Absolver Review – Melee Fighting Done Right
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: 29th August 2017
2017 is truly a great year for fans of hard melee Multiplayer games. Where For Honor had a solid foundation but suffered from a horrible technical framework, we now get a pretty similar seeming game, called Absolver. Developed by the indie studio Sloclap, Absolver aims to deliver deep, brutal Martial Arts action with dudes in masks, a single player campaign and long-term support for its mutliplayer duels. After spending more than just “a bit” time with it, I can confirm, that Absolver does a lot right, yet suffers from known issues.
Obviously, Absolver´s story isn´t particularly good. We´re a fighter on the search for the different Kung-Fu masters. If we manage to beat them all we´re able to ascend into the ranks of the so-called Absolvers. So, we set out into an open world full of other disciples, dangers and of course, other players.
Nothing too spectacular and Absolver never tries to expand its story or world a whole lot. Instead Sloclap concentrated solely on its world design and gameplay and that was a damn great decision. While we don´t see a whole lot of innovative locations in the world, which mainly consists of brown buildings, ruins or towers, the overall design is superb and can be summarized in one word: Souls-like, I hate this comparison, yet it´s the easiest way to describe this matter.
On our 4-5 hours long journey through Absolvers world, we´re not encountering any loading screens or cheap transitions, rather we´re slowly discovering how the three areas are connected with each other. Often I was wandering on an unknown path and before I knew what was going on, I ended up in the beginning area again. Similar to the Souls series, the areas are connected in various spots, making it a true blast to explore everything and get a feeling for it. While not being nearly as big as other worlds, I enjoyed Absolver´s way more than other games, due to this great design.
However, the world isn´t empty, filled with dozens of AI-controlled enemies we combat on our way, Absolver´s biggest focus. Basically, Absolver offers a gameplay similar to Mount&Blade or For Honor, just very melee focused. Fighting with our fists, or weapons as a special skill, we can switch between four stances or even chain them seamlessly together, something unseen until now. By allowing us to switch stances on the fly with a special attack, Absolver feels a lot smoother than any other game. We can chain combos, build tactics with kicks and punches, everything feels so great.
At the beginning every stance offers us some basic moves but even then, we can spend hours learning the patterns, how to use them or what combo is the most effective. Additionally, we can choose between different classes, each with their own special move, like slowing down attacks by dodging or blocking. However, Absolver is filled with unlockable moves, granting us the ability to build our own combos, moves and customize the stances. There are more than dozens of hidden attacks, learnable by getting hit or dodge them, like in real life.
Evading is another thing though, where blocking is simply a button press, evading needs to be executed with mouse movements, which can be a big hassle when we´re in a fight because sometimes it doesn´t recgonize them very well. The fact we can´t re-map evading is a huge downside too, making a controller a very welcome addition on PC.
As a downside to this huge array of possibilities, it takes a long time to unlock enough before we´re able to build a whole new combo style, forcing us into huge grinds. Also, if we fight against someone who already unlocked a ton new things, I was often caught off-guard in the first minutes, since I´ve never seen some of my enemies’ moves. Not a great thing in a fighting game fully about fair duels between players, once we completed the campaign.
In general, Absolver suffers from a lot problems, For Honor has too, in a way. We can level-up, find new equipment and unlock moves, making us stronger everytime we do one of these. That´s great in offline mode, we have a great feeling of progression this way. Sadly, levels and equipment heavily influence our life and damage output, making duels against other players in the world unfair sometimes, when our opponent can simply output way more damage than we do, just because he played longer. I´m a big enemy of such systems in games like Absolver, solely revolving about fair fights, they can easily destroy this fairness, without adding much to it.
On the other hand, most of the player encounters during our time will most likely be far more than just duels. Due to the lack of voice chat or any chat in general, we can´t communicate with others we encounter. Like in Journey we more or less learn to get along and cooperate in a way, most games would never even imagine. I love Journey and its multiplayer and so I love Absolver for copying it in such a great way.
Luckily, this is also my almost only complaint about Sloclap´s debut game. Not only is it´s combat truly unique, its presentation is gorgeous as well. Able to shine with a very stylied graphic style, somewhere in between pure simplicity and polygonal. Mixed along the very bright colours, amazing amount of detail in the armors and very interesting character designs, Absolver can achieve a very own look, mixed by combining new and old things together.
Absolver is one of those games, that know what they want to be. By ignoring nearly everything that´s unimportant, like a story or weapons, only focusing on the pure melee combat and design, Absolver can achieve one hell of a combat system. Deep customization, mechanics or intense encounters, Absolver has it all, wrapped in a unique artstyle. If it wouldn´t have levels, equipment and such stuff, which are able to destroy any balance, it would probably be the best of these games yet. I had a great time with it and I believe that will be the case for most people, interested in such games.
[A Review Code was provided by Devolver Digital]