Review: Absolver Has Great Ideas That Don’t Land As Smoothly As Its Mechanics
Like a really cool Kung Fu story without the story.
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Absolver is set in a large, overgrown, untamed world called Adal. Between the forests and dirt paths are ruins of a civilization long forgotten. You take the role of a prospect, a disciple of martial arts who enters Adal to pass the trials on their way to become an Absolver. These trials involve fighting bossed called Marked Ones, which are expert martial artists found without Adal.
That’s mostly the short and long version of the story.
The developer, Sloclap, decided that the combat in the game should take the focus and that it did. The combat is beautifully choreographed and well thought out. The fighting style is not much like anything I’ve played before. The attacks are completely customizable by the player in a thing called a combat deck, and each attack has a starting stance and an ending stance. For instance: One punch could start with the character leaning back-right and end with them facing front-left. If you don’t like it, you can change it!
The multiplayer offers PVP with players’ custom combat decks, which leaves lots of potential fights with their own stories. Sloclap plans to expand upon it as well with ranked matchmaking, spectating and three-on-three fights. Currently, however, duels are the main draw with other players seamlessly slipping into your game like in Dark Souls.
What makes the fighting interesting is that there are only two actual buttons for attacks. The facing is where the rest of the action takes place. There are also classes to choose from, three in total, that allow you to pick from dodging, parrying, and absorbing blows. This is where my main gripe for the game comes into play.
The game is definitely in the same vein of game as Dark Souls in the sense that… It is very hard.
Many games take tons of notes from Dark Souls. The Surge comes to mind with its hard but masterable combat system. But Absolver does a worse job of explaining to the player how to get better. Picking combat decks that synchronize well will help, but it relies too much on asking others and not enough from learning through failure. Most of the time when I’d die, I wouldn’t really know what I could do to do better.
Anytime a fight with more than one enemy broke out, I would escape and try to kite just one enemy instead of attempting to fight a group. For a game about precise fighting, this felt out of place. It would be less of a problem if I didn’t find it necessary, as a fight with two enemies is very difficult, and a fight with three seems near impossible.
Despite this, one-on-one battles feel very, very good. They also look great, like a fantasy kung-fu movie that happens how you tell it. The boss fights against Marked Ones are also very cinematic, which really makes the skint story more manageable.
The game has some notable shortcomings despite its near flawless combat.
The few NPCs you encounter that aren’t hostile are also not voiced. This may seem like a small issue, but considering the game’s focus on aesthetic, it’s quite noticeable. The story is already very minimal, but having it read to you instead of spoken made it that much smaller.
To reiterate an earlier point, the game does little to help you figure out how to perfect certain moves. The Surge, also by a small development team, does a better job setting players on the right path before letting enemies slaughter them.
Absolver’s single-player campaign is also very short, clocking in at around 3-4 hours. As someone who’s not much of an online multiplayer gamer, this was a disappointment, but considering how good the combat feels, I can see how many gamers, especially Dark Souls fans, could enjoy it a lot.
Overall, if Sloclap set out to just make a great martial arts combat system, this would be a 10/10. But their lack of guidance and lack of story definitely left me wanting more. If Sloclap were to take their system and transplant it into a game with more of a focus on story, I might have been singing its praise, but as it stands, it’s just a solid combat system with an ‘okay’ set dressing.