September 03, 2017
Absolver - Review
The mystical province of Adal is the stage that Absolver sets itself up upon, and while it is a small stage it is undeniably picturesque, from crumbling ruins to lush forest areas all the way through to the ominous tower spanning high above the map. While not setting any records for graphical prowess you would be hard pressed to deny that Absolver is a pretty game, not exactly realistic looking it has the kind of "water colour" art style you would find in a good children's book. Speaking of stories there really isn't much of one to be found here and the "plot" is pushed forward by sparse text conversations as you progress through the first part of the game which also serves as a tutorial of sorts, though it is quite lacking in explaining the complexities of the control system and the game in general.
The real shining jewel here is the fighting system and what a jewel it is! It's a system that is easy to pick up but highly complex to master, button mashing might get you through the early parts of the game but you will soon realise that this approach is futile in the later parts of the game and against other players. When creating your character in Absolver you have 3 schools of combat to choose from. Windfall revolves around evading attacks using the left thumbstick, Forsaken which revolves around timing and parrying opponents attacks and Kahit which see you trying to absorb your enemies attacks. The fourth school is Stagger which is only unlocked by defeating the games final boss Jinn Mesca. Whilst the choice of a combat school gives you a base to build your fighting style around this is certainly not the end of the character customisation, as you travel through the game and fight opponents (even other player controlled ones) you will start to learn their moves, this does take a while and is quite grindy but I find this mechanic works quite well. Once learned moves are added to your combat deck and you can then use them in one of the four relevant stances that your fighter has.
The combat deck is a great idea and really brings a certain sense of strategy to the game especially where PVP is concerned as no two fighters will be identical which makes every encounter a learning experience in more ways than one especially since you can learn moves off your opponent. The fighting mechanics themselves are controlled by using the X button for attack and the Y button for alternate attack, which will also change you into a new stance. You can flip between any of the four available stances at any time by using the R2 button and block incoming attacks using L2. Attacking and blocking reduce stamina so you will need to keep a close eye on that. Combos are strung to together by timed presses of the X button and depending on how you have your combat deck configured you can automatically flip through multiple difference stances just by the use of the one button. You will also receive powers as you level up which are assigned to the D pad these range from being able to heal yourself through to being able to stun enemies, you will also find weapons scattered randomly about the landscape as you progress (weapons have a separate combat deck of their own) and these can also be used to defeat opponents, be wary though as weapons can break if used to attack or block too many times. Upgrades to equipment can be obtained by defeating opponents and in certain areas of the map and these will give you bonuses to some stats and also hinder others, this adds a lot of depth to the game and almost makes it feel like an RPG as you will need to find what gear best suits your combat style and work towards obtaining the required pieces.
The animations while fighting are really quite incredible and at times I was taken back to the days I used to watch old Kung Fu flicks. Patience and timing are really key in some of the later battles and you will need to carefully watch what your opponent is doing in order to find and create openings in order to defeat them. The developers do recommend the game is played with a controller and I used an Xbox 360 controller for most of this review, I did play with mouse and keyboard for an hour or two and while this made the game feel very different I did not feel hindered using this method.
The single player campaign comes in at around 4-6 hours and basically revolves around you fighting your way through several bosses and mini bosses and activating shrines (waypoints) along the way until you reach the Grandmaster, once defeated you are basically told to wait until your services are needed again, I wasn't expecting a huge cut scene because really that's not what this game is all about but simply receiving a quick text bubble that you have completed the game felt a bit disappointing to me. If you are looking for a single player game then you will probably feel quite cheated by the length and ending of Absolver but that would be because that is not where the game's strengths lie. To me the campaign seems more like it was designed to give you a little bit of information about the world you are playing in and help you settle into the game, picking up some moves and testing out your combat decks along the way.
One thing that really did frustrate me is the inadequate map system in the game, you are shown a map on walls at various points in the game that show your relation to the game's bosses but there is no actual map you can pull up whilst out fighting and exploring, this lead to a lot of wandering around blindly through the same areas until I found what direction I was meant to travel to progress. Other players can randomly drop in and out of your game along the way (think Dark Souls) and you can either decide to help each other or duke it out to see who the better combat prowess. This is great in theory but during my playtime whenever I encountered other players the lag caused the game to become unplayable and teleporting and rubber banding became common practice. I am sure this is most likely just a launch issue and that the net code will be fixed, it would be a shame if it isn't since the meat of the game is designed around multiplayer. You can set the game to be played offline if you do not wish to encounter other players on your journey, and this is the way I had to play the game due to the game breaking lag issues, there are also 1v1 arena matches that you can participate in but I found at present (and most likely due to me being in Australia) that these matches suffered from the same issues.
If Karateka and Way Of The Exploding Fist decided to have a baby and then orphaned it out and the foster parents were Dark Souls then that baby would be named Absolver. It is technically very well executed in art style and mechanics, its soundtrack is also amazing. If you are looking for a single player game with longevity then Absolver probably isn't for you, however considering the low price of entry if you do go into the game knowing it is short there is still a wonderfully unique and fun experience to be had here in single player mode. I really can't wait to see where the developers go with this game in the future, the world of Adal is an intriguing stage and it would be great to see its lore further revealed and expanded.
Thanks to Devolver Digital for supplying the game for review