Absolver is a tactical, melee-focused action game that has online interactivity residing at its core. Sloclap has taken a familiar yet unique approach in their inaugural game, creating a standout identity for their martial arts adventure. The game beautifully blends deep combat mechanics with an engaging progression system inside a visually alluring package that sports only a handful of blemishes.
Absolver is bringing martial arts into the spotlight with some finely tuned systems borrowed and modified from Dark Souls and, to a smaller extent, For Honor. The developer did not shy away from the Dark Souls influence and, in fact, it was a large source of inspiration when developing this journey in the fallen city of Raslan, the capital of the Adal Empire. Everything from combat engagement to environmental storytelling to the general feel of each area evokes a Souls vibe that is hard to shake. This is by no means a negative point. Despite the allusions to From Software’s infamous series, Absolver manages to carve its own path in this punishing genre.
Prepare to “git gud” as this kung fu outing extends an arduous challenge to aspiring Prospects, the lowly beginnings of an Absolver-in-the-making. The combat system initially appears fairly simple, providing one of three combat styles – the fourth style, stagger, is not unlocked at the beginning – which include Forsaken, Windfall, and Kahlt Method. Each one of these options provides a distinct gameplay experience and vastly change how encounters are handled. Forsaken focuses on the perfect timing of parries to break up an enemy’s onslaught and create an offensive opening. Windfall dives into the defensive art of dodging, swiftly avoiding incoming strikes while opening an opponent’s flank. Lastly, there is the Kahlt Method. This style revolves around absorbing blows, dismissing any stun that may have occurred.
As players first venture out with your starting style, opportunities to grow into a unique fighter start to crop up in abundance. Blocking attacks and utilizing the style-specific defensive skill provide XP towards learning new moves. For example, if an NPC or fellow player unleashes a flurry of attacks and you manage to block/parry/dodge/absorb them, you will see a progress bar slowly fill. This means the Prospect is gaining knowledge on these attacks and may soon be able to utilize them. However, should any of these bouts end in defeat, all progress made on a certain move during that fight will be lost. Learning a wide array of moves is extremely important, especially if you should run across another Prospect looking to engage in PvP. Using the standard starting set will make your attacks a bit too predictable.
Absolver gives players access to Combat Decks, which are interchangeable movesets for the four combat stances: forward right, forward left, back right, and back left. These options are different than the styles mentioned earlier. Transitioning into one of these four stances during a fight changes the moveset the Prospect will execute as the light and heavy attack combos are performed. The more moves that are learned, the more variety can be incorporated in each stance. Keeping the opposition on their toes is key in coming out ahead.
Combat Decks are one of the most rewarding aspects of Absolver. The ability to create and tweak your own attack pattern gives a character more personality than their customizable appearance, which extends to their general look and worn gear. Growing from the basic combat executions really added a sense of growth as my Prospect began to distinguish himself from others. You won’t soon run out of things to fine tune, as there is a separate deck for bare hands, war gloves and weapons. Those out there that master their art are given the option to become a mentor of their own school in the end game, allowing Prospects to study underneath them and gain access to their Combat Deck. It is just one more way that the game promotes its focus on online community.
Combat itself is engaging, impactful, and strategic. Button mashing will not get anyone very far on the Path to Absolution. Absolver boasts a deep system, if that wasn’t already clear. Light attacks, heavy attacks, feints, blocks, dodges, and guard breaks all come together to provide a swath of choices in every engagement. For example, you may successfully interrupt your own attack with a feint to trick an opponent into using their defensive ability to soon, leaving them vulnerable to a follow-up strike. Figuring out the flow of combat is a continuous learning process and one you will feel inclined to invest in given its rewarding nature.
