Initial Release: August 29

Absolver then is both a disappointment and a triumph. It does more for melee combat than any game in recent memory and offers up a challenging yet rewarding gameplay loop. The obtuse level design and the lack of any kind of direction do hamper the experience but there is definitely something special here. Every win feels earned, every loss is a valuable lesson and each encounter spurs you on to the next one.

We’ve come a long way in gaming, over the roughly 30 years we’ve had to perfect the medium, visuals have gotten better, stories more compelling and mechanics more streamlined. Take for instance the DOOM franchise. Comparing the first one to it’s most recent counterpart shows exactly how shooting mechanics in particular have evolved and improved over time. One area which has not seen the same tweaking and refining in games is melee combat. So often it is relegated to an if-all-else-fails hit this button prompt, or offered up as an uninspired, repetitive alternative to simply blowing someone’s face off. Absolver does a lot to remedy this, managing to present a deep, rewarding and intuitive combat system which encourages patience and skill above all else.

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Absolver is a difficult beast to pin down, it’s essentially a third-person martial-arts game with elements of light story and exploration peppered throughout. It is also a massively competitive experience, placing PvP combat at the heart of the experience. The game throws a lot at you from the get-go. It immediately asks you to pick a fighting-style which, with no context or experience with the combat, pretty much ends up being a blind gamble. Each style has its own set of skills and benefits and a lot of experimentation is the key to finding the right one for you. Unfortunately this means starting the game over to try out a new style, either that or you just settle with what you’ve chosen and try to get good. There’s little explanation as to who you are or where you are or even what you are supposed to be doing, you’re just kind of thrust out into the world with a brief tutorial and a mask at your disposal. It’s a shame really because if you percevere, you’ll eventually discover a gameplay loop which is both satisfying and addictive.

Combat is broken up into encounters which are triggered by approaching an enemy. From then it is all about learning your enemy’s move-set and attempting to block, parry and punch your way to victory. You will fail a lot though mind. Absolver is Dark Souls through and through in the way that every fight has the chance of defeating you. What encourages you forwards is the fact that every fight makes you stronger, through a very clever system indeed. You see, block an enemy’s attack and you learn said attack, which in turn gives you more choice in building out your character. This is one area in which the game really thrives. Absolver features a dizzying level of customisation through the use of combat decks, essentially load-outs in which every punch, block and kick can be tweaked to your heart’s content. The result is that every character feels truly unique and personal, right down to the equipment and clothing you can equip.

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The combat is Absolver’s main draw but the visuals are also a reason to stick around. The obtuse, often frustrating world is undoubtedly charming, with a distinctive artstyle which begs the player to explore further. Problem is, the world is incredibly difficult to navigate. You can’t climb, jump or swim, only walk down paths hoping that you’ve not been there before. The lack of a map amplifies this frustration especially seeing as the game is all about tracking down a group of enemies one by one.

It’s this obtuse nature which really ends up holding the game back from being great. The feeling of winning a fight is one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve experience in any game, and the PvP matches are tense chess games of intricate kung-fu action. The lack of direction is a huge problem as it causes the player to fumble through its world, failing over and over again with little to tell them why . There is a very light narrative involving masks which hide emotions and something involving shards but it’s thread-bare at best. I just wish there was more of a reason to stick around besides the excellent combat.

Absolver is an online experience, built to force you to interact with other players in any way you see fit. You can fight, team-up and even train together, imparting moves and skills to each other through sparring. The game features a simple gesture system to let other players know how you are feeling. My best experience with the game involved me and another warrior tackling a barn containing a boss and his goons. After failure after bitter failure, we changed tact, we trained, trading blows and moves, making each other stronger. After over 30 minutes of whittling away at our enemies we finally beat down the boss. The world was quiet again, my partner bowed and then walked away. It’s these moments which  make Absolver unique and is I’m sure what will grow a fervid cult following.

Absolver then is both a disappointment and a triumph. It does more for melee combat than any game in recent memory and offers up a challenging yet rewarding gameplay loop. The obtuse level design and the lack of any kind of direction do hamper the experience but there is definitely something special here. Every win feels earned, every loss is a valuable lesson and each encounter spurs you on to the next.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

We were provided a copy of the game by Devolver Digital for review purposes.

 

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