Teaming up with another bruised and bloodied player to take on For Honor's General Tozen last night was one of the most satisfying things I've done in the game in a long time. It's part of a new mode that publisher Ubisoft says is temporary but that players are already hoping will stick around for good.
Image credit: Ubisoft, via Twitter
The 2v1 fight is one of many you can have against bosses from For Honor's campaign in "Test Your Metal", a mode that is part of this week's "Age of Wolves" update. With that addition, For Honor now has a meaningful alternative to players simply stabbing one another to death until the end of time.
Test Your Metal is designed to get harder each week. It's also designed to go away on March 8. But already players on the game's subreddit have begun clamouring to keep the mode permanent. At the very least it would be nice to see it, or some variation on it, return at the start of each new 10-week season.
In For Honor's campaign, you eventually fight Apollyon, a big knight with an even bigger sword who's slaughtering deserters from a recent battle. She didn't have a presence in the game's popular multiplayer until now. In Test Your Metal you get to fight her again, except this time you're part of a four-person team facing off against her squad of fellow, AI-controlled villains from the single-player story.
For Honor's campaign was solid but never had an impact on the year-old game's core multiplayer experience. You simply went through the story, unlocked some skins and characters, and then spent the rest of your time in the brutal gauntlet of multiplayer versus. Test Your Metal finally breaks down that wall and lets the game's designers mix fights up a bit. The game's bosses are all variations on normal character classes that make them more formidable than your run-of-the-mill AI-controlled fighter. The viking warlord Gudmundr is a bit faster than he should be for his size with a shield just as deadly as his hand-sword. Then there's the incredibly cheap raider Ragnar, who will throw you on the ground and maul you with an axe if you don't take advantage of small openings in his attacks to dodge. All of these quirks force you to approach multiplayer fights a bit differently and work with allies to find the right matchups.
Last night it was the samurai general Tozen who kept cutting me and my co-op partners to shreds. He's slightly slower than a normal katana-wielding Orochi but deals much more damage. He also has smoke bombs and bow attacks that can end you just when you'd found a good rhythm. Each of the four bosses you face, randomly selected from the entire cast at the start of a fight, also get stronger with every round also. There were plenty of times when my team had picked up quick kills early on just to see ourselves get routed as the match continued.
The net effect is a team fight where the dynamic is constantly shifting and often feels refreshingly surprising, despite half the participants involved being overpowered bots. For many players outside of the game's higher ranks, regular PVP matches have gotten to feel familiar. I have fallen into a habit of trying to make up for a lack of defensive coordination by trying to psych my human opponents out with risky flurries of attacks combined with feints. Either I die quickly or succeed in knocking my opponent off balance and taking advantage of their confusion.
You can't psych a bot out though. The computer-controlled enemies can perform seemingly unblockable charges and surprisingly long combos not constrained by normal stamina meters. These attacks force you to fight smarter and, in many ways, more conventionally. Like boss fights in other games where the key to success is learning patterns and exploiting lapses in the programming, For Honor's Test Your Metal mode is a more recognisable challenge, especially for players intimidated by multiplayer fighting games in general. At a time when the game's skill pool has never been bigger and other player-vs-AI team modes are under-populated, Test Your Metal is a nice alternative.
In addition to working alongside other players rather than getting your but kicked by them, the mode also doles out unique items and skins inspired by Apollyon (a complete full Apollyon skin goes on sale for in-game currency starting February 22). The mode will also get harder with the start of each new week, meaning there's a reason to keep returning even after you feel like you've begun to master it. Personally, I only won one out of six matches I've played of it, so that will no doubt take a while.