A Tale of Two Betas: Part 1

These next couple months are going to be a busy time for games both new and old. The recently-released Resident Evil VII is giving the series the fresh start it deserved, and the soon-to-be-released Horizon: Zero Dawn, looks to bring an original franchise to a medium littered with sequels and half-hearted reboots.

Ubisoft is such a massive publisher, they’ve got players in both sides: For Honor is a third person melee-combat that pits three medieval giants (Vikings, Samurai and Knights) against each other in a massive territory war, while the latest entry in the Ghost Recon series, Wildlands, aims to dial back the sci-fi and return the game to it’s tactical roots, albeit with an open world twist. I had the pleasure of playing both betas, and I’ll be giving my impressions of both. I wasn’t able to capture any gameplay or screenshots, but hopefully my talent for description will do.

Let’s get one thing straight: For Honor is very fun. I was shocked by how each combat scenario was varied, balanced, and above all unique. One of my favorite experiences involved a one-on-one duel on the edge of a cliffside. I’m playing as my favorite class, the Peacekeeper, a character who will make the most of her sword and dagger, but is only effective in short bursts of combat. My opponent is a polearm-wielding Nobushi, who can keep attackers at bay, but isn’t equipped to deal with up close and personal attacks. The Nobushi stands at the cliffside, taunting me to act on impulse. We walk in a circle, refusing to look away from each other, both of us waiting for someone to make the first move. Finally, we stop. We both trade insults one more time, then silence.

I charge forward at full speed, hoping to surprise my opponent with my brash behavior. It doesn’t go as planned. The Nobushi spins away from leaping thrust and attempts an attack on my right side. Right there is when For Honor reaches a visceral peak. My opponent and I parry, spin and stab where we can, an inch from the deadly embrace of gravity. For a good minute and a half we’re watching each other’s blows, changing our guard and exchanging blows. Unfortunately, caught up in the dance of death, I found myself on the receiving end of a blow that knocked me off the cliff and into the abyss below. This was one duel of dozens I had the pleasure of participating in. Others took place in ominous cathedrals, wintry swamps and narrow bridges hanging above certain death. It should’ve gotten old, or at least predictable. But each class has different levels of stamina and ferocity. A lumbering Viking warlord won’t have the same swing in his step as a Nobushi, but even three blows from his shield and blade are enough to trigger one of For Honor’s jaw-dropping executions. It’s that plethora of moves and variety of characters that keeps the game from a trip to the bargain bin.

The other two game modes that came with the Beta were a 2v2 duel and an all-out war labeled 4v4: Dominion. The 2v2 Duels are exactly what they sound like, but require an element of coordination and teamwork not present in a regular duel. Two teammates can rush one opponent and almost guarantee a certain death, or lure their opponents into a corner of the map that they can’t back out of, as opposed to just finding out who can kill their opponent first. Obviously, how much fun you’ll have playing this will depend on how well you communicate with a teammate to succeed, but I could see this being an entertaining distraction to play with a friend.

As far as size is concerned however, Dominion blows the other two modes out of the water. Two teams of four battle for control of a stronghold until one of the team reaches 1,000 points. The game mode borrows heavily from Call of Duty’s famous capture and control blueprint: capture and hold locations A, B, and C. The more locations a team captures, the more points they’ll accrue. One of the small but very enjoyable twists is that there are smaller, computer controlled soldiers that will battle each other while the eight of you wage war for territory. Think pawns on a chessboard and you’ve got the right impression. If a team is maybe 50 points away from 1000, they can close the gap by leaping onto the battlefield and slaughtering the enemy team’s pawns for one point each. It’s an intensely cinematic experience when your character is slaughtering dozens of enemies that don’t even come close to matching your skill and with such thoughtful choreography. The other big twist is that a winning team can just as easily lose those hard-earned points. Once a winning team reaches 1000, they still have to kill the remaining fighters from the opposing team before victory is assured. If the losing team rallies and captures a territory, then they take 100 points from the other team. It’s a fun mechanic that keeps players on their toes and guarantees that there’s never an “easy” win. My only major gripe from this mode revolves around how easy it is to gang up on an individual. I found myself in plenty of three on one situations that almost never ended up in my favor just because it’s nigh-impossible to parry three incoming blows and return some to the attackers. The developers have implemented a “revenge” system that, when cornered, allows you to regenerate health and deal more damage, but it’s only there to delay the inevitable unless backup arrives. In a game that revolves around satisfying melee combat, it’s disappointing that there isn’t a better system for defense.

All in all, For Honor seems like a game that’s built a solid foundation for multiplayer melee combat, something very few, if any other games have accomplished. One weekend isn’t enough time to judge if the game will be able to stay entertaining after a weekend, but by the end of the beta, I was eager to play more, and I’ll be looking forward to the full release where I can hopefully give a final verdict. I’ll be writing my impressions for the Ghost Recon: Wildlands beta soon.


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