For Honor: Cutting in to the Closed Alpha

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Ubisoft’s next action epic, For Honor, took people by surprise when it was first revealed at E3 2016. The title came out of nowhere during Ubisoft’s conference, and immediately looked interesting. The game’s unique combat system and the chance to fight it out as Samurai, Knights, and Vikings in massive battles certainly caught people’s attention – mine included.

This past weekend (September 16-18), Ubisoft held a closed alpha for the game. I was one of a couple thousand players that got to spend time playing over the weekend.

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When I started up the game, the first thing I was asked to do was to choose a faction. Now, at this point the game was quick to remind me that choosing a faction won’t actually prevent me from playing at any of the classes in the game. So, for now at least, it looks like the faction doesn’t really matter. I chose the knight faction anyway, if that makes any difference.

I was then put into the plated boots of a knight and shown the basics of combat. The combat system in For Honor is a unique system. You can use shoulder buttons to make basic light and heavy attacks that are good for taking out groups of NPC soldiers on the battlefield (more on that later), and you can lock onto enemy heroes that are generally either other players or AI-controlled.

When locked onto another player, you can use the right stick on consoles to modify their stance between a high, left, or right stance. Your attacks, light or heavy, will have their direction dictated by your stance. Blocking is a simple case of matching your opponent’s attacking stance. There are guard-breaking moves that involve grabbing your opponent and opening them up to attack for a moment, but quick players can also counter these guard breaks if they react fast enough. You also have the ability to dodge-roll your opponent’s attacks, but be careful which way you go, as you can just as easily put yourself in harm’s way.

After the basics, I was placed on the game’s main menu. From here, you can unlock and customize your warriors, take part in battles, and all the usual stuff.

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Looking at my warriors, I began with my faction’s ‘easy’ warrior – the Knight Warden. This class wears the familiar knight plate and wields a massive sword. The currency for unlocking new warriors and customization options (as well as gear) is earned through in-game performance. I took some time to look over each class in the beta, generously it was two for each faction, and then got to spending. I have enough currency for two unlocks, so I took the samurai Orochi class, and the Viking Berserker. This gave me an ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and ‘hard’ character – according to the game’s rating that judges how difficult each warrior type is to use.

Getting into games is fairly straightforward. There are 1v1 duels, 2v2 skirmishes, and then 4v4 dominion battles. I spent most of my time in the dominion game mode as it allows me to engage more opposing heroes, but also allowed me to cut through hordes of enemy soldiers. Dominion is also the mode where For Honor’s combat system, and also the game itself, really comes to life. Fighting as a team for control of three capture points, while assisting your NPC soldiers advance makes for some intense gameplay.

Things also get very tense when, in the middle of carving a path through enemy soldiers to advance your own battle line, you suddenly need to lock onto an enemy hero and switch your tactics to accommodate a more precise method of combat. It’s pretty cool, and looks epic when you square off in the middle of a swirling melee – you and your opponent circle each other, testing your defenses for weakness.

Games of dominion end when your team scores one thousand points, and then kills off the enemy heroes before they have a chance to regroup by taking a point. Duels end after a maximum of five rounds, with the winner chosen in a “best of 3” manner. At the end of each game, you gain experience for the class you’ve used and have the chance of finding some loot in the form of weapon or armor parts.

A lot of features weren’t available during my time with the game, and considering it’s in alpha status, that’s not a surprise. The game itself did seem remarkably well polished at the moment though, as I experienced very few crashes and bugs.

I found that I’d easily lose myself in For Honor for a couple of hours where I could, and still found the combat engaging. I’d expected the novelty of the game to wear thin after a while, but found that as I spent more time with the game and learned its intricacies, I found myself getting more effective in team matches, and wanting to sharpen my performance further (no pun intended).

So yeah, all in all, I really enjoyed my time with For Honor’s closed alpha. There’s not a lot ready in terms of content right now, but what is there feels polished and refined. I’m certainly keen to see what changes are made between this alpha, the beta, and the final release. And I’d like to see some more content coming to keep players invested long term.

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Ubisoft has published some of its┬ástats from the alpha since the weekend, and it looks like it’s one of its most successful public tests to date, with hundreds of thousands of participants. The closed alpha put For Honor within Twitch’s top 10 during its four-day duration, at one point becoming the second-most watched title on the service.

For Honor was already on my watch list, and after this strong showing from the closed alpha, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of the game.

Did you take part in the closed beta yourself? What were your experiences with it? Or, maybe you’re only just hearing about For Honor now. Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can tweet them to me directly @raykimaru.

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