1. There’s no point trying to button-mash
For Honor’s combat is fast-paced but tactical, probably most closely resembling a beat-em-up than any other genre in that regard. But this isn’t anything like the sort of fighting game that you can pick up and win a few rounds without even looking at the move list. Simply put, if you don’t gain a proper understanding of For Honor’s combat system before you dive in, you’ll die. A lot.
When locked onto an enemy, the left stick is used to maneuver your hero, while the right stick is used to change your stance between a right, left and high guard. Offensively, this is the direction you’ll attack from, with either light or heavy blows. Defensively, if you match the direction of an enemy’s incoming attack (briefly signaled with a red indicator) you’ll block it.
The basics of attack and defense are pretty simple then, but you’ll need a bit more than that knowledge to really compete in an online match. The system goes much deeper, with dodging, combo-chaining, guard breaks, parrying, stamina, special abilities and feats all having a role to play in battle. Go up against a player who has a better grasp of these advanced techniques than you, and it probably won’t end well.
2. Choosing your hero is really important
After you’ve chosen your faction, you won’t be stuck with a limited choice of heroes, as all the classes will be available to select from the start, whether you select Viking, Samurai or Knight.
The classes of hero are drastically different from one another — this isn’t just a case of ‘light class = faster and weaker; heavy class = slower and stronger’, although of course there are elements of that. There are other factors that differentiate the heroes. For example, some regenerate health in the core Dominion game mode only by controlling a Capture Zone, while others can also heal by taking out the AI-controlled soldiers. Heroes also differ in terms of what special abilities they can be kitted out with, and how exactly they earn those abilities to unleash in-game.
Basically, it pays to choose your hero carefully based on your own play style, and also to stick to that hero and learn their strengths, weaknesses and their unique move set. Mastering a particular class will put you way ahead of a rival who isn’t as familiar with their hero.
3. The gear system is pretty deep
Like most current competitive online multiplayer games, there are various ways you can customize your character’s outward appearance. For Honor’s gear system isn’t purely cosmetic, though, with each equipped weapon or piece of armor granting various slight boosts to player stats, at the expense of one or more others, of course.
You ‘scavenge’ gear from the customize menu, spending the game’s currency on packs which contain randomized examples of all the different gear types. You’ll want to equip items that buffs stats linked to your particular style of play. So, if you’re a patient strategist, you’ll want a bonus to your guard and perhaps your counterattack strength. If you favor a faster play style, you might want to equip gear that buffs your overall speed, or gives you a better chance of dodging enemy attacks.
You can customize each individual piece of kit with colors and emblems, and you can also upgrade your gear, thus increasing its level and amplifying the overall boost you receive from equipping it.
4. Soldiers actually have a point
Those little guys wandering around, seemingly fighting a war all of their own? Well, they’re not just window dressing. The soldiers do serve a purpose in For Honor.
In the Dominion game mode, the opposing soldiers eternally fight it out in the center of the map, scrapping over point ‘B’. It’s tempting to leave them be as they’re virtually no threat to your hero. You do however score a point for every soldier taken down, and every point can make a big difference — you can even regenerate health by killing soldiers if you’ve picked the appropriate hero class.
The soldiers are useful in a tactical sense, too. When in the fight, it’s a good idea to stick with a big group of friendly soldiers, using their bodies as cover. Even though they may not do damage to enemy heroes, they can distract them and interrupt their attacks enough for you to launch a surgical strike of your own.
5. Environmental kills are a thing
It’s best to keep an eye on your surroundings in a game of For Honor, because a skilled player can use the environment to their advantage, sometimes to devastating effect.
Example: when battling an opponent near a cliff edge, performing a guard break pushes them backward, and some heroes have the ability to grab and throw an enemy, making it even easier to send them to their doom. There’s no revives from this kind of kill either, so it’s doubly worth considering.
This technique’s also handy when there’s a wall nearby. Guard break an enemy against a solid surface, and there’s a chance they’ll fall to the ground, leaving them wide open for a couple of free heavy attacks. This strategy also works with the trees and rocks that are littered around the maps.
One last thing about environmental kills: ladders should be treated with extreme caution. If you see an enemy on the climb, it’s tempting to follow them up, but it’s hardly ever a good plan. Anyone being chased up a ladder can slide down, knocking any pursuers off to the ground and potentially killing them if their health is low enough.
The beta was certainly a useful, if brief, indow into the gameplay of For Honor. It’s clear that Ubisoft Montreal are serious about making their new hack-and-slasher the next big sensation in online competitive multiplayer, and a great deal of thought has gone into balancing the fighting mechanics. Whether they’ve got the balance just right, well, we’ll need a longer play to be sure. And we won't have to wait long — For Honor is released worldwide on February 14th.