Absolver is both a bold and fresh take on the fighting game genre, which is due to its intricate fighting mechanics and enriching customisable fighting styles. The slick and punishing real-time combat offers something for both newbie and veterans of the fighting genre and plays out in a stunning world that just doesn’t quite feel alive…yet.
You play as a prospect, someone who is looking to prove themselves worthy in the field of combat and join the elite corps known as the Absolvers. The Spartan inspired story will only take you a few hours to play through and really doesn’t offer much of a challenge along the way. It wasn’t the length of the story that had me frustrated, or even the lack of challenge it offered – more the absence of lore and history of what seems a very interesting setting.
Absolver plays out in the lands of Adal, a fallen city that is scattered with historic ruins being consumed by luscious vegetation. There’s no denying just gorgeous the game looks, but other than offering some eye-candy between combat, the intriguing world of Adal is just for show. I would have love to have some form of lore about this wondrous world, whether that be text journals or NPC narrative, but there’s just nothing.
Where Absolver really starts putting some weight behind its punches is in both the combat and exploration. The map of Adal is mostly open-world, well as open world as Destiny, where narrow pathways usher you to mini open world sections. This design works very well with the gameplay of Absolver, which is mostly down to the absence of a mini map, encouraging you to search the labyrinthian landscapes of the fallen empire.
Now on to the real meat on Absolver’s bones; the combat. Absolver is pound-for-pound the most interesting fighting game I’ve ever played. When starting out you’ll choose from one of three different fighting styles, and while the do offer differences, they are best seen as seeds to start growing your own fighting style tree from – and with the ability to learn any fighting move you see in the game, that tree can get pretty big.
The ability to consume the plethora of different moves throughout the game is done by blocking or dodging an enemies attack. Building out your skill set is a time-consuming task, with some moves taking several hours to fully learn, but the reward is worth it. The actual combat in absolver requires you to remember a sequence of moves that are linked to different command buttons, and with 4 different stances, all with their own skill sets, there’s a lot of ownership on you taking time to see what stance skill sets link together.
The game does feature a practice arena, but I found the groups of NPC’s scattered throughout Adal the best place to hone my skills and understanding of my current equipped skill set – all in preparation for battles in the tense 1v1 online matches. Unfortunately if your not a fan of online play then after the short story, there’s little to do. Also, a lot of Absolvers content in locked behind your online level. For example, the bosses you face earlier in the game are available to fight again at a higher level, but only once you’ve reached a specific combat trials level. Being a fan of online play I didn’t find this an issue but if you’re picking Absolver up for a single player experience then you may end up hitting a wall.
With that said, the online matches are a lot of fun. Although all your items carry over into the matches, they are well balanced. Later in the game, I found myself fighting a level 3 player while I was a level 45 player, and other than the gameplay experience there was little difference between the damage output and dexterity of the prospects.
The growth of your prospect doesn’t finish at the in-depth combat systems – how you fight also come down to the abilities you choose and items you equip. The heavier items will provide you with more protections against weapons but slow your speed, while the lighter items offer a lot more agility in combat but leave you vulnerable to heavy and powerful attacks. You’ll also be given skill points to spend as you level up but be warned, once you have chosen to spend them on a skill they cannot be removed.
Another area where Absolver shines is just how well it integrates the multiplayer with the single-player experience. While adventuring through the ruins of Adal you’ll come across other prospects, all of whom you have the choice to either team up with or challenge to a brawl. Joining up with another player simply takes a matter of seconds and is well worth it as you’ll level up your skill set quicker and earn extra XP. I haven’t played a lot in coop but what I have played was a lot of fun.
At times Absolver almost feels like an early access game, so far I put in around 18 hours of gameplay and experience a few crashes, especially in the practice arena. I have also had some frame rate hiccups and hilarious bugs where NPC’s have run at me naked. It has to be said these glitches have only happened on a few occasions and I’m confident they’ll be patch pretty soon, but they do exist.
In many ways, Absolver reminds me a lot of Vanilla Destiny; offering brilliant gameplay and setting the foundations for a brilliant game to be built upon. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a fighting game this much despite the games early access feel. Although the stunning lands of Adal fail to breathe any life, they do offer an environment I loved exploring, and with the release of additional content, I look forward to returning to these lands.