The first few hours I spent playing Absolver were fraught with annoyances as I tried to wrap my head around this complex martial arts brawler. Although it may look like your typical character action game, Sloclap’s debut is surprisingly deep, weaving together elements from various genres. Comparisons to Dark Souls, For Honor, and a list of fighting games immediately sprang to mind.
As a Prospect, both inexperienced and untested, you set off on a journey through the realm of Adal, squaring up to just about anyone who stands in your way. Starting out, your goal seems fairly straightforward: to venture these lands and seek out the Marked Ones – mini bosses that eventually lead you to a final boss encounter. There’s so much more to Asbolver than that, however. So much more.
But before we touch on the endgame, let’s talk about the combat that is easily Absolver biggest selling point. By using a combination of basic and alternative attacks, mixed with parries, blocks, feints, and dodges, you’ll need to whittle down your opponent’s health and stamina while watching your own.
Combat encounters start off fairly basic, letting you hammer away at buttons and string together basic attacks, but your options quickly broaden as you level up in an RPG-like fashion. Aside from boosting your core attributes, this will unlock slots in what Absolver calls the Combat Deck. As the name suggests, it’s like carrying around a deck of cards, loaded with various moves and combos. Instead of simply buying new attacks, you have to learn them by coming up against an opponent using a particular move, and then learning to copy it by dodging, blocking and parrying it.
Similar to a trading card game, you can spend ages tailoring your deck, tweaking the speed and skill of certain combos while tinkering with effects such as guard breaks and super armour, and exploring the use of different fighting styles and weapons. It’s a satisfyingly organic progression system that goes beyond your typical role playing skill trees.
That said, it will be a while before you have any real idea what you’re doing. If Absolver is guilty of one sin, it’s holding back vital information from the player or conveying it in an obtuse and unhelpful way. Bar the initial tutorial, there’s pretty much no guidance at all, whether you’re trying to understand advanced combat tactics or simply finding your way around Adal. Nuggets of key advice come from the many NPCs scattered around the world, but this simply adds a needless layer of mystique. It’s something fans of the Souls franchise will be very familiar with, but honestly didn’t need to be replicated here.
It’s for this reason that I walked away from my initial session with Absolver confused and disappointed. However, with perseverance, it felt less and less like some mindless, posturing button basher. Those aforementioned complexities began to bubble to the surface and I was starting to enjoy myself.
Upon defeating what is assumed to be the final boss, you are placed back into the world and set on your path again. It’s cyclical in that way, kind of like mobile brawler Infinity Blade, facing the same lineup of foes with a slight twist each time. However, it hopes that by this time you’ll want to go away and develop your character instead of simply running the same gauntlet. This pursuit of self improvement becomes your main drive to play Absolver. By entering Combat Trials, you can challenge other players and work your way up the ladder, earning experience and equippable gear.
Speaking of other players, Absolver has knack for populating the world with other wandering Prospects. As you seamlessly join others to fight bands of enemies, this gives the game a Journey-like twist, while technically probably being a little more like Destiny or The Division. You can just as easily turn on your new acquaintances, however, challenging them to a duel or rushing in with your fists flying.
Being able to establish or join fighting schools is easily the most interesting multiplayer feature on offer. You and other players can mentor one another, sharing combat decks, sparring, and learning new techniques. Like everything else, however, the schooling system is a hidden layer you need to go searching for.
Adal may be a confusing place to get around, but it looks incredible all the same. Absolver is certainly one of those games that leans into its art direction instead of having raw visual fidelity. There’s not a huge amount of detail on show though the blocky terrain, bold colours and lighting create a fantastic look.
Absolver is superb yet flawed. Sloclap have some really fun and innovative ideas though, for some reason, they’ve built a gorge between players and their game. Like digging for gold, if you want to get anything of value from Absolver then you’ll need to work hard and put in the time. Needless to say, those with a casual curiosity will likely find themselves completely turned off.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro