Built as a unique melee combat game where players can create their own combos by mixing and matching attacks to create their own flow, Absolver succeeds in creating an enjoyable combat system. With plenty of attack options available, the combat is most certainly the biggest highlight of Absolver, but unfortunately it’s the only thing memorable about it.
Absolver starts with you creating your own fighter. The character creator leaves a lot to be desired. The simple character creator allows you to choose from a few hair styles, your starting fighting style out of the three available, and gender type. As each Absolver wears a mask, there really isn’t any way to make your character completely unique.
Absolver doesn’t really have much of a cohesive storyline. After being selected from a lineup of other students, my created character was giving a mask and sent out into the world to defeat some other Absolvers who have apparently gone rogue. That’s at least what I was able to deduce from the story as there isn’t much narrative to help move it along.
The best way I can explain how Absolver is structured is to look at a Souls game. After the initial opening cutscene, your warrior is thrown into a desolate world left in ruin. Why was this world in this state? I have no idea. Once in the world you can take whichever path you choose to hunt down the unique warriors you need to defeat. As much as I enjoy having that freedom to go and explore the world at my leisure, I wish it had a little more structure; I’ll explain that a little later.
The meat of Absolver comes in its combat. One of the coolest aspects of the game is going in and creating your own combos to best suit your playstyle. Your warrior has four different stances that you can switch between on the fly or mix up your combos to have them switch stances in the middle of your combos.Each stance can have up to three combo moves giving you a total of twelve. I should also mention the plethora of moves for you to learn which can be equipped as your first second or third attack. All in all Absolver has an very impressive amount attacks which allows for a lot of experimentation. It’s not just hand-to-hand combat though, as you can also equip swords and gauntlets to help you out. Further into the game you are able to join schools that will teach you new abilities as well as learning a new fighting style which adds even more diversity and variety to the combat.
As you increase your skills and learn new attacks and abilities, Absolver quickly grows with you. Every enemy you defeat nets you experience points, which after you level up can be used to increase one of your stats like strength and stamina. You also gain equipment loot from fallen foes to equip to your character which also customizes their look.
While the combat is quite addictive and entertaining, it’s not perfect. Remember when I said I wish there was more structure to Absolver? Well, it mostly comes down to knowing how to play the game. Sure you can look at tips to teach you what specific things do but what they don’t tell you is how to learn new attacks. As you fight and defeat your enemies you see icons appear next to your character with attacks that are building up experience before they are mastered.
As I played through Absolver I was building my experience to learn these attacks pretty slowly and it was driving me crazy. What I learned after about six hours into the game is that in order to learn more attacks you have to block unlearned attacks to build your mastery of it before you unlock and use it in your arsenal. If you are defeated during combat all the experience you have obtained of new attacks you lose, meaning you have to win your fight in order to learn the moves you spent most of the fight blocking against. Believe me when I tell you I learned this from an NPC, and something I would have learned much sooner if I had taken the path to this NPC to start with. This goes for almost everything in Absolver as nothing of real importance was explained to me after I started the game.
The other fundamental misstep with Absolver is its constant online connection. As you move around the world you mostly face off against computer-controlled A.I. but on occasion you encounter other players running around doing the same thing you are. At first I thought it was neat to watch someone else face off against other A.I. characters and maybe even go in and help them. I quickly found out just how big a mistake that was. Helping other players take down strong foes can be quite entertaining until of course your attacks start to hit the other player, which believe me can frustrate pretty fast. What made it worse is that after the A.I. controlled enemies are defeated you can simply strike another player and force them into a fight. Sure you can run away from them but if they chase you it won’t really do much help.
I love that the battles between A.I. and player can be so seamless, but it’s also one of the game’s most frustrating features. As you get into it against your will, you are forced to fight players that are much higher and better equipped than you are. This happened to me more times than I would like to count. After suffering defeat after defeat my frustration level reached boiling point; and the reason for that is after you are defeated any other player can come up and revive you. You can of course just choose to respawn at a checkpoint but you have to be faster than the player reviving you.
The boiling point hit me when the person who defeated me would revive me and simply attack me again and again and again. It got to the point where I had to run off a cliff and die in the game just so I wouldn’t be revived again. Thankfully I learned later – through no help of the game itself – that I could go into the social aspect of the game, which is only accessible through a meditation shrine, to switch PVP interaction to invitation only. This was a relief for me but for some reason everytime I turned the game off and came back to it the PVP interactions would revert back to their default settings.
You can also enter a social battle, which automatically puts you into a fight with another player in a closed off arena in a best-out-of-three battle, which I actually enjoyed and had a lot of fun participating in. Seeing how other players fight and learning to counter their attacks is an exhilarating feeling especially when it comes down to the final blows between two players.
Combat is exceptional when it’s a one-on-one affair, but it hardly ever is. Throughout the entirety of Absolver I had to face off against two, three, and sometimes even four opponents at a time. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I could pull off some cool Batman: Arkham style combat but I can’t. In a baffling design choice, Absolver automatically locks onto the first opponent that attacks you, or one that you attack, forcing the camera to mostly follow the locked on opponent. This simply lock on mechanic was a killer for my experience. Because the A.I. is so sophisticated, they surround you and attack all at the same time giving you almost no time or room to counter attack. You can, of course, attack the other opponents but it becomes increasingly hard when you have to fight the lock on camera at the same time.
I very much enjoyed the art direction in the game. Absolver’s graphics in a way reminded me of something used in “Mark of Kri” and “Legend of the Kasai.” It actually looks surprisingly good at least from the environment perspective with some stunning looking locations. The characters and their armor on the other hand is quite simple but still effective and fit well into the desolate world.
Absolver looked like a great premise and in some ways it is. The combat is extremely satisfying when it’s one-on-one, but shows its weakness when facing multiple opponents due to the games auto lock-on system. But the problems don’t end there with severe griefing issues caused by other players and the lack of any real tutorials hurt what could have been a stand out game in 2017.