two of them and then use one or the other when your health gets low (by hitting the corresponding button on the d-pad). I was initially tempted to make sure my health was full going into each skirmish within the demo, but eventually found that it was more beneficial to think a little more strategically than that, particularly with some of the later battles where two or three stronger enemies are coming at you simultaneously. It also didn’t hurt that my aforementioned confidence with the Art of Battle made me feel like I could get past an extra enemy or two with just a little bit of health left.
Of course, all of that was put to the test with the final enemy knight, selected by his captain to serve as a proxy for the intruding forces to fight against you – a nameless (but skilled) warrior – and settle the battle. This knight was far more adept at outmaneuvering me than those that came before him, forcing me to reshape my thinking a little bit. Instead of going for strong attacks more often, I’d switch things up by peppering far more light attacks. This made it far more difficult for him to evade and allowed me to get stronger attacks in with a little more consistency. Still, I felt that if I flubbed my strategy at any minute, I would get punished and lose quite a bit of health (and I wasn’t wrong). It was a really satisfying battle and as my warrior walked off, newly knighted, I was left wanting to play more.
How did you fare in the final battle in the Viking demo?
Mikel: That battle was against Saburo, a Samurai lord who fought me as an act of revenge, knowing that the Vikings had already won. He gave it his all, though, and he was really quick to counter me and get around my defenses. He was also the first enemy I encountered that could use the Revenge Mode after blocking enough of my strikes, and whenever he used it, it knocked me down and put me off-balance for a few crucial seconds. He was kind of a jerk about it, honestly, and I can’t say I felt at all bad when my axe sent him flying as part of a well-earned, end-of-battle execution.
For Honor continues to impress with its unique approach to swordplay, and wading into the thick of its combat is intense. You can experience it for yourself when For Honor hits Xbox One, PS4, and PC on February 14, and be sure to sign up for a chance to play the alpha and beta at forhonor.ubisoft.com.
For more on For Honor, check out our previous coverage: