When you go into a fighting game, you expect your character to have a predefined list of moves. It’s just a matter of taking time to memorize them and making out viable combos that prove to be the main learning curves. Once you’ve generally mastered these steps, you observe which characters are strong or weak against your own and deal with them accordingly. Absolver throws this expectation to the ground as a 3D fighting game in a class all its own.
You’re given a pool with dozens upon dozens of potential moves. Everybody has access to them, but which ones you equip and in what order you put them are up to you. This means you’ll never stick with the same movesets. You’ll never see the same ones with foes. Every battle is unique and unpredictable, and it’s the innovative, double-edged foundation of this game that proves to be endlessly fascinating and frustrating at the same time.
You’re dropped into the world of Adal as a Prospect: a fighter in training seeking to become, well, absolved. I’m honestly not quite sure of what or why because the game takes a page from the vague storytelling of Dark Souls and dials it up to 11. What I do know is that you have to seek out six Marked Ones in the fallen ruins of a past empire, where many that have been lost to the shadows as failed Prospects stand in your way. Once you beat them, you’ll be able to climb the Tower of Adal and face Risryn. Beyond some environmental clues, item descriptions, and a handful of NPC lines, it’s hard to discern what Absolver is about, but at least the world itself is beautiful in its fallen nature.
The world has a clay-like aesthetic with elements of cubism implemented in the visual effects and design. It’s certainly what sets Absolver apart from the start, but even when running it on PC at Ultra settings, I feel like the textures for clothing and some environmental objects are too soft. I also ran into a crash and a few big frame rate drops, but one of the most common issues that will hopefully be fixed is how often the servers went down during our time with the game.
Nevertheless, these things don’t mar the otherwise phenomenal art direction. You’ll be journeying throughout a forest with cherry blossom trees and beautiful fields of grass, a quaint village with unusually tall wooden houses, and a stone temple in an eerie blog among other locales. Austin Wintory's score contributes to the personality with weirdly edgy synths, guitars, lively percussion, and Japanese instrumentation. As you roam throughout the world, you'll initially feel overwhelmed by all the pathways and places across the open world, but they belie an unfortunately limited scope and lack of locations.
There are only three major areas to explore that connect to a central hub of sorts. Once you’re finished with the short main story, there’s not much reason to roam about fighting NPCs, unless you want to fight a handful of bosses again at more difficult levels. You can also team up with or fight people that will drop into your sessions since the world operates much like Dark Souls and Journey’s online infrastructures. However, the wonder and usefulness of doing so is largely mitigated upon the story’s completion. New boss fights, side quests, and areas to explore would go an exceptionally long way to make something Absolver I’d want to return to even more. The world is already so interesting, so I hope ideas like this are in the post-launch pipeline.
The main allure and purpose of Absolver boils down to Combat Trials. You’ll be able to take on players competitively and level up to unlock gear and new moves. The latter are slowly learned by effectively dodging and blocking one they’re used against you, but the progress you make can only be gained in victory. But how exactly does combat work at a deeper level? You have a Combat Deck that can be customized with any moves you wish in almost any order, but you’ll need to create strategic sequences of moves that can be strung together in unexpected, diverse ways.
For example, you’ll have access to several types of kicking moves that vary in power, speed, and trajectory. Sometimes they’ll even have special attributes like stopping a rushing foe or denying an attack from a certain direction. Since your character executes these moves from four stances, you’ll need to consider the positions in which kicking moves start and end in to string them together with other sequences. That’s not even mentioning how you have secondary abilities and completely different Decks for weapons you can briefly use in battle.
Absolver is only akin to For Honor in how gameplay involves mind games with positioning and predicting moves. Combos for its cast of characters are permanent and unique for each character. On the other hand, Absolver encourages players to constantly shift and evolve their playstyles that are all drawing from the same pool of moves. It can make Absolver quite a time investment in order to craft and learn the unique intricacies of your Deck, but when you unlock new moves or feel like you need to re-approach it, you’ll either love or hate how you need to relearn some combos you had going.
You can also join a School, which gives you access to another player’s Combat Style and new moves you might’ve not encountered before. If you stick with it long enough, you’ll be able to acquire these things and consider new Decks. Now, when it comes to Styles, you select one at the game’s onset among three choices: Forsaken, Kahlt, and Windfall. They respectively give your character the ability to parry, absorb, or more gracefully dodge attacks. In addition, they gently prioritize certain stats over others at the beginning, which can subtly raise attributes ranging from your health to stamina. Over time, this part of Styles doesn’t mean much. It’s up to you when it comes to prioritizing your stamina to dish out and block attacks or increase your power for certain moves with Strength and Dexterity.
Absolver truly is something special in execution. It’s seemingly simpler to play than For Honor but is far more complex in the sense of predicting moves and carefully refining ever-changing Decks. I’ve never played a fighting game quite like this and believe the sheer customizability of movesets prolong the game’s appeal from a mechanical standpoint. However, taking the time to invest in it is another story. Exactly understanding what works and why is something the game leaves in your hands, so it’s only through endless trial and error can you distill what might work. I fear that professional players might fashion superior Decks that everyone in their right mind wouldn’t competitively use, so we might see an overpopulation of recommended ones flooding the game, but hopefully, this is an unfounded fear that will be kept in check with additional Styles and balancing.
However, I feel like Absolver has a mixed identity overall. There’s really not much for you to do after initially exploring the world and defeating the Marked Ones, but I feel like there could and should be more PvE content. Again, having surprising challenges with side quests, new bosses, and fresh areas would be so fitting in its captivating world. Overall, the game may have a fascinating system of customizable combat that feels superb in execution, but its complexity might prove to be too cumbersome and vague for some.
Absolver’s fighting system and weird blend of ideas make it a genre-defying gut punch of innovation. You’ll be in amazement with how much you can customize the fluid combat, but its complexity and intentional design to be constantly altered might be off-putting for some. The same goes for those looking for more to do besides competitive play in an open world begging to be absolved of limited scope and content.
- Innovative, Fluid Fighting System...
- Captivating, Online Open World...
- So Many Moves and Styles With More on the Way
- Confident Art Direction and Audio
- ...But Dense And Hard to Adjust to
- ...But Sorely Lacking in Content and Scope
- Inconsistent Servers