For Honor’s combat is the kind of brutal melee I always wanted, but never thought I’d actually get to play. Its third-person action-game exterior hides a strategically complex fighting game, mixing team-based action with less interesting solo modes, all built on the most flexible and technically complete melee fighting system I’ve ever experienced.For Honor lives and dies on its fighting system, dubbed “The Art of Battle” by Ubisoft, and it’s the reason For Honor is more like a traditional fighting game in the vein of Street Fighter or Soul Calibur than the hack-and-slash Dynasty Warriors it appears to be at first glance. Locking onto an opponent puts you into “duel mode,” for lack of a better term, where you can change your guard to block left, right, or top. You can block incoming attacks from the direction you’re guarding, and you have to read which direction your opponent is guarding and attack from one of the two directions from which they’re vulnerable to successfully hit.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it isn’t. Under the surface of that premise runs a deep and complex web of dodges, parries, guardbreaks, counters, light and heavy attacks, combo chains, feints, recoveries, unblockable attacks, uninterruptable attacks, stuns, throws, environmental kills, and of course, grisly executions. If a fight ends without a head rolling around on the ground, it’s a surprise.
Putting all of those moves to good use are the 12 heroes spread evenly across the three factions of Knights, Vikings, and Samurai. Each faction has a Vanguard (all-purpose hero), a Heavy (slow but packs a punch), an Assassin (fast and deadly but fragile), and a Hybrid (long-ranged weapons with lots of utility). Though I prefer the heavier heroes, such as the Knights’ Conqueror and Lawbringer and the Vikings’ Warlord, having at least a baseline understanding of each hero is mandatory if you want to be able to predict how they’re going to try to hack you to pieces. For example, For Honor’s assassins all follow the same principles: stay mobile, strike fast, don’t get hit much. But each one of them plays incredibly differently: the Knights’ Peacekeeper applies damage over time bleeds and retreats, the Berserker swipes hard with twin axes in a flurry, and the Orochi has devastating dodge counters and guaranteed followups.
And that type of variety is the same for each of the hero classes, so even if you don’t like a particular hero of a class, odds are there’s another one of the same type that might work for you. More importantly – and I realize it’s early on to say this – almost all heroes feel balanced. Of course there are some that are more viable than others in highly competitive play, but for the majority of players, you can find success with any hero that does it for you.
Fortunately, For Honor comes with a suite of options and modes to get you up to speed in each class relatively quickly. There are basic tutorials, advanced tutorials, and an AI punishment sponge to practice against with variable difficulties. Best of all, every game mode in For Honor is playable against AI, so you can get a grasp of how each mode works without being subjected to players who’ve already put in the time and are just waiting for fresh meat to humiliate.