My interest in fighting games has never extended past the 2 am dorm room tournaments of Mortal Kombat X I participated in during college. I never understood the appeal of memorizing countless combos, nor the time investment required to master a fighter. To say I had low expectations for Absolver would be an understatement. So when I found my first session of Absolver lasting three hours, I realized it was able to hold my interest in ways traditional fighters weren’t.
Absolver’s premise is that of warrior recruits looking to join The Absolver Peacekeepers who protect the realm of Adal. The only way for players to prove their worth is through various combat challenges that involve lots and lots of fighting. The game features action RPG mechanics within the framework of an open world fighter.
After picking one of four fighter classes, each with its own unique ability, players need to master four fighting stances. Each stance has its own corresponding attacks that can be assigned. The player learns new attacks from blocking and dodging enemy attacks, thus absorbing them. Once learned, the player can edit their fight deck which is a list of moves they have unlocked for one of their stances. Combat feels very much like a dance, as the finesse comes from stringing together strikes, changing stances, blocking, and dodging, rather than intricate button combos and juggles. This remedied my disdain of most fighter’s mechanics, as the time-consuming nature of mastering a character’s moves must be replicated when selecting another fighter. In Absolver, you craft a combat style that is all your own in the moves you select, removing the time investment of mastering another character.
Absolver’s structure is truly unique as the player is free to roam in the game’s world, broken up into several unique biomes featuring distinctive environments. Biomes are both PVE and PVP, as the world is populated with NPCs that will attack on-sight, as well as hosting up to three other player characters. Ideally, the player would grind by fighting NPCs to earn experience to level up and unlock new abilities before tackling either a boss fight or PVP encounter.
It’s this mix of PVP and PVE that had me more invested than I usually am with fighters, as I was able to take my time to master my character’s fight deck with PVE before tackling the player battles. Exploring the biomes also gives Absolver a more involved story mode, where traditional fighters story modes are regular fights broken up with cutscenes. Even if it’s a shame that the environments are as scarce as they are, they serve as a gorgeous backdrop to the watercolor painting aesthetic, which further helps distinguish Absolver’s uniqueness.
My biggest problem with Absolver is the frequency with which the game throws mobs of enemies at you within close quarters. Some fights quickly become unmanageable, given the frequency with which you bump into parts of the environment or struggle to lock on to the right enemy of bigger groups. This required retreating and luring away enemies from big groups to make these fights more manageable, and was a detriment to the flow of combat that I was usually enjoying. When combat was manageable, the fluidity of switching between enemies, unleashing a few hits, before blocking or dash dodging an incoming blow was satisfying and responsive.
Now the game’s multiplayer portion, in theory, presents interactions with other players as tense and foreboding, given that you never know if another player will attack or aide you. In practice, I never experienced anything other than frustration at being blindsided when I was in the middle of another fight. There are ways to turn off this feature, as you can join multiplayer duels or bar other players from joining your server, but for early adopters (me) who aren’t aware, this can be a nuisance. Granted, after I had become accustomed to the mechanics and leveled up a substantial amount, I was better prepared for dueling with other players and welcomed it.
While Absolver surpassed my expectations, the player’s overall enjoyment from this will more than likely stem from its multiplayer portion. It is always somewhat precarious to invest any amount of time into a multiplayer game that may not have the most stable player base and which threatens its longevity. While I did engage in several fights against other players, I can’t speak to the late game multiplayer elements or how active the player base is. Absolver feels like the first steps towards the next evolution of the fighting genre. The lack of substance and story in its world is a disappointment given its grand potential. Though by crafting a seamless open world and fluid, waltz-like combat, it has resulted in a fighter experience unlike any other.