I’ll be the first to admit: For Honor wasn’t on my radar at all.  I never played the beta, only vaguely knew what the game was about, and didn’t really plan on picking it up. However, a day after launch I found myself flitting through the PS Store looking for something to do, saw For Honor, and thought, “eh, screw it”. And I’m REALLY glad I did, because while it may not do everything perfect, For Honor gets more than enough right to elevate it above the sum of it’s parts.

For Honor is equal parts brawler, action, and fighting game; as such, this makes it difficult to fit into any particular genre.  There’s a campaign, but only barely; you can blow through it in under five hours, and really only exists as a tutorial by which to sample the playstyles of all four classes (Vanguard, Assassin, Heavy, and a hybrid class) and three factions (Knight, Viking, and Samurai).   The Vanguard (my preferred) strikes a good balance of offense and defense. The Assassin, as you’d imagine, is high on attack and movement speed, but low on defense. The Heavies are tanks designed to absorb a lot of punishment, and the Hybrids have greater reach and combine attributes of the Vanguard and Heavy classes without being superior to either. Thankfully, classes across factions aren’t mere cut-and-paste jobs; the Knight Vanguard uses a sword, while his Viking counterpart uses an axe and has a completely different skillset. Not one single character acts or plays in a similar manner, encouraging you to try them all and find one or two that compliment your preferred playstyle. But even if you don’t plan on playing an Orochi or a Lawbringer, I highly recommend learning their movesets to better counter them on the battlefield.

Yes, historically these three cultures were nowhere near each other in time or location, but throw all that out the window. What’s important is: For Honor’s aptly-named “Art of Battle” showcases some of the deepest, most impressive hand-to-hand melee combat the medium has ever seen. Pressing up, right, and left on the thumbstick alternates between attacking and defending in that particular direction.  In a way, it’s very reminiscent of iOS classic Infinity Blade with the weightiness and heft of Dark Souls. Swords and axes slam into each other with real impact, and you can almost feel the reverberation up your arm when your opponent manages to get his guard up in time. Ending your opponent with a heavy attack opens him up for a really cool execution attack: a really flashy, satisfying way to drive home the point of “I won, dude. Behold my prowess in battle!”.

Don’t let the presence of Knights and Samurai locking blades fool you; this is by no means a button-mashathon. Rushing into battle is a sure-fire way to die a quick, ignoble death, especially against a skilled opponent. Think of it more as a game of Chess, constantly trying to anticipate your opponent’s next move while plotting the proper response. As a result, many one-on-one duels (my current favorite mode) become a heart-pounding dance of death as you and your opponent circle each other, waiting for the other to make the first move, darting in for a quick swipe or two before ducking out and attempting to come in at a different angle. Two players who have mastered the parry (as I HIGHLY recommend you do) hacking and slashing at each other is the closest videogames have ever come to faithfully depicting an actual duel between two warriors.  Against an opponent of similar skill, it’s absolutely thrilling, and there’s a real feeling of utter satisfaction when an skilled fighter falls before your blade.

Other game modes include takes on classic multiplayer tropes: there’s your obligatory 4v4 Deathmatch and Elimination, which are fine and exactly what you’d expect; Brawls, which involve teams of two against each other; and the incredibly fun Dominion, a 4v4 take on capture the flag involving large waves of AI-controlled bots clashing for space on the battlefield, with yourself and other players essentially acting like hero-type characters. It really gives you that feeling of rushing into a large-scale battle on some medieval field, and it’s incredibly satisfying when your team comes back from the brink and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. Given the scale of some battles and the extremely impressive visuals, Ubisoft is to be commended: For Honor runs at a rock-solid 3o FPS on console, and not once did I encounter any hitches or framerate drops in the thick of combat. However, the P2P servers have been the cause of far more disconnects and bad NAT types than is acceptable; I’d like to see Ubisoft work on mitigating this in the future.

Another issue is leveling. For Honor has a loot system which doles out new weapons and armor after every battle, each with attributes and status effects; however, aside from cosmetics I never noticed any meaningful difference in my Vanguard’s performance. And I hope you have a lot of time to invest, because reaching max level in For Honor will demand a LOT of it: levels are gained extremely slowly and practically demand you complete daily orders (win five Dominion matches, perform ten honorable kills, etc) to level up at a reasonable pace. Every time you hit level 21, you gain one Prestige level and the cycle begins again. New Prestige levels allow for better gear (the classic green/blue/purple tiers), but again, aside from aesthetics I saw no noticeable change; I was still able to overcome people far more advanced in level than I. You can buy in-game currency with real world money, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you just really, really can’t wait for a different looking helmet.

Then we have what’s called “Faction War”, and damn if I just don’t know what the point is. It’s basically a big map with Knights, Vikings, and Samurai all vying for control. Before every match you’re asked to deploy war assets to attack or defend. I usually just did whatever I needed to do to move on without knowing what the end state was or why, and it’s irritating. Why is this here? I feel like Ubisoft could make much better use of this feature, but there’s currently no motivation to care at all. What are the factions fighting for? What’s the endstate? Here’s the other thing: I’m a member of the Knight faction. As a Soulsbro, there is no other choice for me, I gotta represent. When I’m paired up with other characters in multiplayer, are we on the same Faction? Are we fighting on the same team, but for different causes? There’s no way to tell as far as I can see, and it’s weird to think the Knight Lawbringer on the opposite team might be a member of the same faction as me. So really, no matter who loses, we win? Maybe? Bring some meaning and purpose into this, Ubisoft. Or at the very least, some clarity.

Should you pick up For Honor? It’s not a simple question. Don’t grab this expecting to drop into multiplayer and dominate; you won’t. Playing through the boring, rote campaign is practically a necessity if you want to experience all the game’s classes, as the majority are locked until you cough up the steel necessary to unlock them; a campaign playthrough will solve this. The game WILL demand large chunks of your time if you want to progress in a meaningful way. You may not have patience for the game’s very slow, methodical combat. But if you can summon the patience to master the mechanics, what awaits you is some of the deepest, most tactical melee combat gaming has EVER seen. Hopefully Ubisoft supports the game in a manner that will motivate players to stick around, because despite some rough edges, the potential of For Honor is impressive indeed.