Absolver reminds me of God Hand (so I need it right now)

Everyone else will say Dark Souls, and they’re also correct

I lucked into my Absolver appointment at E3. I had wanted to see it since I watched the reveal trailer, but Steven Hansen was booked for the appointment. Sure, I questioned the idea of him playing a game that takes inspiration from Dark Souls and God Hand while he was wearing a big ol’ cast for his broken thumb, but I’m the site’s baby.

For some reason that I never later clarified, he asked me to do the appointment. I rushed over to Devolver Digital’s RV extravaganza, and I’m glad I did. Absolver is everything I want it to be so far.

Sitting in a blessedly air-conditioned RV, creative lead of Sloclap Pierre Tarno showed me the ropes while running around as my co-op partner. The world around us was a sun-dappled ruin, which we briefly explored before getting attacked by some jabronis who thought they were tougher than us. The Dark Souls inspiration is immediately apparent by just looking at the UI: red health meter, green stamina meter that depletes when attacking, and item shortcuts on the bottom left. Basic combat also draws from that series, in that you want to be careful when striking to avoid a quick dirt nap.

As happy as I am when games take notes from From Software, what was more exciting to me was how much Absolver seems to have taken (and refined) from Clover’s God Hand. The camera stays zoomed in close to your back, and you can use what’s called a combat deck to craft your own combos. There’s also a satisfying heft to each thrown punch and blocked kick, where realism is thrown out the window in favor of stimulating feedback that just feels right when blows connect.

Adding onto the combat deck, each attack starts and ends in a stance. At any time, you can hold a trigger button to choose which direction you’re facing while fighting. A small diamond appears on the bottom of the screen to help you orient yourself. Instead of making simplistic power combos like in God Hand, you can easily make yourself anything from a balletic bruiser to a tank focused on charge attacks. On top of the satisfaction earned when dancing from stance to stance, the planner in me loves crafting combos and knowing they’re yours. The menu is easily navigable and shows that each move has its own traits: strength, speed, or more interesting qualities such as guard-breaking or the ability to absorb one hit during its windup.

These moves are sometimes found by exploring the world, but they can also be discovered through interacting with other players. Absolver can be played for PvE or PvP, but there are always other humans wandering about in-game. When encountering someone, you can’t initially use voice chat. You can enter a mentor-student relationship or just straight-up fight and become enemies. If you opt to become someone’s pupil, you can spar at any time. By doing so, you can learn their attacks by blocking them during spar sessions and can learn them even faster by parrying them.

Speaking (typing?) of which, parrying is much more engaging here than in similar games. Instead of only using a parry button, you have to hit that button while sizing up your opponent and figuring out what side of you they’re going to attack. You end up spending most of the fight watching their hands and feet, entering a trance-like state trying to defend yourself and counterattack. This gets even more complicated when you add in feinting; by hitting the block button right after any attack, you’ll interrupt your attack and can instantly enter another one, disrupting your opponent’s ability to parry. I felt like hot shit because I was understanding the game relatively quickly, but then Tarno took his kid gloves off and destroyed me with his keen knowledge of feinting. I immediately wanted to be as good as him, which is a big part of Absolver‘s allure.

There are so many other cool things about this game that I want to tinker with more. Flowing attacks, which have a Gears of War active-reload-style meter to time your blows with to fight faster, are incredibly fun to pull off. Scrolls that give you small magic powers (I had a small shockwave that did stamina damage) seem like they could completely change build diversity. The ability to conjure a sword — and other weapons later on — at any time with its own combat deck looks super dang cool. I’m almost mad that there’s no specific release date beyond 2017, because I’m ready for more Absolver right now.

Zack Furniss