Absolver Review – Nearly the Dark Souls of Fighting Games
Absolver29th August, 2017
If Absolver was a review it'd likely be the shortest review ever written. Not that this an indication about the game's length. Rather, the review would simply say "I'm not telling you". Absolver is a frustrating, infuriating and downright obtrusive game and one that nearly beat me. The problem is that it's a bloody good game.
Nearly beating me is one of the most damning indictments I can give to a game. Why? Because it highlights the level of frustration I've faced. I'm a stubborn person, incredibly stubborn. So much that I'll intentionally do something just to be awkward. Generally speaking, I like difficult and challenging games. The From Software titles (Demon's Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne) are some of my favourite games. The slow, methodical and tactical fighting system is one of the most intriguing and palm-sweating best things around. Absolver effectively contains the fighting game version of this combat system but it's just let down by a few issues.
I'll start with the largest issue the game faces, poor balancing. While the aforementioned Souls' games had difficult enemies, they were always understandable in the setting. They faced the same stamina limitations as you and couldn't simply block or wail away at you all day long. Sloclap seemingly thought this was a little too fair and even the more basic of enemies you face in Absolver have a stamina bar that would make Ron Jeremy green with envy.
This tends to be my largest problem. I've found myself all too often facing an enemy who I should be able to dispatch with ease. However, that enemy has been able to block everything I could throw at it with little impact to its stamina bar. I then go on the defensive and my stamina is quickly depleted from far fewer attacks. Often, a move that I'll use on an enemy that does little impact will take off a third of my stamina.
I can more than understand that the combat system wants to be fluid and free-flowing. It actually manages this perfectly when the odds are even. The problem is simply that the AI doesn't follow the rules set by the game. Come against multiple AI enemies at the same time and the game simply becomes a game of cat and mouse as you kite them away, taking a few potshots until there's just one left and you can finally fight on even grounds.
Well, that should be the case. The cannon fodder enemies go down fairly easy when you actually hit them. That much is at least one saving grace. The more difficult enemies have health bars equivalent to those of a boss in a regular game. The bosses, well, they have downright absurd health bars. Chipping away at them is about as effective as using your head to tear down a brick wall.
It's a shame because this is the best hand-to-hand combat system I've encountered in a game. There's a strong reliance on precise timing for blocking and dodging. As well as this, your positioning and the specific attacks you use, even going as far as the stance you start and finish in. The level of depth ties right into the meditation and combination system that Sloclap have created for Absolver. It makes for an incredibly interesting and compelling experience.
What you do is create your own combinations. You start with a limited number of attacks to use in your combinations. You can then learn more in combat, by blocking and dodging the attacks from AI opponents and other players. As you level up more slots are also opened. At the time of writing, I have three regular slots open for all four available stances, with each stance also having a slot for a power attack.
Creating your combat deck is one of the most personalised experiences you'll find. I have yet to learn every combat move in the game and even now I've got more than I need, with some never getting a look in. I am, however, determined to learn the Superman punch. My style of attack is more akin to that of a flailing maniac, just hoping that his fists will land and do enough damage to the enemy. Every now and then I throw a kick in there because kicking people is fun, of course.
The tactics of your deck are surprisingly interesting. Each card (move) has an end stance, it's linking these stances together that can result in a fluid twelve move combo that you can interrupt at any time with a power attack. There's not only the one deck, however. Absolver also includes two weapon types: swords and combat gloves. These weapons also have their very own specific moves and combat decks.
You may be surprised that the game's story is incredibly spare. Particularly so when considering the level of detail that's gone into the combat system. Absolver is, at core, an online title. Like most online-centric titles, the single player feels like an afterthought. The major aim is undoubtedly for people to face off against each other. However, to level up and develop your skills you have to go through the story, or what there is of it.
It begins with you being selected as the new prospect. You journey into the modest, but impressively varied, lands of Adal. Your task is to defeat a number of "marked ones", climb to the top of a tower and defeat the big baddie. It's fairly straight forward with no real story to go with it. Perhaps I missed something along the way, but I've no idea why Adal became the wasteland it is. Frankly, I don't care. There's little to distinguish it from any other destroyed world.
At least that's if you don't count the aesthetic quality. While there's no real personality to the world, there's little doubt it looks stylish. Absolver is incredibly colourful and has a crisp and clean design that is fantastic to look at and explore. From the leafy overgrowth of Hunters Path to the wooden huts with the setting sunlight filtering through the Bird Callers Outpost. There's little to explain why things are the way they are, but it looks great and that's enough for me.
What I find strange is that there's an obvious thought process that has gone into the game. The meticulous design of the combat system and the decks that go along with it. The exquisite look of the game, the design that has gone into it and even the collectible items and outfits. It makes me wonder, then, why Sloclap didn't think about the effects that multiplayer would have or on enemy placement within the game.
The problems I've mostly found is that with online turned on, others can drop in randomly at any time. This, understandably, increases the number of enemies that you come across. The problem with this, however, is that you can often have other players randomly drop in a fair distance away from you, with no idea to determine where you are and now you're up against impossible odds. This is particularly true in the case against marked ones. The only way to reset these odds for one-on-one combat is to exit and re-enter the game.
Online is where the real strengths of the games are. Once you've completed the main quest, which should take you roughly 5 to 8 hours, you become a titular Absolver. As one of these fellows, you can then set up matches online against other players. These are decided with the first to three kills. Win enough of these and you can eventually create your own combat school, teaching your moves to other players.
It's this player versus player combat that could be the best that multiplayer gaming has to offer in 2017. The opportunities for tournaments are amazing and it could make for a fantastic e-sports title, particularly if the developers managed to increase the number of participants in combat. Learning your opponent, sizing them up and the to-and-fro of combat is particularly gripping, if only because both of you are human players and subject to the same stamina and health restrictions.
All I can do is repeat what I said at the start. I find Absolver frustrating, infuriating and obtrusive at times. The combat system, when one-on-one, can be absolutely fantastic. Using your personal combo's to dispatch enemies in fluid combat is invigorating. At the same time, lack of balancing, or facing multiple enemies, quickly turns this into frustration and eventual anger.
It could have certainly done with a better thought process into the game when insurmountable odds are thrown at a single player due to the unpredictable drop-in nature of other human players. A little improvement into level design could have been made, particularly the tower that makes up the last zone. I personally got fed up of falling off the edge of a ledge, ran through and ignored every single enemy with no consequence. Despite its issues, Absolver is a very good game that looks and plays brilliantly.
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by publisher.
Absolver features one of the best fighting systems to be found in gaming. In addition to this, it looks and plays fantastically. However, it's let down by a few balancing issues, some glaring design problems caused by the unpredictable multiplayer feature. The end-game, however, could make for one of the best multiplayer experiences the year has to offer.
- The combat system is deep and engaging, requiring you to think about every attack, block and dodge
- Combat decks allow you to create your very own personal fighting style that will almost certainly be your own
- Fantastic visuals, with a great aesthetic design
- Multiplayer combat has great potential and offers a rewarding end-game experience against other players
- The story is non-existant, leaving the single-player aspect feeling tacked on at best
- Poor balancing can lead to frustration with even the easiest enemies of the game being able to block your every attack with no consequence