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Understanding For Honor: A guide to bizarre combat

Forget everything you know about controls

Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

For Honor controls unlike any game you’ve played before. Once you accept that, our recommendation will sound less strange: Spend your first hour or so just learning to fight. Nothing else. We’re going to devote this entire For Honor guide just to combat. That’s how weird it is.

Why is fighting worth a whole guide? Because the most important part about learning to play For Honor (let alone getting good at playing For Honor) is understanding its weird controls. Trust us: Investing the time to learn how to block, dodge, guard, fight, parry, throw and attack keeps you from spending your first several hours mashing buttons and throwing controllers.

In this guide, we’ll explain it all — and show it with videos that turn the frantic combat into easily digestible demonstrations. After you put in the work, then you can play the proper game — and dominate those who haven't wrapped their minds around For Honor’s unique controls.

Understanding combat

Fighting in For Honor is … different. You’ve seen pieces of it before — stances, light and heavy attacks, parrying — but the way those pieces fit together is new. From the button mapping to the timing, combat in For Honor can seem, frankly, baffling. It sure did for us.

But then we broke the code.

This guide gives that code to you.

And if you’re still struggling, we’ll give the crash course that finally helped us turn the corner.

Guard mode

When you’re mowing through one-hit-kill minions, there’s no technique to speak of — just swing light and heavy attacks to your heart’s content. It’s when you find another hero that things get interesting.

Switching between For Honor’s three guard stances

Entering guard mode locks you onto an opponent. At this point, you no longer control the camera. We’re going to say that again, in italics, because it was the first piece that needed to fall into place for us: You do not control the camera in guard mode.

The right thumbstick is only for switching your guard between left, right and top stances. If you try to move the camera, you’re going to change your guard instead, and the fight will not go well.


For Honor’s guard stance targets

Those three guard stances — left, right and top — are spread around the right thumbstick in thirds. In other words, guard stances don’t map directly to left, right and up. If you find yourself missing blocks, adjust your aim.

Picture a clock. Guard up is at 12, left is at 8 and right is at 4. Don’t just twitch straight in a direction. Adding a little down to the left and right guard helped us a lot.


There are only two options when attacking in For Honor: light or heavy attack.

  • Light attacks are quick, but don’t deal much damage.
  • Heavy attacks are slow, but deal a lot of damage.

You probably already know this. We’re pointing it out again because it plays a big (but not obvious) role in combat: A light attack will land before a heavy attack. If your opponent starts a heavy swing at the same time you start a light swing, your attack will land first, dealing damage and interrupting their swing.

How to think about combat

This was going to be a list of do’s and don’ts, but we realized as we wrote it that learning combat in For Honor was more about breaking habits than reinforcing them. So this list is about the things not to do.

  • Don’t think about any other game while you’re playing. Your fingers will drift to the wrong buttons and the fight will go sideways in a hurry.
  • Don’t think about the camera while in guard mode. You can’t control it (seriously, we struggled with this a lot). Just remind yourself to assume that the camera is fixed — like a fighting game — and focus on your guard stances.
  • Don’t mash buttons. This one kind of goes without saying, but it’s an instinct we all have. You have to keep your head if you’re going to keep your head (#sorrynotsorry). Combat is fast and challenging, but it’s Bop It, not Pie Face. Mashing won’t help. Being deliberate will.
  • Don’t anticipate. React. If you try to guess, you’re going to guess wrong (roughly 66 percent of the time). You have the time to react to an attack and switch your guard to block, so don’t commit yourself to a guess. For Honor show a convenient chevron above your opponent, telling you which way their attack is coming. Wait for that, and then switch your stance.
  • Don’t try to plan ahead. Treat each attack individually. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to do two swings from now, you’re going to miss a guard and take a sword to the face.
  • Don’t try to do too much. One-on-one combat is all about timing. Despite what Mick Jagger would have you believe, time is not on your side. Find your opening, attack, then regroup. You’re not going to be stringing together some 20 hit combo here. You’re going to land one attack (but not much more), and and then you’re going to be back on defense and stamina regeneration.
  • Don’t forget about your stamina. It drains slower than some other games, but when it runs out, you’re in all sorts of trouble.

