This is going to be a difficult review for me. I had watched the videos on the Steam page, watched others playing the game on YouTube, and was very excited for the release of Absolver. I’m no stranger to fighting games, beat-em-ups, or action-adventure games with a strong focus on fighting. I was perhaps naive when I expected Absolver to be an open world button masher with some RPG lite elements.
Absolver is not Darksiders, Assassin’s Creed, Tekken or Yakuza. The game has a lot more in common with Dark Souls than any other title on the market. In fact, I’d go so far as to push the Dark Souls reference before anything else – including “online melee action”.
I personally don’t like Dark Souls. That’s not to say it’s a bad game – not at all. It’s sold incredibly well and is adored by gamers the whole world over. But it’s clearly a “love or hate” kind of game that isn’t for everyone.
Likewise, Absolver is a good game. In the right hands, it’s going to be a great game with countless hours of entertainment. I’m just not that person. I am, however, responsible for game reviews and sometimes that means playing a game you aren’t entirely suited for. So I’m going to do my best to be objective and fair, and hopefully give you an honest review that will help you in your game purchasing decision.
So let’s dive into it and start with something easy…
Absolver is, if nothing else, stunning. The art style is slightly abstract, slightly anime, slight cel-shaded, and slightly reminiscent of classic titles like Another World. I’ve happily spent countless moments standing still and simply panning the camera across a richly detailed vista. Full kudos to the art team for their work here, as it’s clear a great deal of love, care, and time has been spent here.
Likewise, the audio in Absolver is pretty good. Punches and kicks resound with a satisfying thump, wind blows, birds chirp, and the world is very much brought alive thanks to the ambience provided. Voice acting is bit of a mixed bag, with some characters having full voice while others are mute with subtitles. Music is present in the game – typically only surfacing during combat – allowing the ambient sounds to echo while you explore.
Use. A. Control. Pad.
Don’t bother with a keyboard and mouse combo. If you haven’t already invested in a quality Xbox 360 controller, do so if you intend to spend any considerable amount of time with Absolver. Pushing A, B, X and Y feels a lot more natural than LMB, RMB and random keyboard keys. The only advantage I found to using a mouse was being able to look around quicker, but once combat became it felt horribly unnatural.
And now we get to the meat of it and the more complicated aspects of the game.
Currently, Absolver (or at least the build I played) is VERY tutorial lite. True, some players will be tired of hand holding and enjoy discovering controls and mechanics for themselves. Many others, though, will find is frustrating and confusing. If you’re not the sort who likes to flounder around and figure things out for yourself through trial, error, and guesswork, then you will definitely want to find yourself a guide or check out some YouTube videos. I’m honestly unsure if this was an intentional part of the design or an “oops.” Either way, be prepared.
Absolver plays an awful lot like Dark Souls. That alone will either sell you on this game, or warn you off it. While exploring the worlds nooks, crannies, back alleys, and open courtyards is fun and engaging, you will die. Lots. And then return back to the last checkpoint. Over and over again.
You’ll either grind your way through it, or you’ll smash your face into a brick wall. For those who don’t embrace the Dark Souls style of play, you’ll find nothing but frustration here.
As your opponents hit you with various moves, you will accumulate experience towards unlocking that move. Lose the fight, though, and you lose any experience gained. Once you’ve unlocked a move, you can move it to your combat deck, where you can literally build your characters move combinations. Your character also comes with four stances – each with their own fighting style. Certain moves will change you from once stance to the next to allow for effective chains, or you can change stance manually.
Defeating opponents will yield experience, which is used to increase primary stats that will make your character faster, stronger, healthier, and the like. You’ll also start with an initial class that will levitate to one of those abilities, and also dictate how you deal with incoming blows. Some classes will block incoming blows, others will parry, and still others will soak the blow and use it to power themselves up. Making multiple characters off the bat to sample the different styles and finding one to suit you is a smart move.
Occasionally, you’ll see a glowing ball drop or appear in the world. This is loot that can be picked up and equipped. While you’ll start with rags and little else, you’ll quickly start to get fancier and stronger gear. You’ll also acquire weapons, which unlocks more stances and combat tricks.
Combat itself isn’t super quick – nothing like Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting. But at the same time, it requires some pretty amazing twitch reflexes to block / parry / soak incoming attacks. I often found it easier to simply dodge out of the way, unleash a combo, then dodge again.
One on one battles aren’t too bad – even when fighting a named enemy, provided you don’t go ham and charge in to your death. A certain amount of tact is required here. Problems arise, though, when you engage two, three, or more opponents at once. Even trying to be careful with aggro, there are going to be times when the odds are against you. These fights are not easy, and for the most part I felt my victories (when they did occur) where due to luck.
Player-Vs-Player is a thing, and the few encounters I had were in the early stages of the game and relatively easier; likely because it was against other reviewers also struggling with the learning curve. It would be unfair for me to comment on this aspect of the game as a result. Suffice to say that it exists, again, much like Dark Souls.
Speaking of PvP, the game is online – although for us here in Australia, there seems to be a bit of a ruckus over on the Steam forums about it (here and here). Apparently, the developers initially mentioned Oceanic servers at launch, which they’ve since amended to be “coming soon.” As the game is able to be played offline as well, this is only an issue if you were hoping to engage in some serious online battles. Again, my encounters with other humans was severely limited, so I can’t honestly say whether having OCE or not makes any impact here.
A thread on Reddit includes a video taken from play on the Playstation 4, showing what appears to be some fairly bad latency. Make of it what you will.
What appears odd from those reports is that players are unable to enjoy the game offline or PvE only – having similar latency problems fighting the AI as well.
Again, for my part, I experienced (or at least perceived) no problems with my game running the Steam version on PC. The game is releasing on GOG in a DRM-Free format. One of the developers mentioned in a Steam post that those pirating the game wouldn’t be able to play the game online at all, eliminating cheaters. Surely this must imply then that the PC version of the game isn’t so dependent on online connectivity?
If true, it’s all a bit of a shame, as the game is advertised primarily as an “online melee action” game. If PvP is the focus, then certainly having Oceanic servers are going to make a huge difference. If you are thinking of picking up this game primarily for PvP combat, perhaps waiting a week or two for the dust to settle might be a smart move here.
If you are looking for a rich single-player experience, this isn’t for you. The main campaign can be defeated in somewhere between 4-6 hours. The focus here is on player-vs-player melee combat. Unfortunately, the above mentioned server problems may cause some problems for those of us in Australia.
A lot of people are going to love Absolver. A lot of people are going to want to avoid Absolver. Much like Dark Souls, I suspect this is going to be a love or hate video game. For those – like myself – who were enchanted with the videos on the Steam page, it’s important for potential customers to be completely aware of what kind of game they are buying. Hopefully this review, if nothing else, has helped clear that point up.
Absolver is a good game. Possibly a great game. It’s just not for me. As such, I’m not going to give it a fixed score. That wouldn’t be fair.
My advice at this stage is to watch, wait, and give it a couple of weeks before making a purchase if your heart is still set on it.
Absolver is available now on Steam and GOG for PC and for PS4 on the Playstation Store.
Review Platform: Windows 10, Steam, Intel i7-6700k, Nvidia 1070GTX, 32GB DDR4, Xbox 360 Wired Controller