For Honor is the knights vs. vikings vs. samurai title nobody saw coming. Especially not from Ubisoft Montreal, who unveiled the project in development for PS4, Xbox, and PC without warning at this year’s Electronic Arts Expo. Now, at this year’s PAX Prime, For Honor‘s tactical combat is raising some excited eyebrows.
The full game will feature a single-player campaign and multiplayer modes, but previews so far have only featured Dominion, a zone-control PvP mode. Two teams of up to four players each face off to capture and hold three marked objectives. Maintaining these objectives and killing enemies will accrue points for each team. The team who achieves a certain point threshold first must then kill all members of the enemy team to attain victory. The enemy team can also rally from this choke-hold and continue the match.
Before the fighting, players were able to customize their knight’s gender and armor, each set highly realistic and brimming with detail. Dominion’s map layout turned out to be small yet quite fluid, allowing a range of access points while keeping objectives, players, and AI close enough to ensure the match felt like a living battlefield from any standpoint.
In the midst of the three control zones, a horde of AIs from each side rage in never-ending combat. Players can jump into the fray and slaughter these weaker characters to wrack up points and build up towards Feats, unlockable skills unique to each class. Feats offer a set of abilities outside of melee combat, such as the knight’s rallying battle cry, healing surge, or catapult strike. Only the knight class was playable in this demo, but For Honor‘s full build will also offer unique samurai and viking classes.
Between the midfield fray and the capture points, players typically end up brawling amidst merciless AI bloodshed or facing opponents in a smaller ring at the objective. In either location, fighting between players primarily takes the form of a special duel mode called “Art of Battle.” Players initiate these spars by aiming their swords at each other, creating an intimate 1v1 match on the spot.
The Art of Battle is the strongest feature of For Honor by far. Two opponents face off, reading the other’s moves, guarding in the direction of incoming attacks, and launching well-timed strikes on the opponent’s vulnerable points. A champion must quickly and wisely choose to position their weapon right, left, or above when launching attacks or defending. At any point, an outsider can walk in and strike either side of the battle, as friendly fire is at all times possible.
For Honor executes real-time tactical combat phenomenally. Enemy movements are communicative enough to study without resorting to slows or awkward tells. At the same time, it’s easy to lose track of your enemy’s movements and get violently cleaved before you have a chance to lift your blade. Lose focus in these intense duels, and you’ll fall to a devastating chain of blows, and sometimes, if the player enters the proper commands, one of many theatrical executions. One of these finishers involved my knight grabbing the blade of her sword and stabbing the hilt into the enemy’s neck. So, you know… pay attention.
For Honor already had our attention thanks to its stunning graphical detail and vivid historical theme, but the game actually displays an addictive combat system that requires focus while remaining fast and ferociously lifelike. Foregoing fantasy in favor of antiquity does For Honor a favor, allowing the game to thrive on the very intensity and danger that followed history’s greatest warriors.