Reviewed on PC, copy supplied by publisher.
It was a pretty soul destroying moment when I realised that – despite playing games everyday for around 25 years – I’m still not good at them. In particular, I’m not good at Absolver. I’d go so far as to say that I’m extremely bad at Absolver. The stylistic online brawling game is tough, especially for new players, and it rarely eases up as you progress.
Don’t get me wrong, Absolver isn’t a bad, game, I’m just terrible at it. I loved a lot about the title, the world it’s set in is beautifully bleak. You take control of an initiate hoping to join the Absolver peacekeepers by kicking the ever loving shit out of strangers. Yeah, I don’t quite get how that works either, but let it happen.
The world of Adal is logic defying and beautiful, with twisted buildings, strange cities and grumpy inhabitants for you to explore with your fists. Despite all the gritty violence, the visuals have a unique and absurd quality to them that I really enjoyed. You transition from looking at pastel vistas to Escher-like cities at the drop of a hat, and for those into game art, this is up there.
Naturally looking at pretty images isn’t how you win at this game. To make your way in the world you’ll need to master martial arts and figure out how to string together a combo. The cool part is that your move set is totally customisable. You learn new moves by blocking them, so over time if you block enough uppercuts you’ll learn an uppercut that can be added to your deck of moves. The variation in move sets makes PVP a field of anticipation and anxiety, as you’re not too sure what sort of magical combos your opponent can pull off.
Although I’d classify Absolver as a fighter, the combat style itself isn’t so much like Street Fighter as it is like The Witcher , with fluidity and stylistic movement flowing together like dance moves.
The key to dancing around like a brawling Geralt is to manage your stamina. Should you run into a fight swinging nothing but heavy hits you’ll soon deplete that bar and be unable to block, which is a quick way to get yourself killed.
As hesitant as I am to compare games to Dark Souls, there’s definitely a likeness here. Although the gameplay is much different, the general world exploration and stamina management plays out in much the same way.
Of course with that comparison there’s the inevitable follow up where I complain about difficulty in games. Look, I suck, I know I suck, but man, this game is fucking hard. The beginning levels are so vague in direction and full of tough enemies it’s hard to persevere as you keep dying.
Objectives aren’t abundantly clear, and even navigating around the city gets you in enough 5v1 fights that you can’t help but become frustrated. A mini map would be an absolute dream in this game.
Saying that, slowly finding better gear does help ease the frustration, as does teaming up with strangers or friends. In a particularly tough area I ran into another player and we quickly joined forces to take on hordes of enemies together. This was probably the most fun I had with the game, and it was made more enjoyable by the fact that the world of Absolver is usually so lonely and barren that teaming up with someone else brings it to life.
Replicating that camaraderie can be hard though, as I experienced in another session when I approached someone to team up, only to have them beat the shit out of me. End of the day, this is an online game, and people sure love beating the crap out of each other online.
For those more into PVP there is the option to play solely PVP battles, or you could totally just beat up on players begging for help in the open world – the choice is yours!
The deeper you get into Absolver you start to unlock new skills and abilities, such as weapons and shielding moves. These all make the game significantly better, but getting to that point might be beyond breaking point for some who are less inclined towards this style of game. If I wasn’t reviewing the title I’d have probably thrown in the towel long before I did.
If you’re willing to push through the burn, or are just generally better at video games than me, there is a lot to like about Absolver. It might not be a giant release, as it falls into a relatively niche category, but what it delivers is a great package with some innovative ideas.