For Honor is getting a free new mode on October 16 as part of the game's Marching Fire update, and after getting a chance to try it at E3 it's the only For Honor mode I want play.
Inspired by games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends, Breach is an asymmetrical siege mode with a bunch of little wrinkles that completely changed how I approached For Honor.
In Breach, For Honor players will find a mix of elements from Dota 2 and Overwatch that the game nevertheless makes its own. Screenshot: Ubisoft (For Honor)
In Breach, four players try to defend a castle and the Lord standing inside while another four try to escort a battering ram to break into where the Lord is and kill him. There are two massive gates separating the attacking side from the Lord, both of which take damage as the battering ram attacks. Once it breaks through both gates, the attackers will be able to rush the Lord's Court.
It's up to the defending side to make sure the battering ram never makes it that far, either by destroying it or depleting the attacking team of its limited number of respawns.
Throughout all of this, small groups of AI-controlled minion soldiers, including archers and pikemen, continuously march on either side. They can deal a surprising amount of damage and make simply rushing head-first into an enemy mob a bad idea.
In the moment-to-moment action Breach still plays like any other For Honor mode, with players hacking at each other's throats using the same methodical martial arts weapon combat that made the game great back at launch over a year ago.
At a more strategic level, however, Breach plays very differently, requiring players to communicate effectively and be more conscious of everything that's going on across the battlefield. Ballistae and cauldrons of boiling oil mounted along the castle walls offer a tactical advantage to whoever is able to control them, while a neutral boss off to the side of the map is tough to defeat but offers massive stat boosts to whichever side defeats it.
This creates a number of trade-offs throughout the fight that players have to negotiate in real time, since there are only four players to a team and two or three valuable things they could be doing at any given time.
I was on the defending team when I played. For a while, things seemed to be going well. Two of us patrolled the castle wall trying to protect our archers and drop boiling oil when possible, while two stayed on the ground in front of the gate trying to take control of the area around the battering ram so our minions could start damaging it.
This is For Honor though, and at some point somebody's life will get cut short. This can make things difficult in a mode such as Duel, Deathmatch or Dominion, but in Breach it throws a carefully-forged balance into complete chaos, leading to interesting and tense situations as people try to adapt.
Do you send your best fighter over to whoever died to try to take the fight, outnumbered as they may be? Or do you sit back and wait for the team to respawn back to full strength before trying to reassert control?
At one point during our match I sprinted down into the courtyard where our second gate was being attacked and managed to stall three of the enemy team while the rest of my allies were waiting to respawn. It's situation that isn't completely unique to Breach but takes on new significance given its duelling objectives.
Eventually the other side broke into where our Lord was stationed. I had assumed he would be mostly a passive figure who needed to be protected at all costs or else be easily killed, but instead he fought alongside us and racked up several kills all by himself. Despite having a lot of health, he doesn't do much defending, so if you leave him stranded he won't last long. However, he can take care of himself when the odds are more even.
For Honor's creative director, Roman Campos-Oriola, told Kotaku that part of the inspiration for this part of the mode were Dota 2's Ancients. Valve's MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena game) sees two teams of five battle diagonally across a square map to try to destroy a massive artefact in the other's base called an Ancient, which is a completely passive object.
"Early on, the pitch was: 'What if in a MOBA the Ancient could kill you?'" Campos-Oriola said.
The same goes for the decision to make AI-controlled mob enemies stronger. "In Breach we beefed up the minions because we wanted them to actually feel like a fighting tool, so that you feel protected when you're inside them and you can use them as a trap for your opponent," he said.
The demo I played bore this out, with a number of fights coming down to who had more support from their foot soldiers, something that will be very familiar to MOBA players but is entirely new for For Honor.
The Lord is no slouch, and getting to fight alongside him when the stakes are highest gives Breach a kind of narrative drama missing in other For Honor modes. GIF: Ubisoft (For Honor)
This shouldn't make longtime fans of the game hesitant, though. Breach is still For Honor through and through, and the new Wu Lin faction being introduced at the same time shows that the game's Marching Fire update is still concerned first and foremost with the technical intricacies of each fighter and possible matchup.
I played the demo as Tiandi, the new faction's vanguard class, a hulking swordsman who handles his blade one-handed and is better for dodging oncoming attacks than always trying to block them head-on.
Campos-Oriola explained that the goal with the new Chinese warriors is to provide different permutations of some of the existing classes while also bringing something new. He said to think of Tiandi as a more agile Kensei, the samurai vanguard class. In practice it's a fun mix, with a lot of shuffling side-to-side and an array of powerful knockdowns.
Meanwhile, the three other characters being added will all bring something unique to the table, with the monk class having a staff that can go into various counter-attacking stances, a hooked-sword warrior who can lock down her opponent's weapon when it's being used to block, and a giant spear-wielding heavy class who can hit multiple opponents with long swings.
All of the new classes can be purchased, as in previous expansions, or unlocked using in-game currency. Marching Fire is also bringing visual improvements and changes to the UI and lobby rooms to try to reduce the downtime between matches and make shifting between modes go more smoothly. (Currently, navigating the game's menus and trying to get into a match is a bit of a chore.)
The only part of the October update that won't be free is the new endless PVE mode being added, although details on how that will work are still scant.
But even without any of that, Breach alone has me excited to see For Honor continue to grow past the intricacies of its combat and start building more team strategy into the multiplayer. Playing the demo at E3 felt like playing an almost entirely different game, and it showed how many more possibilities there are for the game to continue growing in its second year.