Starting your journey with For Honor, you'll pledge your allegiance to one of the three rivalled factions. Each of these factions contain up to four unlockable heroes which totals 12 unique characters for you to command out on the battlefield. Each character benefits from solid design and handles in their own unique way with some heroes having a long range but feeling slow and lofty, and others being quick and nimble but lacking weight behind their blows.
Combat requires quick-thinking and swift reflexes, as you're required to rapidly defend yourself from oncoming attacks and exploit any fleeting holes in your opponent's defence. Controls, for the most part, feel awfully smooth allowing for fluidity in battles. By holding LB (on Xbox One) and pushing the analog stick, you can block in three possible directions and by triggering RB and RT you can unleash light and heavy attacks. You also can counter moves, barge through your foes defences and push enemies to their peril off towering ledges and into seemingly inescapable pools of water. There's much here to master, and with such a varied move set, it's easy to formulate an attack strategy that suits best to your individual style of play. That being said, fighting groups of opponents is especially troublesome as alternating between targets feels clunky and it's almost impossible to defend yourself whilst being attacked simultaneously.
If you finish your opponents with a heavy attack, you also have the opportunity to execute them in a number of fantastically gory ways by pushing either the X or Y button. Whilst also feeding your lust for gore, executions work to extend respawn times in the multiplayer mode and can give you health bonuses whilst playing the campaign. Feats are also items which you can equip before battle and can be used to heal your team members, temporarily improve your stamina and allow you to attack through your opponent's defence. There are also passive feats, which can be equally as game-changing as they can work to bulk up your base HP and attack stats.
Before delving into the multiplayer an extensive tutorial section is available to help hone your skills and smooth the imposing difficulty curve. After growing tired of pummelling dummies, you'll then be challenged to a duel to test what you've learned and demonstrate your worthiness for battle. Following this, both the single and multiplayer modes will become available, but we would recommend trying the single player first, as it's a chance to gain further practice in a non-pressure environment. Alternatively, you can toggle on and off bots within the online modes if you'd like to get a feel for the various modes and how they're played.
Multiplayer is divided into five main modes; with two of the clear standouts being domination and duels. 1v1 battles named duels, are the ultimate test of skill, where you must rely on all but your quick-whit and ability to read your opponents to win the best of five unfolding rounds. Domination, For Honor's flagship mode, has a heavy focus on team cooperation, as you and your allies will work to dominate regions of the map and slaughter opposing players to rack up points. Once 1,000 points have been gathered the opposing team will start to 'break,' and the focus is then switched to a largescale game of cat and mouse to hunt down and eliminate any surviving players. This mode is especially bracing due to how quickly bases can be dominated, which creates a constant sense of urgency and a reliance on teamwork to ensure that all territory remains secure.
Across the multiplayer map a faction war is unfolding and your efforts will contribute to the success of the faction that you swore loyalty to at the start of the game. Upon reigning victorious in matches, you'll receive war assets, which can be placed on the map to enable your faction to dominate more regions or can be used to defend territory. At the end of seasons in the game you'll be rewarded with exclusive items for your participation and how well your faction performed. Once particular maps are dominated by a faction they will become draped by the faction's flags and their colours will be decorated across its landscape. Featuring a constantly changing world is and interesting dynamic, and works to visualise which faction is currently reigning dominant.
With regards to progression, your heros level up individually and unlock their own personal rewards, rather than you having an overarching level as a player. As you'll level up you'll receive new interchangeable gear for your weapons and armour which alter their appearance and level of efficiency. You can also purchase items that are contained in packs through the in-game currency of steel, which you'll earn for completing challenges and partaking in matches. This is where microtransactions do come in, but here they aren't too intrusive.
In a similar fashion to Battlefield 1, the campaign is segmented, allowing you to view the faction war from three distinctive perspectives over a twelve-year timeline. There are three acts that span each individual character class and contain six sub-missions, which lasts roughly around six hours in total. The campaign whilst short-lived, is well scripted and excellently voiced and provides us insight into the life and struggle of the three rival groups. With many multiplayer focused titles such as Titanfall and Star Wars Battlefront gutting their single player component to focus purely on the online aspect, we can certainly appreciate Ubisoft's effort to flesh out the game's universe.
Campaign missions are mostly linear with a set path of core objectives to complete. There are a few additional tasks to complete such as finding collectables within breakables and witnessing several key points of interests, but they mainly feel tedious and garner few rewards. Before starting missions you can select your difficulty between easy and realistic, with each subsequent difficulty setting increasing the amount of XP that you'll earn. While the single player understandably isn't the main focus of the game, it still certainly would have benefitted from a more open-ended approach to missions and more variety to their structures.
Possibly the campaign's most frustrating aspect is that it requires a constant network connection to play, which excludes those in poor coverage areas and restricts access during spots of poor connectivity. It also prevents the title from being paused and then returned to after an extended period of time. It is understandable that Ubisoft have taken this stance with For Honor and recent IP Steep to create thriving social experiences, but having an offline mode certainly would have enhanced the experience for many.
With For Honor Ubisoft has delivered one of the most memorable and intense online experiences in recent memory, its 1v1 battles are bracing and intense and its combat system offers much depth to explore. It may suffer from a short-lived campaign and clunky mechanics with regards to combat with multiple opponents, but overall it's a solid all-round experience that successfully marries melee-based combat with a thriving online setting.