LOS ANGELES – A brand-new game that's not a sequel is a comparatively rare thing at E3, which makes it all the more refreshing when one of them shows real promise. For Honor is a competitive multiplayer title published by Ubisoft. The game eschews the chaotic combat of most online action games, and focuses instead on precise, brutal sword combat among knights, samurai and Vikings.
I tried out For Honor with a team of media and industry representatives at a private Ubisoft demo, and although I didn't know what to expect going in, I came away pleasantly surprised. Over the course of about half an hour, we each completed a training mission, then teamed up in a four-person group to take on a team of AI opponents (the full game will allow people to fight other players, of course).
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On its surface, For Honor plays somewhere between an action title and a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game. Our four knights squared off against four enemy knights for control of a medieval castle. Our objective was to score 1,000 points, which we could attain by slaying enemy minions, controlling key areas or defeating the other team's heroes. Since it's possible to lose as well as gain points, the match was a tense tug-of-war the whole way through.
What really sets For Honor apart, though, is its combat. Rather than just mashing buttons to slay foes, For Honor offers a refined, difficult-to-master sword-fighting system. Players must lock onto enemy heroes, then use the right analog stick to select one of three stances. From there, they can choose a light or heavy attack. If an enemy's stance matches theirs, however, the blow will deflect harmlessly off of an opponent's sword.
This is where the bulk of the game's split-second strategic decisions come in. How fast can you change your stance to match your opponent's attack? Will you take a light jab, or risk a longer swing that might give your enemy time to counter? You can also bash your enemy to lower his guard or dodge away from him, but either way leaves you open to attack for a brief window. This is to say nothing of what happens when two heroes team up against a single one, which happened multiple times during our match.
As they rack up points, heroes can also access special abilities, like a devastating catapult strike on enemy territory, or a move that instantly heals most of their wounds. These abilities can shift the tide of battle, but of course, your enemies have access to them, just the same as you do.
For Honor combines two seemingly disparate ideas: The need for precision, and an overall fast tempo of gameplay. This contrast makes the game feel eminently playable: always challenging, never slow and replete with opportunities for honing skills. In the demo I played, it was knights fighting knights. Once the samurai and Viking warriors make it into the game, the fights will probably only get more varied and interesting.
I couldn't say whether For Honor will have staying power once it launches (most multiplayer games come and go within a few months), but it's definitely something unusual enough to warrant checking out. The game has no set release date or price yet, so keep an eye out for more information.
Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.