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Ubisoft’s For Honor makes me feel like in the middle of a huge medieval battle, like the melee-in-the-mud battles in the film Braveheart. And then a Japanese samurai or a Viking with a giant battle ax shoes up.

Ahead of the Gamescom event in Germany, Ubisoft showed off the latest build of For Honor, which will ship on multiple platforms in early 2017. It’s an important, brand-new game for the French video game publisher, whose strategy focuses on the creation of high-risk, high-reward original intellectual properties in an industry full of sequels.

In this fictional world, you get to find out if you’ll be victorious as a knight, a Viking, or a samurai. You have to heroically turn the tide of a battle full of soldiers. I was able to play hands-on for a couple of hours, where I went from total loser neophyte to being reasonably competent at working together with a team of three others to engage in multiplayer combat. In those two hours, I didn’t master the art of high-adrenaline sword fighting. I know because my colleagues in the press where still killing me frequently throughout the preview event.

And that’s a good thing, says game director Jason Vandenberghe, creative director at Ubisoft Montreal, in an interview. That’s because the game requires a lot of skill. You have to learn a new way to use the controller, using the left stick to move and using the right stick to change your facing against an enemy while locked in combat. You have to swing at just the right moment — or move to block an enemy’s blow.


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A Viking squares off against a samurai in For Honor.

Above: A Viking squares off against a samurai in For Honor.

If I had mastered that control system in just a couple of hours, it would have been too easy and boring. Instead, I found this latest preview of For Honor to be challenging and riveting. I yelled a lot while communicating with my fellow teammates. When you’re playing four-on-four multiplayer, you have to be organized and communicate often.

What complicates the fighting is that you have to master different characters and weapons. A Viking can carry a huge battle axe. When that Viking starts swinging that thing, you have to be an expert blocker or just get out of the way. But the axe is heavy, and a samurai with a short sword can get in and do damaging quick attacks. Timing is everything. With each faction, there are four different characters that you can play. The French Warden has a huge longsword, but another character has a shield and a short sword. You have to adjust your sense of timing for attacking or blocking with each different weapon.

We started with Dominion, where you have to control three different victory points on the map. The citadel map had two victory points in towers on the right and the left and a big melee area in the middle. It made sense to travel in pairs to each victory point, as you could gang up on a single enemy defender. Meanwhile, in the middle, a bunch of minion soldiers battled each other in a main front.

If you get caught in one area alone against a couple of opponents, you can try to use the environment to your advantage. You can try to push someone else off a ledge or back yourself into a corridor where the enemies will bump into each other. It could be important to hang on to the towers, but a lot of the gritty, brutal sword fighting happens in the front, where you and plow through the battlefield and reap a few minions at a time. But if you spend too much time clearing the minions, you run the risk of being ambushed by a human player.

When you square off one-on-one against someone on the battlefield, it’s just your skill and your tactics against another human’s. Will you position yourself to block? Do a quick strike? Or aim a heavy blow? Should you back off, or charge? A handful of blows can bring you down, so it feels like you are making life-or-death decisions. That’s what makes the game so immersive and engaging.

The game has a story campaign involving a merciless warlord, Apollyon, but we haven’t seen much of that yet. The game debuts on February 14, 2017, on the Windows PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. I played on a PS4 on a 4K TV.

Here’s a gameplay video.

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