Game name: Absolver
Release date: August 29, 2017
Price: US$ 29.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: 3D fighting game
Publisher: Devolver Digital
What would happen if we blended the Souls series’ penchant for mysterious lore and interconnected maps with the mechanics of a 3D fighting game? Developers Sloclap have an answer to that question in the form of Absolver, a single/multiplayer fighting game masquerading as an action RPG.
Playing as a Prospect, a mask-wearing martial arts trainee, we’ll set out in a journey through the ruins of the Adal empire, trying to beat a number of powerful entities known as the Marked Ones in order to access a legendary tower that holds the key to our ascension to the coveted title of Absolver. On our way to our objective, we’ll be able to engage in jolly cooperation with other players who can seamlessly join our session if we are playing online (or beat them senseless, if that’s our thing).
Our travels will start as a robed figure bestows a mask upon us, knocking out our avatar and teleporting them to the wilds. After awakening on Adal, we’ll be able to modify our appearance (gender/place of origin) and choose a fighting style. Three options will be available at the beginning, each with a different skill level attached to it. The first style will let us absorb hits, the second will unlock a dodge maneuver, and the last and hardest option will allow us to parry our enemies’ attacks. Those three styles are also tied to the game’s character development system, as our attacks will benefit from the stat we choose to dump points on, be it dexterity, strength, or a mix of the two. After this quick introduction is done, we’ll engage in a few short tutorials, and then the world will finally open up, letting us take on fights as we wish, with no more hand holding.
Absolver‘s combat system revolves around simple concepts. We have four different stances plus a light attack button, a heavier blow that can be used to change stances mid-way through a combo, a block command, the option to absorb/dodge or parry enemy hits, and a number of special abilities that can only be triggered once we’ve filled our Tension Shards (a meter that goes up the more we fight). Combining those moves we’ll be able to learn new attacks from defeated foes, which can in turn be used to build up a Combat Deck containing lists of combos. Say we spot another Prospect doing a slap/punch combination that looks cool and deals a nice amount of damage. Want to be able to do the same thing? Simply start a fight with that character, and every time they use that move, block/dodge/absorb or parry it. A meter will quickly begin to fill, and as long as we don’t die or run away from the fight, that cool looking attack will be ours in no time.
At the start we will only be able to create simple combinations of one or two moves for each stance, but as our character gains experience, we’ll earn the right to craft longer combos, which can also be prolonged by careful use of the heavy blow, as it will change our stance mid-fight. Our ultimate aim is to be able to dish out strings of hits without tiring ourselves or being interrupted, and in order to do this we’ll have to pay careful attention to both our opponents’ stance and our own, adjusting as the battle evolves. There is no penalty if we decide to reshuffle our deck and create a completely new one, and once we’ve achieved the rank of Absolver and beat the game, we’ll be able to create our own martial arts school, teaching other players our combos so they may represent us on the field.
Aside from the Combat Deck, our character will also level up and gain points that can be distributed to a number of stats, boosting our damage output or letting us dish out more hits without getting tired, for example. A gear system is also in place, with different armor pieces dropping from defeated enemies and special cairns, and melee weapons entering the fray to provide yet another option. Of course, everything must be balanced in some way, so heavier armor will make us slower, and the weapons we pick up from the ground will break after a number of hits. If we wish to bring our own swords/knives or gauntlets to the battlefield, we’ll have to spend precious Tension Shards on them, and since those could be used to replenish our health or trigger powerful abilities, we’ll always think twice before doing that.
All of these mechanics come together beautifully during one versus one encounters, with one player circling the other, carefully weighing their options and only striking when they consider that it’s the right time. Sadly, Absolver‘s main storyline will force us to meet groups of AI controlled opponents in the field way more than I would have liked, as in multi-person battles the game’s excellent combat system stumbles quite a bit. Engaging in a fight with another character, human or AI, will lock our camera to our opponent, so we can be able to discern the stance they are using and respond appropriately. This feature works perfectly with two big caveats. The first is that fighting near walls is an absolute nightmare, as they will quickly obscure our vision, hindering our ability to fight back without unlocking the camera, and the second is that multi-person fights require constant switching between one target and the other, disrupting the flow of the battle. It’s weird that the development team didn’t think of a way to solve at least the first of these two issues, as the labyrinthine nature of the indoor maps (which are featured heavily in the second half of the game) means that we’ll spend a lot of time fighting near walls.
Luckily, the best part of Absolver is its PVP, and unless we choose to fight other players in crowded areas, none of my earlier criticisms apply to that activity. This is not to say that this aspect of the game is flawless, as I experienced some technical issues that did not go away after launch as I’d hoped (for instance, every time a player enters the area I’m currently exploring, I experience noticeable stuttering for a second or two) but they aren’t annoying enough to ruin the experience. Hopefully, Sloclap will be able to iron out the server hiccups and deliver a more polished product for the playerbase before they decide to jump ship. For Honor launched in a similar state, and it went from being one of the top ten most played games on Steam to 2000 concurrent player peaks, even with the backing of a major publisher.
Ultimately, Absolver is a flawed gem, delivering excellent multiplayer action and a short but entertaining campaign in spite of numerous technical issues.
7.5/10 (Very good)