Hands on: ‘Absolver’

Silence is golden: Fighting game offers some welcome complexity, subtlety

Absolver is a game shrouded in mystery. It’s a bit different, tucked away behind the Serious Sam and Enter the Gungeon franchises that make up Devolver Digital’s usual fare. Instead, gamers will find a fighting game that rewards patience, memory, and staying two steps ahead of your opponent.

This complex, yet subtle, fighting game fits into a unique world with an interesting story, but it’s what’s left unsaid that sets the tone for the whole experience.

A world not unlike our own

Before we get to the punching and kicking, it’s worth taking a look at the gorgeous and chilling world that the developer, Sloclap, has created. It’s a bit hard to describe, so I’ll let the team do it.

Absolver is an online multiplayer combat RPG where players are placed behind the mask of a Prospect under control of the Guides, the new rulers of the fallen Adal Empire, who have placed you here to determine your worth in joining their elite corps of Absolvers.”

A game that’s tense, then explosive, then back to tense again.

The world-building and art style are both refreshing changes from the hyper-realistic games we’ve been seeing a lot of lately. Broad strokes and familiar, earthy colors make up the bulk of the garb and environment, although even in our short demo there were forests and mountainous skylines to peer over.

All this appears to the player as a romanticized painting of what once was a great civilization. While some major structures and landscapes remain, what’s left is a crumbled ruins, where nature has begun to take back its claim.

The world still has its inhabitants, however, many eager to fight. Some of them are NPCs, while others are real people, friends and enemies that stray into your game, or you into theirs. This is not an MMO — it has distinct maps to choose from that are either PvE or PvP — but either way, you’ll be fighting someone.

Silent but deadly

The fighting mechanic appears simple at first, but slowly becomes more complex, even in less than an hour of playing. You have a light attack, heavy attack, guard, and dash, but each attack feels very distinct, and purposeful — even the lightest jab. It’s not just about your attacks, though. It’s about carefully watching your opponent for the first signs of a move, and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Absolver---Screen-5

I was pitted against a developer, who seemed to know what I was going to do a full minute before I did. After I grew accustomed to the pace of the game, I began using feints to trick him into thinking I was being predictable, and I even managed to land a few good hits. The developer and I teamed up, too. While we had to be wary of hitting each other by accident, we were able to take on larger groups of opponents, in coordinated attacks.

It’s definitely a game that’s tense, then explosive, then back to tense again. Part of the reason for that is the combo system, which is truly a departure from other fighting games.

Combo breaker

What makes Absolver’s combo system so unique is its combination of a customizable attack deck with four stances. Attacks have different qualities, like breaking your opponent’s guard, or jumping over low attacks, and they can be lined up and rearranged, allowing you to navigate a chain of light and heavy attacks for specific purposes.

But it doesn’t stop there. Moves can also transition you to one of the other three stances, causing you to face your opponent a different way, and changing the order and nature of your combo. While only a few attacks are available at the outset, players can unlock new moves and more slots in each stance by finding them as loot, or through a mentor-student system which allows friends to spar and teach each other skills. You can even learn them over time by fighting other people who use them.

Swordplay

Before the demo was over, Sloclap had one last trick up its sleeve – swords. Not clumsy broadswords or massive buster swords, but short, thoughtful blades. We picked up right where we left off, clanging and dashing around, with the same combo and attack deck system that hand-to-hand combat is built around.

Absolver---Screen-1

You’ll be able to find and upgrade weapons just like your abilities, but there’s a catch. A weapon is dangerous, and is likely to make you a target, especially in a world mostly comprised of capable punchers and kickers. A sword or staff is an advantage, but bare hand opponents are still a threat. Your weapon can be disarmed and even stolen from you by other players, so if you pull out a weapon, make sure to finish the job.

Conclusion

While there are obviously some deeper currents running through Absolver’s story, it’s the relative silence of the battlefield that’s so striking. Unlike games with exploding helicopters and massive action sequences, Absolver is quiet, but deadly in the right hands.

Absolver is summed up well by a single moment in the trailer. One masked character delivers a devastating roundhouse kick square to another’s face, sending him spilling to the ground. A few moments later, that same fighter extends their hand to help them up. It’s fun to beat up your friends, but it’s even more fun to take them along with you. You’ll be able to when the game releases in 2017 for PC and PlayStation.

Highs

  • Beautiful art style
  • Build your own combo mechanic
  • Satisfying, thoughtful combat

Lows

  • Unforgiving gameplay
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