Absolver Review – PC
+ Highly varying set of fluid moves that you can piece together as you see fit makes for a seemingly endless potential set of moves for each player.
- Very little in the way of a tutorial leaves you wondering if you’re using the fight deck editor to its best potential.
The first time I saw gameplay footage for the game billed as Online Melee Action, I knew that I was looking at something unique. The fluid style of the animations, the graceful movements of the fighters, the unique look to the seemingly endless combinations of moves available, and the absolutely gorgeous art and world design combined to make for a completely enticing game.
I have had a little experience, though only at a basic level, with martial arts, so I am by no means speaking as an expert in the field, but when I play the game Absolver I feel like it is possibly the closest thing that I’ve experienced in video game format to an accurate representation of the experience of learning a martial art. When you begin the game, you find yourself with a very limited set of moves and abilities. As you progress, however, you will slowly unlock new moves by fighting opponents with them. As you successfully defend against these moves, you will begin to learn them. This method of unlocking moves makes sense, though after awhile, it begins to feel a little bit frustrating and random, trying to find opponents that will use moves against you that you’ve yet to unlock and then purposefully not beating them just so you can let them use the particular move you need enough to learn it before finally finishing them off.
The downside to this technique is that if you get defeated, any experience you might have gained from that particular fight is lost. So, you have to be careful and not over extend yourself and try to learn to much from one particular fight, because you might end up learning nothing at all. Still, I never found myself with a lack of moves to complete any particular deck, so the quest to unlock more and more of the moves is tapping into the completionist in me and not so much a requirement of completing the game.
As well as learning new moves as you play, you also gain general experience points towards leveling up. Once you do this, you will apply the gained skill points to one of your attributes, which consist of Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Vitality, and Will. Higher Strength will increase the power of your hits, while increased Dexterity will increase your speed and allow you to hit more frequently. Endurance increases your stamina bar, which depletes as you fight, so having more of it allows you to keep fighting for longer at a time without having to stop and rest, which can seriously hamper you in the middle of a fight. Vitality increases your character’s hit points, allowing them to take more damage at a time before succumbing to defeat. Will is what allows you to build up your special abilities that you also gain from defeating the Marked Ones, such as the ability to give yourself a health boost, or to hit your enemies with a endurance draining blast during a fight.
Another thing that you will collect along the way are various different items of clothing and armor, which will all affect your stats in different ways. There is always a trade-off with the clothing items that you wear. There are items that will be more protective, but will encumber you more, slowing you down in a fight, or the inverse of being less protective but allowing you to move more rapidly. This is a constant back and forth in the game of trying to find the sweet spot of having enough defense to be able to take hits and not die right away in a fight, but also having enough mobility and speed to actually be able to land blows before your opponents can just dodge out of the way or hit you before you complete your attack.
The basic premise of the game is that you are tasked with defeating the “Marked Ones” in order to be able to unlock a door that only opens once you have defeated all of them. Along the way, you will encounter plenty of their minions who are more than eager to fight you, as well. Your experience can be in offline mode or in online mode. If you chose the latter, you will come across other players doing the same thing as you, who you can either choose to help or hinder. If you choose to help them, you can invite them into an alliance, where you become a kind of team and can go through the world cooperatively defeating enemies together.
This is particularly nice against some of the Marked Ones, because they like to call in friends as well and having some backup can make the fights a little more fair. You can, however, also choose to fight the other players, which can make for some particularly intense fights, especially when you’re going up against someone who has inevitably put more time into the game than you. Getting a killing blow against one of these other players is one of the more satisfying feelings in the game.
There is also a specific mode you can enter that places you into a 1v1 against another player where you fight each other in a best of 3 style combat session. These are particularly intense and winning them can grant you some nice rewards. You also must complete a certain number of these in order to unlock the ability to create your own school of fighting in the game, or to become a higher ranking fighter in general.
The combat mechanics are deceptively simple. There is a standard attack, a transitional attack, a dodge, a block, and your discipline’s special move, which in my case was an evasion. You have four different stances, which you can select on the fly, or allow your chain of moves to naturally progress you through the various stances. This is where the magic happens. When you’re building your set of moves, you need to pay attention to what stance each attack will finish in, and what next series of moves that will transition you into. You can set up extremely complex chains of moves by playing with the various chains and making them each lead into each other. I toyed with it quite a bit, trying to find a good mix of fast, lower damaging attacks that would loosen my opponent up and then tossing in a slower, but more powerful attack on occasion that would hopefully leave my opponent reeling and ready to be put down.
The flexibility and variance that this system allows the players access to was a bit overwhelming and somewhat confusing, leaving me wondering sometimes if I was making my character better, or worse, by editing my combat deck. But, through trial and error, you begin you understand what moves are better in particular situations and you begin to feel out a set of moves that feels right to you and seems to work in various situations.
Sometimes, I feel like I got lucky and stumbled across a set of moves that worked particularly well, at least for a while. But then I would unlock a new move, or a new slot for an additional move in a particular chain, and I would plug that into the existing set, and sometimes it would seem to improve the set, and others it would seem to make it more cumbersome and less helpful.
But that was the fun of it; that experimentation, because if you die you immediately respawn at the nearest checkpoint, which are scattered very closely around the densely populated, beautiful map. And you don’t really lose anything by dying, except for maybe a little bit of the experience you might have gained from learning new moves off of the guy that beat you.
So, dying isn’t all that bad of a prospect, and the joy of exploration and the enjoyable combat mechanics make you just keep coming back for more. Also, the enemies scale to your skill level, so there is never a time when you go into an area and feel completely in over your head (except for when you take on one of the Marked Ones, or another player) and there is also never a time where you go back to an area you were through before and feel like the enemies there are now a breeze. This is nice, because the world is not set up linearly. You can take on the Marked Ones in any order that you want, and the map is fairly open and circular, so you can go back through the various locations several times trying to figure out how to defeat each of the Marked Ones and open the door.
I particularly enjoyed this game. It is fun enough to play in Offline Mode for those who are not at all interested in challenging their skills against other real people, but the Online Mode, in my opinion adds such an awesome layer of depth to the game. Just the experience of running into another person running around that isn’t an NPC and who may or may not want to help you, is really cool. And then when you do find someone that you can team up with, it can make for some really cool moments. Going from getting ganged up on by several enemy NPC’s, to having someone watching your back to divide and conquer against those same groups of enemies is so satisfying. Helping each other defeat the enemies is so much fun, and the game also allows you to revive your friends in case they get downed during battle and you avenge them in time.
And beyond the combat, I have to say that the world of Adal is just beautifully designed. The architecture is overgrown and crumbling, leaving you wondering what happened, while admiring it for its eerie beauty. Where I sometimes hate games that have non-spoken characters, and especially multiplayer games that don’t have chat or VoIP, I felt that it worked amazingly well in this one. I was actually happy that I wasn’t able to communicate with the other players in any other way than through the language of the body. There are a set of emotes that you can use to convey simple ideas like happiness, honor, or confusion, but otherwise, the experience is one left voiceless, which was quite profound.
In conclusion, I have already put in a lot of time with this game, more than I expected that I would do, and I see no end in sight. I have a lot of moves to learn still, a few more Marked Ones to defeat, and more players to meet, friend, and fight. I can’t wait to see what secrets still wait for me in the world of Adal, and I can’t wait to see where the game progresses. I hope that the developers continue to iterate upon the concept and add more complexity and more content to the game in the future.