I guess you could describe For Honor's single-player campaign as a training ground for the main event. A place to get to grips with each of the game's heroes and their distinct fighting styles, without the pressures of competition and voice chat. You could make that argument. But gosh, it's a boring place to be.
For Honor is at its best when you're trapped in a duel with another player, feigning attacks and waiting for the right moment to strike. Jump in too early and risk leaving yourself open to a counterattack, but time it just right and you might stagger them long enough to land a vicious combo of blows. It's a waiting game with the ultimate payoff: the sense that you've outwitted and outmaneuvered an opponent. This is, of course, difficult to replicate outside of a multiplayer setting, and Ubisoft hasn't managed it here.
This is a campaign that feels like an afterthought, an effort to justify the game's AAA price tag. The story is entirely inconsequential - one mission has you slaying fellow Vikings to reclaim four barrels of potatoes, for example - and after 30 minutes playtime, I'm not convinced there's much more to these characters outside of their passion for fighting and stabbing folk. I've already had my fill.
But it's not all bad! In fact, once we're back to the meat of the game, the mutliplayer itself, there's an awful lot to like. If you played the closed alpha back in September, you'll know the gist of it. This focus on third-person melee combat isn't something we're used to seeing from big budget multiplayer games, but it's the exact reason why For Honor is worth paying attention to. It requires a different mindset, a willingness to hold your ground and consider your opponent's movements, rather than relying solely on reaction speed or aggression.
This is even more evident in the two new game modes we've mucked around with. Elimination is perhaps my favourite, placing you in a 4v4 match in which death has some degree of permanence. During each round (it's a best of five), the first team to wipe out the other claims the point. If you're killed, you'll need to be manually revived by another player, and so defeating an enemy hero feels important. This changes the dynamic of every encounter, with players often taking on a more cautious playstyle than you'd see elsewhere. With these higher stakes to consider, every block or deflection feels like the difference between life and death and if you manage to lure your opponent into overextending, it's all that more satisfying.
Even within the group of people I played with, an entirely different kind of metagame began to flourish here, compared to these other modes we'd played. As the match begins, you find yourself separated from the rest of your team and facing a single enemy player. Do you try to win the 1v1 and give your team an immediate advantage? Or do you risk fleeing and finding an ally to assist? I'm still not sure.
This mode also demands a different thought process when considering your killing blow. If you defeat an enemy hero using a heavy attack and then land the follow-up button prompt, you can perform an execution, which typically involves some over-the-top animation in which you behead the other player and make a real scene of it. Before now, I'd written off these moments as needless gloating, the final insult as you emerge from a duel victorious. However! In this Elimination mode an execution ensures that your opponent can't be revived (on account of having no head, usually), and so ensuring you win a 1v1 isn't necessarily enough. Ensuring you finish the fight with a heavy attack, which is often more difficult, is the very best possible outcome.
And this is what this game is all about. If you're losing a fight but get the sense that the other player is hoping for an execution, you can use that information to your advantage. Once again, a reminder why For Honor is all about the multiplayer! It's not just about hitting vikings with massive swords, although that can be fun too, it's about reading your opponent's intentions. A battle of wits.
The same goes for the new Duel mode, which strips the entire game back and focuses entirely on a 1v1 encounter between you and another player. I had enjoyed my time playing Dominion, the point capture mode that you'll have likely seen in the closed alpha, but it's the solo combat that really makes For Honor appeal to me. Circling another player, switching your stance from left to right, daring them to attack. Oh, it's just brill.
We've also heard some talk from Ubisoft regarding its post-launch plans. We can expect all future maps and modes to arrive as free updates, says game director, Damien Kieken, although it sounds like this might not extend to the game's heroes, which will likely follow the model set by Rainbow Six Siege over the last year. Apparently everything can be unlocked using For Honor's in-game currency, Steel (yeah, that's what they called it) although you'll be able to use real cash to purchase more of the stuff, if you'd rather not wait.
Future updates will also be tied into the game's overarching 'Faction War'. The idea here is that after selecting a faction when you first start the game, every action you take will then influence the success or failure of your chosen group. This is represented on a world map shared by every player (cross-platform too!) and as the weeks progress, the frontlines of each faction will shift as a result. The multiplayer maps themselves are located on this map and as they transition from one owner to another, they'll look different when you play them. A Viking stronghold could switch hands to the Samurai, for example, presumably meaning its furs and pelts switch out for... nice artwork and things made out of jade? This is only cosmetic, but a nice touch, I thought.
There's also a bunch of Faction War rewards to consider, with the victorious group receiving the lion's share at the end of each season. This is also, we're told, when we can likely expect new content (maps, mode, heroes) to be added. So yes, that's the plan. Just like Siege, For Honor's multiplayer will change and grow in the months following its launch this February.
I've been down on the singleplayer here, I know, but only because For Honor's multiplayer has so much more to offer. It's Knight and day.
This article is based on a press trip to Paris. Ubisoft covered travel expenses.