Announced back in 2016, Absolver with its taglines of "combat is a dance", "movement is your weapon", and "make a move" promised a game that will feature a fluid, dynamic and smart combat system that players will be able to customize to their liking. The developer, Sloclap mostly delivers on that initial promise, but how does the game fare as a package and are the other parts of the game as well thought out as the combat system? Let's delve into it.
Absolver is available for purchase at Steam for 29,99€.
Absolver is a game light on story. Sure there is a general premise which you will more likely pick up when reading about the game than from the game itself. The game starts with a vague cutscene of your character being chosen for a ritual that involves a ghost or an energy being giving you a magical mask. Once putting it on, it transports you to a ruined remains of a once great empire and tasks you with defeating 9 bosses in order to become the titular Absolver.
The game features no spoken dialogue and occasional NPC interactions are done via text boxes. There are some silent cutscenes when encountering certain enemies but that's about it. The general feel of the game is much like Dark Souls, very intriguing and mysterious. It goes for the same vague and a bit melancholic story and a layered game world that begs exploration. The fact that the mini-map is absent only further emphasizes the mystery and immerses you in exploration.
Sadly, Absolver gets the general feel right but it certainly doesn't reach the Dark Souls level of thoughtfulness that makes the fans of the game still ponder on some mysteries and characters. There are not many interesting items to find and most characters look alike with no backstory to speak of. As far as you are concerned, your mission is to turn off the nine lights on a stone that represent your bosses and that is it. All in all, a lot of wasted potential on the story part.
Gameplay and combat mechanics are where Absolver shines. The system is seemingly simple but very hard to master. One part of the problem is the lackluster tutorial and limited character creation that give you the bare bone basics and leaves you to figure out most of the things by experimenting. But after a while, you will learn most mechanics and if you stick with it, the game will open up in terms of customization, making you feel right at home.
All the fighting is governed by a system called the combat deck. It's a neat little card system where you essentially decide in which order your moves play out. In this build-a-combo system, you have 4 stances which can hold a maximum of three move cards and can switch between them on the fly, or dish them out in succession.
In addition to a massive number of combat moves, there are also little special abilities that can be a part of your attacks like a shockwave, temporary paralysis or regeneration. Add blocking, evading, usage of weapons, armor stats and a stamina bar that governs their usage and you basically have one of the deepest, strategic and customizable combat system ever to grace us in a video game.
Variety is the word of the day when it comes to building your own combat deck, and a carefully constructed one is a joy to use. This, of course, means that you will need to study, experiment and get familiar with all the possible moves currently available to you.
You will soon learn that there are no shortcuts in Absolver, no attack is useless, and no attack is overpowered, it's all about the strategic element of how you build and use your deck. New combat moves are learned by fighting enemies who use those new moves on you or studying under a master and borrowing their deck.
The first method is one of the problems I had with Absolver because although in real life it makes sense that you would need to see and study the attack before being able to use it – it just gets incredibly monotonous to do it in the game. I don't have to tell you how many times I died fighting the same old same opponent just cause I wanted to learn a high kick or something. The grind for new moves really felt out of place and I wish that the system was a bit different.
Absolver also features a drop-in drop-out co-op system which is a blast to play. Characters can communicate only using simple gestures similar to The Journey which fits the general tone of the game perfectly. I also like the fact that friendly fire is always on as it encourages further strategizing when in combat as well as making everything feel more choreographed when two synced players take on their opposition. PvP modes are also present and are reserved for the endgame and is a really pure multiplayer experience where skill is the main factor in winning a fight.
As mentioned, the general feel of the game world is there, but this is no Dark Souls. Although the locations are interesting in themselves and there are a few different biomes to explore the things tend to get a bit confusing within them. Once inside a general area, everything feels the same. This coupled with the absence of a mini map will often lead to spinning in circles and possible frustration.
A couple of more recognizable locations, landmarks or a simple mini map was all it took to alleviate this problem. I can't shake the feeling that without the tedium of going in circles or grinding for moves – the game would last only a couple of hours and was padded for length in this manner.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
I'm a gamer that values a good looking stylistic approach more so than the realism one. With that being said, Absolver hits the right notes on that front. The unique washed out water color graphics look great and some of the views can really be breathtaking.
Despite that fact, the world feels too static and without many truly memorable locations. More often than not, you will genuinely be interested in a far away place, only to have nothing be there once you arrive except for the same old cookie cutter enemies you've been fighting for the last 2 hours. On the bright side, everything runs very smooth and I encountered no FPS drops or bugs whatsoever.
Not all is without problems, however. In tight spaces, you will find yourself fighting the camera as much as your opponents. This is due to it being packed pretty tight to the back of your character which can lead to situations where the environment blocks your view or somewhere you don't even see your character, or the opponent smacking you in the face. Luckily, the world is designed in such a manner that most of it are wide open spaces so camera issues only rarely bog down the experience.
When it comes to audio, Absolver is a pretty silent game. What little music there is, is reserved for the menus and the boss encounters. They offer nothing memorable but actually fit the game pretty well. Even the silent, meditative feel of the rest of the game doesn't feel out of place as with everything in Absolver, it's all about the combat and most of the sound comes from punching and kicking.
If you are looking for a deep, tactical and impactful melee fighting game, Absolver is the game for you. I dare to say it features one of the best fighting systems in any game to date and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. The main focus of the development was clearly the combat system and that sometimes highlights the fact that the other aspects of the game painfully lag behind it in terms of depth and quality. Absolver's mantra could be "come for combat – stay for combat", as nothing else will keep you coming back to it and those looking for anything outside of that should probably look elsewhere.
|+ Amazing and deep combat system||– Lackluster story|
|+ Visual style||– Camera issues|
|+ CooP and PvP||– Underused world building potential|
|– Steep and slow learning curve|