Absolver (Playstation 4 Review)
Oscar Wilde said that if you give a man a mask, he will tell you the truth, but nobody ever said the truth would be delivered by a sharp elbow to the jaw. Hiding your face from the opposition not only hides the jitters of anticipation as you collide, but allows the user to focus their personality into what really matters, their own fighting style. And imbuing your own personality into your fighter is exactly what Absolver is all about.
As a prospect, we start weak and inexperienced. Only through travelling the lands of Adal and fighting its Marked Ones will we be able to become an Absolver. So, we set off to explore the lands and learn the art of fighting. And that’s about it for Absolver’s story. You go to this land, you fight some folk, and you learn new martial arts while progressing towards the inevitable goal of becoming an Absolver. Along the way you’re more than likely stumble on a few comrades that give you snippets of guidance, but the experience is largely focussed on honing your skills and fighting off the increasing hordes of other prospects.
And even without a story, Absolver is still truly gripping. Playing out like an action RPG, you’ll amass experience and slowly level up different traits to support your chosen Style, of which there are 3. Each of the Styles has its own unique ability. The Forsaken are your typical balanced type and their key ability is a parry, which will negate incoming attacks and allow for a free follow-up. Then there are those that follow the Kahlt Style. Kahlts are tank types, absorbing specific attacks at the cost of their own health in an attempt to deal twice as much damage back. And finally you have the Windfall style, my personal favourite. Windfall allows you to dodge, duck, or even hop over attacks and is by far the most energetic and animated of the styles with a primary focus on dexterity. There is also a secret fourth style reserved for those who complete Absolver and locate the hidden shrine within the world.
But, no matter what Style you adopt, you will eventually gain access to every attack in the game, all it takes is persistence. Attacks in Absolver are bound to one of two face buttons on your controller and link in elaborate fashions through Absolver’s stance mechanic. Within Absolver’s stance mechanic is where you’ll really find the meat of constructing your moveset; it’s not enough to simply fire in all the best moves in to your open slots. You’ll need to consider the flow of your attacks, with some allowing you to switch between the 4 different stances in the stance diamond. It’s great fun combining moves and figuring out the perfect chain as well as paths to open up tricky opponents, and that’s before you really burrow down into the feinting aspect.
There is so much depth to Absolver’s combat that it could be easily overlooked, but time within the training mode is vital as well as a keen eye for stats. I personally favoured speed and light-footedness as the core of my style. This meant that, when I was choosing attacks to add to my combat deck, I was required to identify what scaled well with both dexterity and speed. My combat deck would go on to shape how I invested my points from levelling up as well as my armour. Which inadvertently had me following Muhammad Ali’s iconic phrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” with my lightweight armour with high cut rating. With perfect timing, I eventually boiled down my moveset to short sharp strikes that would bait and pester my opponent. Then, when the time is right, I could use one of the attacks with additional block damage to break their guard.
Even when you are at the mercy of a beating like the ones I delivered on hapless newcomers, the scenery is a delight. Each area is totally different from the last, with abandoned temples, forest hideaways, and even a coliseum there are plenty of scenic views to act as the backdrop to your own epic fights.
And the fights are epic, rest assured. Tense battles fought on bridges can be shared with passers-by or instigated by them. This is largely due to the way Absolver works, allowing players to pick a fight with you or even aid you through the emote dial. At times, this can be unbelievably frustrating, with advantageous trolls ambushing you while you fight the A.I. controlled enemies. Thankfully, the bonds forged in the heat of combat are truly the strongest. Absolver often stacks the odds against you, with groups of up to 5 preparing to ambush you. I was extremely lucky to have other Prospects lend a helping hand early doors as I came to grips with the controls. I would bow in appreciation as they jumped in and eliminated a few nuisances, receiving a request to partner up to continue on our journey together. It’s just a shame that such an amazing and interesting feature suffers at the hands of connectivity issues. Despite the almost fluent passing of players in the world, there are a whole load of lag spikes that will really interrupt the flow of combat.
Fortunately, these issues don’t seem to occur in the online 1v1 section of Absolver, as if they did, it would truly ruin the experience. For those who have explored the entire world, which is a fairly menial feat considering how small it is, there is an online versus mode that puts players against each other in a battle until one concedes. Even though the rounds are first to 3, the ability to rematch is endless. It’s like the prolonged battles of a martial arts movie as each competitor adapts and comes back stronger every time. The online is great fun and the unique stages you fight on and perfect captions of the different areas you might find yourself in within the open world section of Absolver.
Without any connection issues, Absolver sings as one of the most promising indie titles this year. There is so much to do and the variety of different attacks on display is astounding; it might take some time to unlock them by fighting others, but it is time well invested. It might only have 3 basic Styles, but you can make the complex and pay homage to some of your favourite martial artists with a variety of form defining attacks, like massive flying knees, low sweeps, or spinning backfists.