Absolver Review – Near Perfect Combat, Infuriating Lag

PS4/Windows

PS4 review code provided by publisher

Absolver is a martial-arts based action RPG set in a beautiful world with a heavy focus on combat. Cards on the table, as far as this writer is concerned, Absolver has one of the best, if not the best, combat system I have ever experienced. So, of course I have to award this game a 10 and finish the review here.

Not really.

Unfortunately, despite its wonderfully intricate, satisfying and addictive combat system Absolver is a game marred by technical issues as well as a lack of content.

absolver review
The Tower of Adal, where Prospects become Absolvers

your character is tapped on the shoulder by a hooded, bearded man who wouldn’t look out of place with the greybeards of Skyrim

What just happened?

When you start a new game in Absolver there is very rudimentary character creation. This doesn’t matter as you will never see your character’s face at any point during your time with Absolver. You will then have to choose one of 3 different combat styles each with their own special ability. After this, you are treated to a cryptic dialogue-free intro movie. At what appears to be a combat training school, in snowy mountains, your character is tapped on the shoulder by a hooded, bearded man who wouldn’t look out of place with the Greybeards of Skyrim. He leads you to a glowing, ethereal being that does something magical to your mask, you put the mask on, and you wake up in in a beautiful green field.

Absolver Review
Nice

it will take around 4-5 hours to beat all the named bosses and become an absolver

For the next 10-15 minutes you are brought up to speed on how to target, block, dodge, change your stance and importantly, how to attack. The tutorial is brief and helpful. When you are finished, you step through a doorway and end up in the open world where you will be spending the majority of your time in Absolver. Here you meet another, or perhaps the same bearded man who tells you to defeat 9 named enemies which will then open a door where you will face your final challenge after which you will graduate from being a prospect to a fully-fledged Absolver.

Absolver Review
Brief respite mid-fight

As you can see, narrative is far from the main focus of Absolver; that focus would be on the combat. In fact, it will take around 4-5 hours to beat all the named bosses and become an Absolver. There was some very high praise for the combat in the introduction and I‘ll do my best to briefly explain the system here; though it is something that takes some time to figure out, and even longer to master.

Combat Deck

When engaged in a fight you can be in one of four stances which you can change on the fly, forward left, forward right, reverse left and reverse right. Stance for the uninitiated is simply the direction your character is facing. For each of these four stances you can choose a combo of three moves, along with one alternative attack.  The attacks can be light, medium or heavy hits. Through trial and error you put together decks that suit your own particular style.

Absolver Review
Building a Combat Deck in the Early Game

Slow and steady punches the face

That description may sound quite dry, however, in motion it is fluid beauty. High kicks whistling over your head as you duck under to sweep the leg, the impact of failed hits on your guard, the satisfaction of the final knockout punch. Absolver will punish button mashers and players who don’t fight cautiously. Your stamina bar is also something that has to be closely watched. Attacking, blocking and dodging will all drain stamina and once your stamina gauge is at zero you are vulnerable. No Boss or fully levelled player character has the ability to one-hit-kill. Fights are tense and methodical. Friendly fire is always on, and there’s satisfaction to be had in goading the NPC’s into hitting each other.

Absolver Review
My guard breaking, should have been a bit more careful with my stamina

You can also gather new gear by defeating enemies or finding chests, which in this game are cairns. There are plenty of different slots for items. The downside being everything you equip will affect your movement speed and the damage you deal, you may get more protection but it will come at a cost.

The art-style of Absolver is rich and vibrant

The way you learn new moves to add to your deck is quite innovative. In the open world there are NPC’s scattered about, most of them will attack you on sight. Other human players will also drop in and out of the world with whom you can either team up with or fight.  When you fight other humans or NPC’s if they use a move that you have not learned, providing you successfully block or dodge it, you will begin to learn it. It is easy to track your progress in learning new moves as that info is displayed after each successful fight.

Absolver Review
At the end of a fight you’re told your progress with learning new moves that were used in the fight.

Lookin’ Good

The art-style of Absolver is rich and vibrant; its environments are varied and interesting. The open world is maze-like, with paths leading off in different directions. A player may well get lost at first but soon they’ll have their bearings. The game doesn’t take place on a very large map but each area is visually distinct and look great.

Absolver Review
Every Screenshot a Painting

The sound design in Absolver is minimalist. While walking around the environment, the player will hear the ambient noise of the world itself; the wind whistling through the destroyed remains of a village, or the birds singing in the trees as you walk down a forest path. The lack of music effectively sets a mood of loneliness and isolation in the fallen world. When fights begin the soundtrack kicks up a notch, but the main source of sound during conflicts is always the conflict itself. Quiet but effective would be the best way to describe the sound design.

Absolver is a game plagued with issues that will mar your enjoyment

absolver review
Plenty of spots for fisticuffs

Unfortunately, Absolver is a game plagued with issues that will mar your enjoyment. First and foremost this game suffers from major networking issues. The game’s lag is not constant but it is some of the worst slowdown I have experienced in a very long time. I have spent long times frozen in place when in engaging in fights with human opponents, only to suddenly get knocked out after they warped 5 metres and ended up right in front of me.  While it is possible to play Absolver offline the developers have explicitly stated that the proper game experience is online with the drop-in multiplayer enabled.

absolver review
No exaggeration, this game always looks good.

With a genre that relies on reflexes and perfectly timed button pushes, lag can severely erode its player base, thus shortening its lifespan. I was running down a path when suddenly I was frozen, but further down the path I saw another me running in place. It was strange.

There is a large content update due at the end of the month which hopefully will add some more things to do

So what happens after we fight?

Absolver lacks content for the person who isn’t interested in PvP while access to some of the single player content is locked until you complete a certain amount of PvP matches. PvP matches have their own aforementioned issues.  Having mentioned the lack of content, it should be noted that the developers have been very communicative about changes and upcoming content. There is a large content update due at the end of the month which hopefully will add some more things to do for someone not interested in PvP.  Absolver would certainly benefit from some co-op PvE dungeons or some more environments for people who don’t wish to be forced into a laggy and frustrating PvP experience.

absolver review
After we fight? We fight some more!

The camera in Obsolver can be a source of consternation. When you are fighting someone 1v1 there usually aren’t any major issues however, it can occasionally get stuck to walls and trapped in corners. It becomes a serious issue when you have to fight any more than one enemy. There is no easy command to quickly change targets and you don’t have the freedom to spin the camera around in order to check for any opponents running in from behind or the side.

Here Comes the Neighbourhood

These issues can seriously impair the enjoyment of Absolver, but it was never enough to stop me having immense fun with the game so I thought I’d include something complimentary before summing up. The community in Absolver also deserves some praise; I have genuinely never encountered an online game with a community as pleasant, helpful and courteous. Any questions I asked were answered in great detail. Anytime someone in the world wanted to initiate a fight they usually made their intentions clear, bowed and then approached slowly. It was a very nice change from being randomly chased and blown up by someone in a jet that would take me 50 hours of grinding to obtain in GTA Online.

absolver Review
Such a polite young man.

 

Summary

I understand that this is a game with fairly niche appeal, but if any of what’s been detailed here appeals to you I would advise you watch some game-play and seriously consider buying if you like what you see. Network issues can be fixed, extra content can be added, and the devs have promised that updates will be free. I will keep playing, so perhaps this is a review in progress. The score is 7 because of the technical issues. Hopefully this game is merely in the seed stage and it gets a chance to grow into a more complete experience, we’ve seen it happen before, (*cough* No Man’s Sky *cough*).