Review: Absolver


All fists and fury

Absolver is full of crumbling buildings and eager combatants. There's little in its world that speaks of hope. Any sign of progress, of rebuilding and moving forward, is buried under the rubble of a society that's already forgotten. The only escape is through combat. Would-be warriors begin humbly as Prospects, keen to embark on the journey towards martial arts expertise. It's a difficult path to walk, but the reward -- the title of Absolver -- is all that anyone has to make sense of the world.

Defining Absolver is hard. It's a combat-oriented game that blends robust and fluid melee strikes with online multiplayer interactions. But it's neither massive nor sweeping as its multiplayer elements might imply. Absolver is modest by design. Its focus lies in combat encounters rather than the large, listless scope of a huge, persistent online experience. 

Absolver (PC [reviewed], PS4)
Developer: Sloclap
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: August 29, 2017
MSRP: $29.99

And that notion of modesty is both a blessing and a curse. Absolver often feels reserved compared to the din of other action games. From the moment that players begin their journey as a Prospect, there's little to distract them from their combat pursuits. You are not some intrepid adventurer seeking to understand the people and sights that spill out before you. Instead, you are a dedicated student. Every enemy you encounter is a test designed to challenge your skills. Each move that you learn is a completed chapter on the journey to graduation. Earning the rank of Absolver is that hard-earned diploma. 

Absolver's narrow scope means that it's a game with a singular vision. At times it feels as though it's destined to appeal to a niche audience; those that value the pursuit of pitched combat and an evolving roster of techniques without the baggage of an open-world RPG or fantasy MMORPG. To some, it will click. Others might be turned off, wondering what -- if anything -- is missing.

There's no shortage of combat in Absolver. After creating a character, players join one of three main combat schools and gain access to a few basic combos and a "class-based" skill. For example, students of the Windfall school are elegant combatants. They spin and dodge around enemies, opting for fast, dexterous strikes that flow from one attack to the next. There are two main types of attacks: single, "traditional" moves which are easily linked together and alternative strikes, which alter your fighting stance and often stagger enemies.

Expect to spend a decent amount of time getting comfortable with Absolver's combat system. There's a lot to take in at first. In addition to the basic attacks of each school, positioning plays an integral role in both and offensive and defensive situations. There are four positions, each with a unique combat chain. Executing moves is simple enough in theory, but learning to time strikes and rotate stances requires patience and practice. 

Of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Masked enemies litter Absolver's environments, many of whom have access to attacks that you can learn by either blocking, parrying, or dodging them. Once learned, you're able to add them to your character's repertoire, swapping out attacks to create a custom-tailored moveset. Each new move marks a bit of personal progress that's both palpable and rewarding. Unleashing a fearsome back kick -- one that took you out a handful of times just hours before -- and seeing it chip away at an enemy's health is a special kind of satisfaction. 

Satisfaction and feedback are important elements of Absolver. Fights are an intimate affair, a battle of wits and combat know-how. Successful attacks land with a weighty thud and present small openings for extended combos. There's a certain smoothness to Absolver's animations that make you feel like a champion when you topple enemies that's as rewarding as any other fighting game in recent memory.

But playing Absolver can also be immensely frustrating. Being on the receiving end of an enemy's endless strikes is disheartening. For as personal as the game's one-on-one battles can be -- both against NPC bosses and other players -- it's all too common to be outnumbered by multiple assailants. Compared to the relative purity of a single encounter, many of the game's PvE fights feel as though they include extra enemies as a way to stymie progress and lengthen your quest towards absolution. It's jarring at best and terribly unfair at worst. Your best bet is to seek out another player in the zone (Absolver uses an instanced world system that allows other player-controlled characters to show up in your game) and recruit them to your cause.

If you manage to overcome the challenges thrown at you and attain the title of Absolver, the game takes on a more PvP-focused direction. Though you can still wander around the world and tackle AI-controlled enemies -- even toppling bosses with remixed moves and behaviors -- I think it's safe to assume that most players will spar against one another. To unlock some of the game's features, like the ability to create your own combat school, you'll have to rank up through PvP matches. Though NPC enemies are a challenge in their own right, they're hardly a warm up for the breadth of a human player's combat deck. Absolver's high-level play is sure to be a thing of beauty to watch, but a tragic experience to anyone who stumbles into PvP matches.

More than anything else, Absolver is a game about grit. There will be times when you are defeated. You will get your ass kicked handily, repeatedly, and disparagingly. The same foe will trounce you two, three, or four times in a row and it will feel staggeringly unfair. But the trick is learning that rushing back, fists raised and ready for a fight only breeds bad habits. It's a grit that requires patience and foresight as much as much it necessitates an iron will. Absolver, through its relentless combat, reinforces the notion that frustration inevitably gets you nowhere. It's only through trial and repetition that your timed strikes and methodical blows will land. 

Absolver's sure to be divisive. There's a clear vision that shines throughout the game. Its combat system encourages a granular knowledge of the different moves and potential combos that stem from each directional stance. But while the appeal will be apparent to the competitive-minded player, Absolver's pointed focus is complex enough to turn others away. The journey from lowly Prospect to Absolver is arduous and challenging, but it's hardly inviting.

[This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Absolver reviewed by Ray Porreca



Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide


Ray Porreca
Ray PorrecaContributor   gamer profile

Kane & Lynch 2 forever. more + disclosures



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