The castle was under siege. The steady barrage of arrows and catapult-flung boulders were steadily wearing down my fellow soldiers. And it's anyone's guess how long the wooden drawbridge would hold against the battering ram crashing into it. An arrow suddenly protruding out the back of one my formerly living archers signaled that the time for thinking was over. It was up to me and it was time to act. I picked up my sword and raced to hold off the invaders.
This is the world of For Honor (Launching Feb. 14 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One), a gritty world where you're fighting for honor, to protect or because you just feel like it. Described as a melee action game, Ubisoft's latest title lets players fight as Knights, Samurai or Vikings. Gamers can choose to fight solo or bring a friend (or lover) and go co-op. Because honestly, what's more romantic that decapitating an enemy warrior together? Nothing, that's what.
It's Dangerous to Go Alone (But You Can)
If you'd rather bypass the story, you can start hacking your way through one of the multiplayer game modes including 4 v 4 Team Death Matches, 1 v 1 Duels or 4 v 4 Elimination, the latter of which is basically a "last man standing wins" scenario. If you want to do multiplayer, but have some stranger danger issues, you can flesh out your remaining party with AI bots and go about your merry way, cutting a swath of destruction.
For my demo, I played as a female Warden in the Knight faction. After finding a suit of armor and sword that suited my fancy, I was ready to go and defend the castle. Each of the warring factions will feature four unique sub-classes, each of which have their own unique fighting styles with varying levels of difficulty. The Knight faction is made up of Wardens, Conquerors, Peacekeepers and Lawbringers, while Samurais feature Kensi, Shugoki, Orochi and Nobushi. Fighters for the Vikings include Raiders, Warlords, Bersekers and Valkyries. Each faction will feature the option for two of the warriors to be women, and as a darker-skinned Viking demonstrated, you'll have the ability to adjust skin color as well.
Not Your Average Hack 'N Slash
As fun as painstakingly customizing your warrior can be, this game is all about hand-to-hand combat. Using my longsword to block, stun and ultimately strike my foes down was absolutely thrilling. But make no mistake, For Honor isn't an homage to your old-school hack 'n slash. The game designers wanted to bring the experience of wielding an actual weapon into this title. So instead of spamming out light and heavy strikes via the R1 and R2 shoulder buttons on the PS4, I had to actually watch my opponent's movements and time my strikes. Effective blocking required me to hold the left analog stick in the correct position to counter attacks to my head and the right and left sides of my body.
After I wore my opponent down enough, I saw an execution prompt. Hitting the square button caused my Warden to give her sword a new home in my foe's carotid artery. Pressing the triangle button led to a rather brutal, but clean decapitation. I have to say that once I got the hang of it, every successful block and strike felt earned. I couldn't just stand in front of this warrior and just spam him or her to death — it felt like a war of wills engaged in a dance, albeit a deadly one. Not every battle is a cerebral undertaking; there are spots where you actually can just hack and slash your way through lowly infantry. When that happens, their puny shields splinter and my broadsword goes through them like butter.
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When I wasn't fighting my way to the frontlines of the battle, I had time to enjoy the view. And, boy what a view! The cloudless blue sky and gentle sunlight seemed out of place against the bloody backdrop I was traversing through. Details were so crisp, I could see the dents in my armor from the wear and tear of battle as well as some flyaway strands of blonde hair from my braid. For Honor will be PlayStation 4 Pro-enabled, which means that you'll have the ability to wreak havoc in jaw-dropping 4K.
If you're looking to get a taste of the action in For Honor, Ubisoft is currently running a closed beta (opens in new tab) that runs until the 29th. After that, you'll have to wait until Valentine's Day to set about waging war and driving your enemies before you.