I don’t like when people use “like Dark Souls” to describe a game that’s shows any hint of a higher difficulty or learning curve; it’s lazy and overused. But in the case of developer Sloclaps’ Absolver, well, it’s like Dark Souls. Kind of. It’s actually hard to clarify exactly what Absolver is in one simple sentence — trust me, I’ve tried several times. It’s a little bit Dark Souls and a little bit For Honor, but delivers a whole lot of uniqueness. Ultimately, Absolver‘s greatness is grounded in its inspired foundation that launches into an ambitious, nuanced, and tactical gameplay experience that is rewarding not only to master, but also to learn. The premise of Absolver is a fairly simple one: you are a martial arts novice venturing through the ruined kingdom of Adal, chasing after the prospect of becoming an Absolver. The realm of Adal itself isn’t colossally large, but it is varied with its lush green forests, crumbling citadels, and decaying villages, all shown through a visual style akin to a beautiful water painting rather than your traditional video game’s realism aesthetic. Much like Bruce Lee’s film The Game of Death, the main objective in the title is to become strong enough to climb the interior of the Tower of Adal and face the final challenge that awaits at its top. There is a story here that is told through ambiguous friendly NPCs, snippets of dialogue, mini bosses, and the environment itself, but to a great extent, it’s mostly interpretive. However, it’s not so much the battlefield or the vague tale that breathes so much life into this game, but the battles themselves. Absolver‘s core gameplay and combat system is a nearly completely customisable experience that, like an onion, possesses numerous layers and factors that affect one another. When you start the game, you’ll be prompted to choose a style for your character, which will dictate your main way of avoiding damage. (As you can imagine, this is very important.) The Kahlt stance will give you damage absorption for a short time, Windfall gifts you the skill to avoid attacks, and my personal favourite style Forsaken lets you parry attacks, halting incoming barrages and gifting you with a brief window to counterattack. The options for choice don’t end there though, as Absolver allows you to pick and choose every kick, punch, elbow, or knee you throw — and in what order. Additionally, these strikes also change what stance you are in, allowing you to string differing blows between the four stances you have at your disposal. Think For Honor‘s block system, except it’s entirely offensive. On top of this, Absolver also has RPG elements players must constantly balance, including statistics such as strength, dexterity, and health, each of which all boost their respective factors. You even have to manage your equipment. Equipment (which is basically armour) plays in Absolver similar to a game like that ubiquitous Dark Souls, with each item carrying a blunt and cut damage modifier and a weight value. Finding a balance between damage reduction and weight is important, and I found myself often contemplating what to wear, as heavier pieces of equipment will reduce your movement stat, in turn making your movement slower and slower. Absolver even ups the ante in some fights by introducing weapons. Though weapons may sound strong in a game about hand-to-hand combat, they can, unfortunately, break or be dropped. These weapon drops make for great moments of tension that reminded me of fights from martial arts films where the weapon keeps swapping hands between opponents before one finally emerges the victor. There are further intriguing factors here, such as timing of attacks to replenish your stamina bar, high and low attacks, armour breaking attacks, feints, special charged-up moves, plus more. This element of the game is insanely in-depth, and the more you play, the more its well-crafted nuances appear; you truly begin to feel like you are mastering a martial art. Not only is it totally and utterly satisfying to completely make your combatant your own, it’s also tremendously strategic, and gives off a sense of uniqueness many other games simple cannot offer. What’s even more unique about Absolver‘s core system is how it mentors you along the way. In order to learn differing ways to beat up your opponents in Absolver, you must face NPCs and players mid-combat, blocking and dodging there strikes in the process. Doing this will give you a visual prompt of a circular bar filling up, and once filled, the particular kick or punch you have been avoiding will become available for you to use. You quite literally learn by doing, and though it may sound like a grind, it avoids ever becoming tiresome due to the gravity and challenge every fight holds. You can learn moves and play by yourself in a strictly offline mode, but Absolver‘s core experience is in its online mode, which has a drop-in/drop-out mechanic that allows players to engaged in PvE with friends or with complete randoms and even challenge others to single, one-on-one fights. Absolver also currently has a 1v1 mode you can queue up for at any time, if PvP is your thing. Additionally, the game is scheduled to receive additional modes in the future, such as a 2v2 and 3v3 mode, for those wishing to try their hand at team combat. A part of Absolver‘s brilliance is that all elements that aren’t the act of fighting help shine a spotlight on the moments of tension and combat, aiding the standout part of Absolver to take centre stage. No other aspect does this more so than the game’s audio and music. There’s a distinct, purposeful use of silence that sits beside beautiful, weighty thuds and cracks of fist and shin against flesh, enhancing the critical moment of the fight. The game’s soundtrack is soft and takes a back seat to the action, never growing over the uncountable moments of concentration you are sure to face. Absolver isn’t without its minor faults, though, mainly with its camera and fluidity in one-on-one scenario fights. The camera does a great job, for the most part, of tracking your character in chaotic moments, but occasionally in tight spots like corridors or stairs, I noticed that it would sometimes get caught on a wall, resulting in me being unable to see my character as he was bashed by a group of NPCs. Fighting groups can also be frustrating, as Absolver‘s target swapping doesn’t feel all that smooth. Instead of being able to stylishly swap between targets when surrounded, I often dashed around, hoping to isolate one opponent before fighting the rest. Absolver also has a slight annoyance with characters getting caught on the environment, which often resulted in me taking damage that I could normally easily avoid. Luckily, these issues are few and far between, and rarely hindered me apart from the odd occasion. With its mechanics that punish button-mashing and its steep learning curve,Absolver isn’t a game for everyone. Instead, it’s the perfect title for a hardcore crowd looking for a deep, challenging, and rewarding brawler. For a incredible price of $30 on Steam and PSN, Absolver delivers a gameplay experience beyond what players bargain for, entirely in a league of its own, that hopefully over time with updates and a dedicated community will grow better. Absolve your gaming sins with Absolver. You’ll step away changed… or bruised.
Brad Weston has always gravitated towards pop culture and all things cool. He's got a knack for comic books, video games, and 'Always Sunny' quotes, and his ever-expanding record collection is yet to be bested. He maintains the prospect of one day becoming the Red Power Ranger or Josuke from 'JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.' Catch his game reviews on the site!