We are just barely scratching the surface here though. A stamina bar controls this flow by depleting with attacks and guards. Keeping your guard up will regenerate stamina slower than when you leave yourself exposed. As with the Souls series, stamina management is critical. Perfect Attacks are achieved by timing an assault just right. Characters will flash yellow during a small window wherein a subsequent strike will hit with increased force and speed. As expected, different moves contain different timings. Shards are another mechanic that tie themselves to special abilities, like healing and weapon use. The former of the two is fairly interesting. Use of the healing barely adds any health back to the player’s bar if used on its own. To maximize its effect, the player must successfully land attacks without getting hit. Connecting with another fighter will boost the health regained. Shards are limited in their use, with the player restricted to two at the beginning of the game, but they are able to be refilled at the Altars scattered throughout Raslan.
The RPG loot side of things also factors into battle preparations. The dreads you don do more than bestow Prospects with aesthetic flair. Every single piece of equipment comes with stats, positive and negative. Depending on your style of play, you will want to carefully assess newly acquired loot to see how it benefits you, if at all. Fast fighters will be incentivized to keep their garb light so that their attack speed does not suffer. Tank-centric combatants may find the tradeoff for speed a justifiable downgrade in exchange for the enhanced defenses of the extra padding.
Of course, what RPG would be complete without leveling up and skill point distribution? As Prospects battle it out in the lush, green ruins of the fallen capital, they will gain experience from their conquests. Once a new level is achieved, a skill point can be allocated to a specific area. These options fall in line with what you should expect, such as vitality and endurance. Different styles may rely more heavily on some stats over another. An example would be the Kahlt’s reliance on strength, whereas Windfall favors dexterity.
Absolver has a lot going for it, but that doesn’t mean it is free from issues. The game ran steadily at 60FPS at a 1440p resolution on a GTX 980 Ti and i7-4790k, but brief sizable frame rate drops were noticeable when transitioning between the game’s environments. Given the compact nature of the overall map, this was surprising. In addition, the game’s AI seems somewhat exploitable in its current state. In certain instances, NPCs will try to overwhelm the player in groups of two or three. However, it was fairly simple to exploit their invisible tethers to their starting point to separate the pack for a fairer fight. Whether this is considered a valid tactic by the developer is unknown.
Furthermore, there is the game’s focus on online, which may be a blessing or a curse depending on the community. With Absolver’s push for online interconnectivity for the best possible experience, those looking for a solid offline single player adventure may be left wanting after only a few hours. The map isn’t exactly massive and engagements may become tedious without the occasional live player dropping in to shake up the flow. Bumping into another player and wondering if they are looking for a co-op partner or a fight is typically a tense affair. Obviously, you could just pair up with your friends if you wish. Again, this entire facet of the game is lost in offline mode.
Lastly, the game does not contain an abundance of narrative material. A general feel for the land is picked up through short conversations with NPCs and environmental storytelling. Beyond this, loosely stringed together battles against the Marked Ones and a few boss battles with attached cinematics round out the campaign experience. The game heavily relies on the stories born from your battles to drive it forward, which again hinges on the online component.
The longevity of this title really depends on the community’s engagement. If the 1v1 option or mentor-student system don’t take off, Absolver could potentially lose appeal in its infancy. This is simply speculation, but I am left wondering if the package on offer in its infinite depth but limited size will stick long term. In terms of its fresh approach and quality, it definitely deserves to survive any obstacles, both existing and theoretical.
Absolver is a unique blend of deep martial arts combat, RPG systems, and social interaction. Sloclap’s dedication to their combat mechanics is obvious and it has paid off. The game boasts one of the deepest systems for skirmishes I have yet to encounter. This lies at the heart of Absolver and it is a solid foundation on which to build the rest of the game. Thanks to the quality of combat and the visual appeal of the striking art style, the shortcomings found within the AI and narrative do not hinder the overall experience to a crippling degree. Absolver definitely gets far more right than wrong, weaving a worthwhile venture for all but those looking for a strong single player outing.
8.0 Aspiring Prospects Out Of 10
Release Date: August 29th, 2017
Available Platforms: PC, PS4
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Disclosure: Absolver Was Provided By The Publisher For Coverage Purposes