Throughout my gaming life I have always been drawn to the fighting genre by default, a result of spending way too much of my schooldays and pocket money on the nearest Street Fighter II and Wrestlefest arcade machines. From Mortal Kombat to Tekken, Final Fight to Streets of Rage, fighting games have a permanent place in my heart. So when something new arrives with the potential to freshen up the genre it will have my attention. Absolver grabbed my attention from its first trailer, and happily the game itself is something very special indeed.
Absolver is certainly something very new and takes a genre I love and know well and gives it a twist many players will not see coming at first. The game is an online shared experience title where the player creates their ‘Prospect’ and is sent into the world in order to survive and learn new fighting styles on their journey to become the coveted Absolver. The character creation suite is very basic with only the options to pick a gender, hair style and hair colour. The reason for this is that all prospects have a mask that covers their face and upon being selected to be the next Prospect, it is seemingly infused with a fighting spirit that will enable the player to start learning new moves and interact with the various fighting schools located around the world.
Each Prospect enters the world with only the basic of fighting moves. As you move around the world, you will meet other prospects, both AI controlled bots and other human players but will come to that side a bit further on. By fighting the player has the opportunity to learn new moves by both guarding and blocking attacks or by dodging or using their fighting style ability. When enemies use attack moves that the player does not know, they will begin to learn these moves the more they are attacked with them. By either keeping that fight going or by repeated encounters with others using those moves against you, the player will fully learn that move and have the ability to add that move to their combat deck. If you should fall in the encounter, anything learned about that move or others will be lost, winning the fight will lock any progression on that move.
The combat deck is the real core strength to Absolver. The real goal to the game is to build and develop the combat deck of your fighter, which is where the learning of new moves comes into play. By entering meditation, players can start to edit their combat deck and change the moves to form new a new combat sequence. There are four stances in top left, top right, bottom left and bottom right. Each move starts in one stance and ends in another allowing for the next move to start and so on. From basic punches and kicks to sweeps and roundhouses to heavy hitting flamboyant attacks, how you build your deck to take not only the increasing difficulty in AI fighters as you explore and rise in level and skill, but also against other players also doing the same as you, creating a powerful deck of moves.
Why this system works so well for me, is that players can really tailor their decks to have a variety of combat styles to what they want. By understanding how moves start and end in different stances allows for a deceptively deep but rich character development. Players are encouraged to go out into the world and battle each and everyone they meet to help build their decks and make a stronger fighter. Tackling higher skilled enemies will help discover and learn new and stronger moves. But players need that understanding of how to build a strong deck, to learn what moves compliment others and how to put them together to enable a strong fighting deck capable of competing against both AI and human players. That will take time as learning new moves and particularly those moves that can pave the way to success.
Which brings me to the shared experience element of the game as Absolver is a fully online game. Though players can freely explore the world which has its own story side to it the more you get into the world, sharing this with other players is an interesting blend of both PvP (players vs player) and PvE (players vs environment) gameplay styles. In this world other human players are introduced into your world as you play and explore and what is interesting, is that it does not always end up in being a fight. Players can choose if they wish, to either engage in battle, to ignore each other or can request to form a partnership and explore the world in a co-op way. Up to three players can link to work together, which allows them to start learning moves from each other and of those they fight. When I first started the game on PS4, the majority of other players I met were friendly with plenty of them using the emote system to show respect by bowing or even just helping out if an encounter with AI bots proved overwhelming.
But soon I began to encounter some high lever players who would position themselves in areas where lower levelled players would naturally come to and simply attack them, overwhelming them with their stronger combat decks even if that other player had neither initiated the fight or showed a lack of interest by moving away or using the emotes to show they did not want to fight. This can really be annoying and though it is not strictly against the spirit of the game, it is a little cheap and can be very frustrating at times. But happily I can say that these instances are few and far between but highly noticeable when they do happen.
Other annoyances for me happen when the game detects that a new human player has joined the world as the world will visibly stutter for a few seconds if one or more new players venture into the area around you, but hopefully future updates can address that. My biggest issue with the game currently are AI bots. When you move around an area you will see certain spaces where AI bots will always be, handy if you want to farm new moves. AI bots can be on their own, with a friend or at worst you can encounter up to three or four AI bots at a time who will instantly fight you the moment you engage them. This can often lead to fun fights but on occasion and something I noticed quite often, they will often break away from the fight if you have moved it away from where they started. They will stop the fight and run back to that area, forgetting you unless you follow them and the fight can carry on. Also at times I noticed some AI will literally disappear during the fight only to respawn will full health and start the fight again, which is very frustrating and hopefully will be fixed in an update.
Absolver is a genuine fresh take on the fighting genre. It is visually stunning with its water paint art style and carefully detailed animation depending on which fighting style you choose to adopt of each move. The world is vibrate and the online servers are very stable and as yet I have not suffered from any disconnections from them. I would not say that Absolver is a pick up and play title unless you are familiar with fighting games and have the patience to work on building the combat deck and then to learn how that deck can be forged to create a good fighter which can take time. This game will require patience and time to really delve inside it but it is worth it. This is certainly one of those special titles that deserve attention and if like me, you are a fan of fighting games, Absolver takes it to a new level but it is a niche game.
This is a visually beautiful game and one with perhaps the deepest most immersive fighting systems this genre has seen that the developer SloClap is to be commended for its ambition. The niggles I mentioned can be worked out and with the option of having more than one fighter to work on and the fighting school system for high level players means there is always a reason to return to this world and always something new to learn and master.