For Honor boot camp

The first step in our boot camp is to play the tutorial. Yes, you’ve played it already. Go play it again. Now, play the advanced practice. Maybe play it twice. Got it? OK.


Now start a duel practice against a level 1 bot.Lock on to your attacker to enter guard mode, then take your left hand off of the controller. Seriously. You’re not going to move at all. Let the bot come to you. Only use your left hand to lock on to the bot.

For the first few minutes, switch your guard to block attacks. Don’t fight back. You’re going to take damage (you might even get killed), and you’ll probably screw up a few times. Just take your lumps. Your only goal here is to teach your thumb to block.

Once you’re comfortable blocking, add in a counter swing every once in a while. Only do light attacks. Heavy swings take way too much time and will throw you off. And don’t get carried away. Just one swing, then it’s back to blocking.

After you’re comfortable, you can dive into For Honor’s menus to learn the button presses that deliver chains (For Honor’s term for combos). For now, just keep blocking and occasionally swinging until one of you is dead or you’re confident that you know what blocking is all about.


Now it’s time to parry. A successful parry will throw your opponent off for a second and leave them open for an attack. This one took us the longest to figure out, so don’t get discouraged. Put in the work.

There are three steps to parrying, and it’s important to remember that they’re distinct steps.

  1. Match your guard direction to the incoming attack direction.
  2. Wait for the attacker’s chevron/arrow icon to flash red.
  3. Hit attack to parry. (Stick with heavy attack for now, because the timing is easier.)

This takes a beat longer than you’re probably, used to and it’s going to take a lot of practice to get down.

Hitting the button early will launch an attack and leave you wide open to your attacker’s swing, already underway. Hitting the button late won’t actually do anything. Focus on learning to wait that extra beat.

An enemy staggered after a parry

Once you’re comfortable with the timing and can (relatively) consistently parry, add in that light attack again. Maybe switch your guard direction before you attack since you have a beat while your opponent is staggering. Now you’re actually fighting back!

Guard breaks

Keep up everything you’re doing already — mostly blocking, sometimes parrying and counterattacking — but add in a guard break whenever you feel you have time for one. At first, don’t even worry about following through on it. Just land the guard break and disrupt the flow of the fight.


Dodging was another difficult aspect of combat for us to get used to. A dodge works like you’d expect — it’s a burst of speed in whatever direction you’re moving the left thumbstick — but adding that extra button press in the middle of blocking makes our experience with dodging hit or miss at best (usually hit, in that we get hit immediately after dodging).

How often and when you choose to dodge also depends on the hero you choose. Assassins like the Knight peacekeeper, for example, can turn dodges into counter-attacks. And, since assassins don’t hold their block the way other heroes do, dodging can save your life. Larger heroes, like the samurai shugoki are simply more difficult to get out of the way.

While dodging, you have to consider the direction of your opponent’s swing. If you dodge away from your attacker’s swing, you’re still going to get hit on the follow through. If you dodge into the swing, you’ll avoid the hit. Pepper dodges into your combat practice, but try not to get discouraged if it’s not as useful as you expect. Tailor your use of it to the hero you’re using and your personal style.


There is one aspect of combat that we haven’t talked about yet — throwing. There’s a reason for that. It’s tied to the hero you’re playing rather than the core combat you learned about above.

Following up a (successful) guard break with the same button will perform a throw. For some heroes, like the viking raider, this will perform an elaborate tackle that carries your enemy and tosses them. For others, like the samurai orochi, this is a more subdued kick that creates some distance between you and your opponent.

Throws are useful — we’re a big fan of tossing enemies off of bridges with the viking raider — but remember that it’s not going to work the same for every hero you play.

Bringing it all together

Once you’ve got all of that incorporated into your vocabulary, it’s time to put it all together. You can even move around with the left thumbstick if you’d like. The pattern that finally made us feel like we understood fighting was: block, parry, attack, block, break, attack, then back to blocking.

Blocking, parrying, attacking and executing

You’re still going to lose fights. But you’ll start winning more and more often. You won’t win every one, but you’ll understand better why you lost. When you move on to the story missions, you’ll be so well prepared, you might be bored. But bored is infinitely better than baffled.

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