E3 2016 Preview: For Honor’s single-player campaign
How it's totally different battling A.I.
“It’s like riding a bike,” said a developer from Ubisoft Montreal when I told him I had played For Honor at E3 last year (Editor’s note: Steve did too!), but that I couldn’t really remember its inventive control scheme.
He was right.
I needed a refresher on parrying and breaking an enemy’s defence, but the iconic duelling gameplay came back to me as if it was inborn. When I played last year, I remarked it would be a confusing mechanic until it eventually “just clicked”. I was right, except it clicked much sooner than I had expected, after a couple of multiplayer rounds, and is more intrinsic than the concept allows us to believe.
Inherently, we’re adverse to the introduction of unfamiliar control schemes. They seem strange and awkward initially; just because they’re different, but we must remember there was a time when dual analogue sticks to control a shooter seemed foreign (hello, Gamecube).
The block and attack mechanics in For Honor work amazingly well, with a strong reliance on the right stick. Dubbed “the art of battle”, For Honor’s party piece drastically changes the dynamic of combat by triggering a tense standoff against a strong A.I. player in the campaign.
These duellers are joined by generic goons, plebs really, which are easily dealt with using light or heavy attacks. The serious enemies, however, require you to adopt a duelling stance (hold L2/T2) and use the right stick to both block incoming enemy attacks, and direct those of your own. It’s used to move your sword either left, right or up in an attempt to deflect their attacks and launch a counter towards a vulnerable spot.
This is more or less the same as last year’s multiplayer demonstration, but the campaign relies upon the unknown quantity of artificial intelligence. While it was always envisioned as being both single and multiplayer, For Honor began life as a multiplayer game and those mechanics have now been adapted to the campaign.
“The heart of this game is the fighting, through the duelling and the battlefield,” Creative Director Jason VandenBerghe told Stevivor (the beardy bloke with a cane). “The thing that we’re working on to make that transition work is mostly A.I.
“The enemies you’re fighting with need to be interesting opponents. There’s this weird psychological shift that happens though. When you’re playing against another person, you interpret everything that they’re doing as that person either making a mistake or being clever,” VandenBerghe explained.
“When you’re playing against A.I., you interpret it as the designer either being good or bad. The experience of fighting an A.I. is totally different. So we needed to design A.I. characters that were fun to fight with using this core mechanic set, which also works really well in multiplayer, and then creating this world by pouring a ton of context into this battle to explain why the Knights, Vikings and Samurai doing this.”
While the campaign is the focus of E3 2016, Vandenberghe is happy to explain that the mechanics were first developed for multiplayer. In fact, he’s happy to discuss the unusual origins dating back 13 years ago, and the numerous times he was rejected until Ubisoft Montreal’s “no” became a “yes” (read all about that and more in our full interview next week).
“We knew that it would be far, far easier, or I should say possible, to go from the multiplayer mechanic set to the single-player mechanic set,” he explained. “If we had started with single-player, we would have failed on the multiplayer side. Especially knowing what I know now about how difficult it was to get that multiplayer working [for E3 last year], we had to invent whole new technologies to make that work, and now it works and it’s brilliant, right.
“So it was always the plan for this, I’m gonna call it a ‘shooter with swords’, to create the full package [of single-player and multiplayer]. We revealed it in that order because I think it’s the perfect way to experience the game. At the heart of it is this multiplayer desire to be part of this community of warriors. But the campaign has always been something I’ve wanted to do.”
That campaign has been crafted around the three different factions – the Knights, Vikings and Samurai – in a fictional setting. There was some thought to following Assassin’s Creed’s lead and remaining historically accurate, but ultimately it was decided the campaign would be better served by a fictional story. You’ll play as a different protagonist in all three but the backstory remains similar: something of an underdog warrior arising against the odds to become the hero of legends.
During two demos, we played as both Warden of the Knights and Raider of the Vikings, to get a feel for how different the mechanics are applied to their unique fighting styles. They’re both staunchly powerful warriors, but where Warden is clocked in full body armour wielding a heavy sword, Raider relies upon brute strength, running into battle with a giant axe.
Samurai opponents demonstrated the variety amongst warriors; on route to an opposing boss, the same one shown during the E3 press briefing, Raider was challenged by heavy enemies capable of extreme damage in a single blow and nibble Samurai, much faster than anything encountered before them. The disparity seems an obvious blend, but with a combat system entirely reliant on timing, it keeps you on your toes.
Whereas multiplayer duels were decided by player error last year, besting an A.I. character is dependent on reading their tell before they attack. During both demos I played, an icon was enabled to help show which direction an enemy would defend or attack from, but with time, it’s an assist that can be disabled to increase the pressure on your reflexes. Multiplayer will thrive on human opponents being unpredictable, but that introduces an element of luck. The A.I. forces you to fully commit to the rules of the For Honor battlefield.
For Honor will be released on February 14 2017 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.
Stevivor was flown to E3 2016 as a guest of Ubisoft to cover the entire event. This relationship does not prevent Stevivor from covering other publishers’ titles, nor does it impact the E3 2016 opinions of any of our authors.