2017 has been a strong year for fighting games, both traditional and non-traditional. Titles such as Tekken 7 and Injustice 2 have achieved critical and commercial success, while Ubisoft’s For Honor introduced some interesting new mechanics. Although the upcoming Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinte may be the biggest release left on the schedule, Sloclap’s Absolver may end up being the most influential new release. The Devolver Digital-published fighter is offering up a unique, fresh experience that no fighter currently has in the works.
In the world of Absolver, you begin your journey as a lowly Prospect. Picked out of many from your tribe, your goal is to take out a group of master warriors in order to reach the Tower of Adal. Only after battling through the sprawling Tower, and taking out the vaunted Risryn, will you be able to achieve Absolution. Once this rank has been achieved, you’re free to face-off with other Absolvers, continue honing your skills and even pass off your knowledge to others by opening up your own school.
Despite the unique world Sloclap has created, the lore of Absolver really isn’t fleshed out in any meaningful way. Adal is a world filled with different locations that don’t always seem to flow together, but are nevertheless interesting to take in. There’s just not a whole lot to do in the game besides fight enemies, whether they be AI or human. It seems like a waste to have everything designed the way it was, but then not bother to really do anything with it. Maybe, that’s the point, though? By refusing to explain what happened to the dilapidated world of Adal, or how the Absolvers roaming it fit into everything, Sloclap is free to let players develop their own narratives. I just would have preferred if there was something pushing me forward besides the end-goal of mastering my skills.
Absolver is a 3D fighter that allows for players to tailor their fighting style as they see fit. When you first boot up the game, you’ll have the opportunity to choose from three different styles, each with their own special abilities. I started with the Khalt style, which is the one recommended by the developer for beginners. This class grants you access to the absorb ability, which has two major benefits. Most immediately, it lets you absorb the brunt of an attack in order to replenish your stamina, which tends to drain quickly. Long-term, though, the more you absorb an attack, the more you master it. Once you’ve fully learned an attack, you can then insert it into your Combat Deck, which is the backbone of your arsenal.
When the combat in Absolver is at it’s best, it feels unlike any other major fighting game. It’s one of the few titles that has managed to capture fighting as a form of art. A ballet of fists and feet, if you will. Even as a fighter that still hasn’t mastered the deck-building the game requires, I was still able to chain together beautiful sequences.
Facing off against a similar level opponent often led to a duel of strikes and parries that looked like a showdown between master technicians. Of course, any time I stepped up to face a higher-level combatant, I would get stomped, revived, and stomped again, but that’s beside the point. The combat has a certain style that feels uniquely it’s own, and that’s always welcome in today’s gaming environment.
Although Absolver can be played entirely offline if you wanted to, you’re going to get the most enjoyment out of the game by going online. There, you’ll not only be able to face-off with opponents in brutal Combat Trials in one on one duels, but you can also team up with a group to take down the Marked Ones. Battling through Combat Trials is the best way to improve yourself, as you’ll gain valuable experience and equipment by competing. However, I enjoyed going around with a group of allies and taking down AI opponents more. Both options are fun, but there’s just something about forming a martial arts superteam with like-minded players that appeals to me more.
As solid as the combat system is, though, there are several quality of life improvements that would be nice to see addressed by Sloclap. For starters, the lock-on targeting system needs to be completely redone. Being able to switch who you’re facing shouldn’t be as clumsy as it is here, and the more you progress on the road to Absolution, the more apparent this problem becomes. There’s nothing fun about being triple teamed by enemies and struggling to target the one closest to you. It would also be nice to see a more useful map get implemented. As it is now, you can only see the bare-bones map when you’re resting at an altar. The fact that it only offers limited information is bad enough, but I should at least be able to pull it up whenever I need to.
The bigger issue Absolver currently faces, though, is that the servers simply aren’t holding up. I have frequently ran into issues just attempting to sign on, and for a game that’s best played online, that’s not a good sign. Even when I do get online, though, I still run into issues. Lag constantly seems to be a problem, particularly when it comes to multiple characters fighting at once. I also have had to deal with my connection to the server just straight up dropping mid-game. I don’t even get a notification that I lost my connection, I just notice it because no one else is around. I expect Sloclap to hammer these issues out over time, but for now, it’s a significant issue that needs to be accounted for.
What you get out of Absolver will ultimately come down to how you feel about the Combat Deck system developed by Sloclap. If you’re willing to embrace the grind it necessitates, you’ll be rewarded with a deep, satisfying fighter that challenges you to think about your movements. If you aren’t interested in putting the time in, though, it’s hard to recommend the title in it’s current state. The lack of a developed narrative, despite the intriguing world, and the numerous smaller problems are impossible to ignore. Even if you’re willing to deal with those, the inconsistent online play is a major issue at the moment. There’s a great game here, and over time, I think it will come to light. For now, though, only the most dedicated should consider heading down the road of Absolution.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which was provided for us.
Absolver has the potential to develop into something very special. As it stands now, though, the content just isn't entirely there yet. Coupled with a handful of nagging problems, it's hard to recommend the title to anyone but only the most dedicated fighting fans out there.