I have a confession to make. As amazing as this year has been for games, I haven't really played many of this year's titles. Both money and my ever present backlog have been factors, not to mention that stupid education thing I decided to keep doing. Go ahead, laugh!
Even so, I've played a few 2017 games. Shoutouts to Kingdom Hearts 2.8, Slain! and Trails in the Sky 3rd Chapter. But as much fun as those games were, I feel like the GOTY title demands something special. Enter Absolver.
I got the impression from pre-release information that this would be a fighting game using elements from Dark Souls and God Hand. If you ever need an expressway into my heart, that'd be it.
And as fate would have it, that's exactly what I got. They didn't steal all elements from those games, but they took the ones that would have a home in a fighting game.
I've heard people lament that the game isn't just Dark Souls with a kung-fu skin over it. I understand the appeal of that, but this is a budget title and we already have a bunch Souls-games, plus a whole lot of close clones, so just picking a few things leaves the game more room for its own identity.
And that identity is very cool. If there's one word I can use to describe Absolver, it's refinement. It works on many levels. The story is minimalist and encapsulates philosophies used in martial arts that encourage self-improvement. A good fit for a fighting game where you can build your own movesets and where you're constantly working to match and surpass your opponents.
As detailed here, that was one my favorite things about my experience with Dark Souls 2. It was so fun to change up builds as the game got patched and DLC released.
Absolver doesn't replicate the experience exactly, as there hasn't been any new moves released yet, nor have there been gigantic balance changes made. I blame the latter on the game being rather balanced to begin with, looking at you, Dark Souls PVP.
But it still manages to evoke similar feelings, as the game lets you craft a complex combat deck of moves to your liking.With there being so many ways to build a deck, it's a constant battle to learn what fits together and how you need to defend against popular decks.
And even in battle, you still have to acclimate yourself to every opponent's deck and find its weakness. I love the intended flow of a duel, where you're expected to defend, learn openings, counter and also keep the opponent from learning by using fake-outs and alternate attacks. And even if you get stomped (like I often do), you can do a rematch and inch ever closer to beating a difficult opponent. Once you do, it feels amazing.
Hell, even the development fits. The game has gotten loads of free updates which include bugfixes, new mechanics and new masks. They even added loot boxes that you can only get by playing!
Normally, I wouldn't even touch a fighting game, since I haven't seen a ”proper” one that I'd like to play due to their complexity. The closest I've gotten is Digimon Rumble Arena and Dark Souls 2. And let me tell you, those games do not have enough depth for great fights.
Thankfully, Absolver stands between those games and regular fighting games. The control scheme is easy to use, but absurdly hard to master. A deck is separated into 4 quadrants where a string of moves reside. The idea is to construct a deck that lets you swap between quadrants, so you can chain moves properly. Every quadrant also has an alternate move that you can use to change up the flow of the fight.
And to even get moves, you need to defend against them in battle, reinforcing the idea of learning and improving. I'm not that good, but I can still jump in and get a good fight if I want. I can also get pulverized by demi-gods of calculated parries, so there's that.
The game has been marred with bugs, but unlike certain other developers, Sloclap have been excellent at providing support. Not everything is fixed yet but I believe in this team.
They love martial arts and made a great game to prove it on what I assume is a minimal budget. They've gone on record and said that the game will not feature microtransactions and that there won't be paid DLC for quite a while. I assume it will come after they've implemented more core updates. That dedication and love deserves tribute.
Which is why Absolver is my game of 2017.
Still, you better fix the matchmaking and maybe add a proper dropkick Sloclap, lest my faith in you be missplaced.