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For Honor First Impressions

Ubisoft Montreals upcoming hack and slash game For Honor pits Samurais, Vikings, and Knights against each other in a violent, historically inaccurate clash. If the magnificent concept isn’t enough, the brilliant combat system, challenging multiplayer elements, and gender inclusiveness make the effort worth keeping an eye on.

I had a chance to see the game in action during Fan Expo in Toronto earlier this month, first during a hands-on multiplayer demo on the show floor and then again at a live campaign preview during a panel with the game’s developers. The panel footage showcased the same mission seen at E3 2016, but it was slightly altered thanks to choices made in real time by Game Director Roman Campos-Oriola and Brand Creative Director Louis-Pierre Pharand.

So far, the developers are remaining tight-lipped about the game’s narrative. According to Pharand, the team is “just trying to get it done,” and has no definitive answers regarding the length of the campaign. Given the level of detail already present in the multiplayer demo, the lack of information about the campaign indicates that they’re either withholding something amazing, or that single-player is a secondary priority. Both Campos-Oriola and Pharand seemed somewhat unenthusiastic when discussing the story, which leads me to believe that it may be the latter.

However, the two Ubisoft employees were thrilled to discuss the game’s female characters, which are evenly balanced with male characters. Of the 12 playable warriors, three are women, while an additional six offer players interchangeable male and female options. It doesn’t fundamentally change the game’s mechanics, and it is a welcome addition that at least starts to address the overall lack of diversity in video games.

Pharand says he draws motivation from the idea that they’re making “something different.” He notes the difficulty of being immersed in a project in which you “can’t tell the difference between the tree and the forest,” but is grateful for events such as Fan Expo, which allow the developers to gauge fan responses and to shape the future development of the project.

I was one of the many gamers that went hands-on with the multiplayer demo at the event. Despite a quick tutorial, I was overwhelmed by the combat system at first, and it wasn’t until halfway through my first multiplayer battle (a capture mode called Dominion) that I started to understand the unique control scheme. The right stick allows players to choose the direction of their sword, and understanding the concept is integral for good attack and defense. The screen will indicate how your enemy’s weapon is oriented, so tilting the stick while pressing L1 or the R-buttons will allow you to block and strike your opponent, respectively.

It’s not intuitive, but mastering the art of battle is both rewarding and satisfying. I was crushed in the first one-on-one duel I entered, but the more I was challenged, the better I got at slicing my enemies’ heads off (no, the visual never gets old). Additional commands, such as X to dodge and Square to guard break, can help you find the perfect moment to strike, or alternatively, give you the opportunity to flee. While most players will seek to be the hero, there is no shame in exiting a dangerous situation to return with more health in a more advantageous strategic position.

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The Dominion match took place in an open battle arena that encourages multiple play styles. Some may find pleasure in the chaotic scrum on the frontline, while others may seek alternative routes to objectives to avoid combatants. Both methods bring their advantages and disadvantages, although cutting through the hordes of the opposing faction is nearly irresistible.

Regardless of play style, I found that there was always a challenge to overcome. When surrounded by enemies, blocking is rendered useless, but there’s security in numbers. Leaving your teammates to go it alone creates a sense of vulnerability, though in both cases, the true threat level depends on the skill of other players.

In that regard For Honor certainly seemed to attract an audience. When I returned to the Ubisoft booth to revisit the game a while later, the lineup had grown enormously. That remained the case for the entire weekend. For Honor’s concept seems to resonate with gamers, and when talking to those waiting in line, I found many of them were also returning for a second or third play.

For me, it isn’t just the idea of For Honor that is appealing. The combat system offers a fresh take on a stale genre, and the inclusion of female characters makes the game that much more inviting. Through discussion with the developers, it is evident that they too have high expectations. The verdict is still out on the quality of the campaign, but if the multiplayer mode is any indication of its final form, For Honor will be as strong as the warriors it depicts.

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