The act of planting roots in a market with the promise of an undefinable experience is a tactic that has proved to be either propitious or futile in the past, and it’s a risk that French developer Sloclap has taken with its martial arts-focused debut title, Absolver. After spending many hours submerged in the game’s atmosphere and its frenzied fistful firefights, it is still a difficult game to define — and that works heavily in the game’s favour.
To try to pin it down as simply as possible, the game follows Destiny’s mould, offering a very short story that exists almost-solely as an excuse to have players scout every corner of the wonderfully varied map to execute “Marked Ones” — specialist foes that must be beaten in order to open the gate that leads to the final boss.
Absolver operates on the basis that the player themselves have the ability to make sense of a world that has no grounding or context, but is saturated in hugely imaginative and stunning set pieces. Its ability to steal the player’s imagination is terrifically gratifying, and its tone is beautifully extravagant and gives a fantastical experience to the ruthless and translike combat, which accentuates the aggression found in the act of fighting through the game’s limited but rough campaign.
The game’s major hook lies in its combat, which is easy to grasp but rapidly grows in difficulty. During character creation the player must choose between 3 different fighting styles which determine the difficulty of the game and the sets of moves and attacks that can be utilised. Later in the game, however, players can opt to join a School — Absolver’s equivalent of a guild — and learn the fighting styles that they passed up on at the beginning. The learning process in itself is interesting and realistically effective, requiring players to dodge and defeat an enemy that uses the move in question in order to fill up their “learning gauge”, only learning the move themselves once that gauge is filled. Each step and uppercut and high kick carries a weight to it, almost as though each succession of blows can be felt through the controller.
The game’s combat is a ruthless and brutally fun spectacle; it’s fluid and engaging, and requires the player’s full attention if they’re to dodge attacks in the right direction at the right time, or block and even counter a flurry of attacks. Unfortunately, Absolver loses a lot of these good design points in the presence of terrible latency. It’s an always-online game whose world is occupied by other players who can either aid the player or initiate a fight; that’s a great concept, except for the terrible latency. The prospect of a multiplayer arena where levelling up in1v1 engagements is terrific fun, except for the terrible latency. As fantastic as Absolver is and can be, it becomes abhorrent and utterly enraging when defeat comes due to a five-second ping spike. It breaks the immersive back-and-forth nature of the gameplay and just dampens the incredible fun that’s there to be had.
The real ache that the bugs bring to the game is in the proof that Absolver is a well-executed exhibition of grinding done well. The loot acquired is your typical sets of armour that allow for aesthetic liberties whilst balancing gameplay effects. Nothing in Absolver is unfair — anyone can win any fight regardless of the opponent’s level, because it’s a battle of skill and reflexes rather than one of numbers and attributes. Tweaks to a combo or a certain shoulder pad might improve movement, but that will in turn lower the damage done. Absolver has a very methodical yet high-octane taste to it, where losing a fight will make you refer to your string of combos that you’ve developed to refine them to make yourself move faster.
The bugs that plague Absolver really take chunks from the incredibly fun feast of fists that the game could be. Frame rate drops, boss respawns, players cherry-picking boss kills, and a surprisingly diverse yet sadly short campaign bring the game down a few pegs. As much fun as the gameplay is, it does become repetitive after a few hours of end-game play, which would be far more fun without the litany of bugs that riddle this otherwise-phenomenal game.