It has been a while since we faced an exploration game that is entirely focused on melee combat. Some of the names that can come to mind are God Hand, for example, but there hasn’t been a proper one for a long time. Enter Absolver. Developed by Sloclap and published by Devolver Digital, it’s a mix between that combat style and a huge online component which, at the moment, is barely starting. The game introduces itself as a third person exploration game with a huge focus on the multiplayer aspect and customisable melee combat. It plays as much a regular action game, presenting both health and stamina meters paired with an interconnected region to explore freely.
Absolver put us in the fists of a Prospect, someone who is sent to prove their worth into the fallen Adal Empire. Their goal is to fight their way through a handful of highly trained characters known as the Marked Ones. In turn, proving themselves a worthy combatant and becoming an Absolver. The character’s only memory is a ceremony in which they are selected by the Guides, now rulers of this land. These prospects are now doomed to wander the land sporting a mask at all times.
Firstly, the game allows the player to create their own character from scratch. With only a few of customisable options the character creator is simple, however, fans can adapt their stats and aesthetic further into the game thanks to loot. In a matter of seconds, we start to get familiarised with the systems of Absolver by selecting between three combat styles that differentiate themselves by a unique way of defence. Some focus on absorbing attacks if timed right while others take advantage of the enemy’s openings to deal a counter attack. In the game, players can learn new movements and combat decks (more on that later) by defending or dodging an unknown attack until it’s learned – which helps greatly considering that enemies respawn frequently.
Combat decks are, essentially, attack builds that you can personalise in a range of ways. In the early game, players get two slots for normal attacks and one for special and heavier attacks. If you multiply that quantity for each Combat Stance (facing four different positions) and considering you unlock more throughout the game, there is plenty of room for experimentation. Each attack has different attributes, along with a unique movement that will be key for each battle. Absolver points out whenever an attack will be best suitable for evading heavy attacks (like an uppercut), or when you unlock one that serves as a heavy punch, meant to go through the enemy’s block.
Each attack has different attributes, along with a unique movement that will be key for each battle.
Also, the attacks are highly focused on the combat stances, and you can find where they start from and how is the best way to connect it with another just by experimenting with them based on their description. If you feel like you’re lacking movements, you just need to go ahead and keep fighting to learn even more additions. Melee weapons also make an appearance throughout the land. Blades and special combat gloves can be found although they have a limited use. That being said, these weapons can deal a significant amount of damage. As with the bare handed attacks, you can also select your own movements for these.
The final tool at our disposal is Magic. Magic is presented as a very limited resource that is powered by crystals, which are increased over time. These special attacks are unlocked after defeating a Marked or a boss, and will significantly help during battle if they are properly used. Some are focused on healing your character in a limited period of time. Interestingly, it’s possible to boost the healing effect by dealing attacks, but, the process cancels if you are hit. Other spells are meant to be used offensively, like a ground quake that stuns the enemy, a power that increases the cost of stamina for every action or a push that is perfect for throwing people off edges. These can be used as long as the player has crystals active. Crystals regenerate when successfully dodging and blocking attacks.
Interestingly, it’s possible to boost the healing effect by dealing attacks, but, the process cancels if you are hit.
But the gameplay isn’t focused on combat only. While it is one of the biggest aspects of the game, and the numerous enemies we will encounter are proof of that, it’s also slightly focused on exploration. We start in a hub, a place in which we find one of the few indications of Absolver’s region. You can’t use the map at all times, and the only one available does not describe exactly where we can find each Marked and Boss encounter. Instead, it encourages the player to go out and wander through the land, which sometimes sounds better on paper than what it really is in the game. Similar alleyways and eroded ruins at times feel very similar and lead to some frustrating moments. That is until you manage to return to your previous location.
Across the title, players can make use of some of the game’s levelling and training systems at any time as long as our protagonist isn’t directly in combat. By meditating, you can select, practice and customize your Combat Decks without any restriction whatsoever. In addition to this, each enemy and hostile player you defeat will grant experience. Levelling up rewards you with a stat point that can be distributed in different attributes, such as dexterity or strength, while others affect directly how long it will take for crystals to regenerate.
As for inventory and equipment, there is an armour slot for each main part of the body. Shoulders and elbow protectors, different pieces for the chest, gloves or bandages for the hands, and more. You can even change your mask, but they are rarer to find. Unfortunately, there are no shops or NPCs to trade with. Players can gather as many armour pieces as they want, finding them in drops after defeating a foe or in hiding places waiting to be looted.
Armour affects four main attributes: they can affect your defence against Piercing and Blow damage, but it also affects how fast you can move due to having more or less weight. It will definitely depend on your combat style, and whether you want to complement a Combat Deck with a high defence or a movement that lets you hit and dodge faster.
In each section of the map and most of the time placed before a special encounter, Absolver presents shrines that can be used for multiple purposes. Serving as a checkpoint being the main one. However, you can also enter and choose options for the multiplayer experience, selecting between being able to see and interact with everyone or restricting it to friends by inviting them from your Friend List to create a group. It’s also the place in which you can enter PvP, but keep in mind that you can also become hostile to others players or be attacked by them freely at any time.
As for PvP, Absolver presents a unique mode at the moment, which consists of a 1vs1 battle against a random opponent in a set of different maps. There are no special rules, and the first player to get three victories is the winner. While it may feel like the game is lacking multiplayer content at the time, Sloclap has already announced that Absolver will be receiving a 3vs3 mode, Tournaments and Ranked Matches are set to be revealed in the upcoming weeks.
This is something that will greatly help the rhythm and pace of the PvE experience. Thing is, when you reach a certain point in the story, all that is left to do is to level up your Combat level. Which is only increased with PvP. It’s sad to know there isn’t a big focus on PvE, but the developers also announced that there will be a big update regarding the matter in the next three to four months.
In terms of visual design, Absolver carries a unique style that mixes a medieval aesthetic with some esoteric elements. Environments, while not great in quantity, present a nice style and are interesting enough to search every corner for loot. The music is not always present, but it manages to accompany well some of the special encounters without being memorable.
This copy of Absolver was sent to Diego Argüello via review copy from Absolver’s associated PR Team. He spent around 11 hours hacking, kicking and dodging his way to the rank of Absolver.