I have been humiliated more by shirtless men in Absolver than I have whenever I go to the beach, but I can’t help but take another roundhouse kick to the face and ask for more. Developers Sloclap have crafted a masochistic martial arts game, one that demands you pick yourself up and dust yourself off until it sticks.
Within Absolver’s first hour, its inspirations are going to start piling up; Dark Souls and For Honor being the most keenly felt, particularly the latter. Just like From Software’s masterful self-flagellation simulator, Absolver doesn’t hold your hand for a second, instead dropping you into a lo-fi, grimly beautiful world with your objective being a simple one: fight everything.
There’s obviously more to Absolver than that, but the scant and rather disappointing “story” makes it clear that it’s the main focus. You take on the role of a Prospect on the quest to become an Absolver, which consists of fighting a few mini-bosses and bosses before acquiring a fancy cloak. There are some fairly well-realised cutscenes and hints of exposition, but it all smacks of acting as little more than a tutorial for PVP, which is a shame.
As simple as its story may be, Absolver’s combat is anything but. Despite first impressions, it’s one of the most complex systems involving punching and kicking I have ever seen in a game and one that’s inherently satisfying to master, or at least convince yourself that you have done so before someone else violently shows you that you still have a lot left to learn. The learning curve is incredibly steep with Absolver and cockiness will result in embarrassment more often than not.
A labyrinthian mix of different areas which feel very much inspired by Soulsborne, Absolver’s world is a lot smaller than it may first appear -owing to how miserly the game is with its map- but it’s going to be a daunting prospect for new Prospects all the same. Regular enemies are around every corner and be more than a handful to deal with on their own, but when there are a few of them, it might be time to seek out a friend.
Absolver’s approach to multiplayer instantly reminded me of Thatgamecompany’s Journey, a wordless shared adventure with the small moments in the story being left to the player to create. It’s a living world full of other players, who you can spar with before eventually (and hopefully) teaming up with each other to explore and improve your skills, all without the aid of conventional chat. I have encountered few games like Absolver with the level of shared respect between its players – out of the hundreds of fights I have cussed my way through, only a handful refused to bow at me before and after the fight. To add to that, even fewer (utter bastards) refused to return my ass after handing it to me with a quick revival. It’s arguably Absolver’s most remarkable achievement, having strangers work together for a common goal.
That common goal is the search for the perfect “Combat Deck”: essentially Absolver’s moves list. The simplest way to think of it is if Street Fighter gave you the hadouken only after plenty of training and progress. These moves on PS4 are assigned to square and triangle, the former being the base attacks and the latter acting as a transitionary move to change the combo and switch things up to other attacks assigned to different directions. How you acquire these moves isn’t immediately obvious, however – I spent about three hours with Absolver before I realised that you learn them through blocking and dodging attacks. The more you avoid getting hit with them, the quicker you are to add them to your own arsenal.
It’s a little dizzying to get to grips with, especially if you’re like me (read: an idiot) and need tutorials and hints dumped on you every ten seconds to feel comfortable. Absolver is a harsh reminder that most modern games condition players to expect hand-holding, so ripping away that comfort blanket might be offputting for some. As much as it might not be part of the natural learning process that Sloclap intended, it’s highly advised that you look up some tips online before you dive in. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration that way.
Rhythm and focus are the keywords when it comes to Absolver’s combat. Again, owing to how alienating its lack of guidance is, I would stumble my way through most early fights with an overwhelming amount of button mashing and blind hope. It wasn’t until I was deep into my most painful streak of losses in PVP that I realised pressing attacks at the right moments leads to better combos and more fluid sequences – how shirtless lunatics were able to hit six times in three seconds suddenly made a lot of sense. Concentration is paramount, though; you have to constantly be aware of what the enemy is lining up to do, your surroundings, and what your next move should be. Fights in Absolver may not last forever, but you’ll likely feel quite mentally drained after just a few of them.
Even with most characters’ faces being covered in masks, Absolver does not lack in the customisation department. Either through stumbling across them, defeating enemies, or making progress in PVP, different outfit options become available and bring RPG-lite elements with them that can drastically change the way you play. The rule is that the heavier your gear is, the better you will be protected but you will also become much slower in the process. It’s a balancing act of speed versus resilience that will likely leave you fiddling until you find a “loadout” that suits.
The endgame content for Absolver mainly consists of move farming, but there’s also the chance of starting your own fight school, which allows you to train other Prospects with your moves. I am some way off getting to that point, but I have joined a school which specialises in the “Stagger” style, one of four which are available. These different styles change the complexion of fights entirely thanks to their special abilities (Absorb seems to be the meta in the game right now), so don’t get too relaxed with your gameplan or you could find yourself getting humiliated.
As a competitive game of such small margins, Absolver needs to be stable at all times – a lesson that For Honor sadly did not learn. Although it’s more competent overall, Sloclap’s small development team unfortunately results in a whole bunch of issues, too. Several times during PVP, I was paired with someone who must be living on the moon, because the ping was beyond atrocious; my attacks wouldn’t register but theirs were just dandy. On PS4, the framerate is also seriously unreliable, staying relatively solid for the game’s quieter moments before it splutters and groans when the screen starts filling up with attackers – not exactly the extra handicap that the player needs.
There’s just a lack of polish in general with Absolver. The camera regularly does whatever it wants, particularly in confined areas, so balancing the camera with the game’s complex combat system sometimes feels like an ordeal. Disappearing enemies, visual glitches, and crashes are all part of the Absolver experience, which contributes towards the vibe of it being rushed out of the door slightly too soon. The lean story experience is one of the biggest suggestions of this, but the lacking PVP modes, training options, and sparse areas indicate that’s also the case.
No multiplayer game can last the distance without regular content updates, and that’s what Sloclap have promised to deliver. As it stands, Absolver is a rough diamond with a strong core that will likely maintain a playerbase, but new content and performance updates will probably have to come soon if they want everybody to stay Kung Fu fighting.
Review code provided
Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.
With more polish and content, Absolver could be one of the best fighting games on the market. As it stands, it it's a captivating work in progress which asks you to overlook plenty of its rough edges.
Gamezeen is a Zeen theme demo site. Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.