Masked warriors learning combos and special moves, dancing effortlessly while wandering the landscape of a fallen civilization – Sloclap’s Absolver has a certain mood to it. The overall aesthetic isn’t realistic but highly stylized when grounded in gritty, real world combat. There’s a world of mystery to explore with masked targets, highly skilled enemies, new moves to learn and schools to start. Perhaps you’ll meet certain Prospects on the path to Absolution, becoming wordless allies in this minimal narrative or sparring partners, learning more about each other in the process of combat. It’s a hell of a premise for sure.
Unfortunately, for the robust combat system that Absolver offers and the unique art-style it bestows to the proceedings, it feels barren most times. The action RPG mechanics in this PvE landscape seem to only really funnel players into PvP, which itself is limited. It’s like For Honor in many ways, eschewing the diverse multiplayer modes for a more customizable fighting system. While it may have a solid base, Absolver feels like it’s started off with so much less despite having so much more potential.
"Battles in Absolver are also about cancelling certain moves, maintaining your stamina, knowing when to dodge and engaging your class-specific ability in certain situations."
The story of Absolver is pretty muted, the atmosphere bordering on dull. The Adal Empire has fallen and the Guides are in charge of training Prospects aka masked students, in the ways of melee combat. Progress far enough through the various trials, which basically means beating some other masked warriors spread across the land, and you’ll become an Absolver. Sounds simple enough but there’s pretty much nothing going on with the story. At times you’ll encounter a Guide who offers some advice. The odd boss fight has a few dialogues. While most games with such minimal narrative usually have a deep lore behind them, if not something else bubbling beneath the surface that’s acknowledged through various winks and nudges, Absolver‘s tale is just bland.
Combat takes place on a 3D space. You’ll lock on to an opponent and have the ability to administer light or heavy attacks to beat them down. There are combos associated with these buttons which can be created through the Combat Deck. Combos are chained together by switching stances of which there are four and it’s possible to seamlessly transition between combos if your Combat Deck is outfitted properly. Creating the right Combat Deck in that regard is tough but battles in Absolver are also about cancelling certain moves, maintaining your stamina, knowing when to dodge and engaging your class-specific ability in certain situations.
Those classes, known better as Styles, have a variety of functions and feed off of different attributes (which you can improve by levelling up). I went with the Khalt style which relied on absorbing enemy attacks to slightly reduce damage and regaining health when counter-attacking. Sounds simple but triggering the ability took an absurdly accurate window of timing. It also didn’t help that AI opponents seemed capable of pulling off the absorption constantly without error. And if you don’t like a certain Style in the beginning, well, you’re kind of stuck with it. The only way to learn a new Style is to join a school and become another player’s pupil, thus granting access to their Combat Deck, or just starting a new game.
"Weapon fighting has its own Combat Deck which could have been cool but that random sword you picked up will break over time. So don’t count on discovering and building up a fun arsenal either."
Sounds like a great way to encourage PvP but it’s downright annoying in PvE to be confined to a single Style that simply isn’t working for you. Furthermore, spend your stat points wisely because there’s currently no way to refund them and go in another direction. Considering how certain Styles benefit from specific stats more, you’re caught in this hilariously ridiculous Catch-22. Let’s not even get started on those players who only realize the importance of dumping all points into certain stats later.
Of course, at this point, you’re probably wondering why I don’t just go online and take advantage of Absolver‘s PvEvP zones where AI enemies and real players alike can battle (or even engage in a few 1v1 duels). The thing is that going online resulted in pretty severe lag, that too for the PvE component where hit registration was heavily delayed. Only by going offline was I able to actually get some responsiveness back in my fights. I’m sure this issue will be addressed later by Sloclap but it’s a huge let-down, especially when the game is so clearly leaning on PvP.
It also doesn’t help that the world of Absolver is so lifeless and bland. NPCs are pretty much the same and barring perhaps the drunken master Jinn Mesca, there’s very little variety in the mini-boss and boss fights. Fighting against numerous AI opponents at once becomes annoying because you’ll whittle one down only for them to suddenly run away and their friends to distract you. Meanwhile, they’re back up to full health once you’re ready to fight them again. Switching between targets during combat can be annoying, especially when you’re being attacked from all sides. At least the NPCs try to counter your tactics, even if that means spamming their Style ability continuously and driving you to the point of insanity.
You can find new gear to equip, learn new moves by either dodging or blocking enemy attacks, and even learn new abilities like healing or summoning a weapon using the Shard system. Alternatively, some weapons can also be picked up. The abilities are interesting but ultimately bland as well. Weapon fighting has its own Combat Deck which could have been cool but that random sword you picked up will break over time. So don’t count on discovering and building up a fun arsenal either.
"For me, Absolver is pretty much just a whole lot wasted potential."
The game is bereft of side quests, reasons to explore the world (which is anyway fairly small) and a real end-game to really sink your teeth into. You can fight tougher versions of past opponents but the real battle will be with other players as you join or start schools to gather more moves. Otherwise, just run around the limited environment and beat on NPCs or other players until you get bored.
There’s plenty to like about Absolver. Once you get the hang of the combat system, fights can become intriguing dances of attacking and counter-play. This highlights the aesthetic even more, especially the animation system and overall visual design (though running at 30 FPS on PS4 with some drops here and there certainly didn’t earn it extra points). Working together with other players and joining their schools to learn new moves sounds awesome in theory. But right now, it feels like Absolver is missing a lot.
The lack of variety in the PvE component, the boring atmosphere which is punctuated by the lack of music and compelling narrative, the irritating AI fights which can become absolute clusters, the sheer stupidity of not being able to change your Style without joining another player’s school, the inability to reallocate stat points – I could go on. And it’s a shame because there is some pretty deep fighting to be had here for those who are willing to put the time in.
As it stands, Absolver is a game that will be heavily reliant on a dedicated community. You may eventually come to the 1v1 duels and find beauty in your perfectly crafted Combat Deck. You may explore the world with some friends and engage in frantic battles. For me, Absolver is pretty much just a whole lot of wasted potential.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
Combat system is fairly strong with tons of customization while the actual fighting mixes strategy with reflexes. Decent visual design coupled with great combat animations. Learning new moves from other players is an interesting idea.
Severe lag when playing online, even without participating in PvP. Inability to change Styles without joining another player's school is asinine as it the inability reallocate stat points. Weapon combat is pretty disposable. World is fairly limited in both size, exploration and compelling content. Lack of variety in AI opponents coupled with a weak storyline. Pretty drab atmosphere overall.