Absolver Review: Fighting More Bugs Than Enemies
Absolver is a game that sounds amazing on paper and sometimes plays amazingly in action. When it works.
However, my time with the game has been filled with disconnects, game crashes, camera bugs, body duplicates, and all sorts of other issues that prevent me from enjoying the amazing work Sloclap has done in terms of gameplay, graphics, and worldbuilding.
I have a confession to make -- I'm a sucker for stylish graphics. When games like Jet Set Radio or Katamari Damacy go out of their way to establish their own bold aesthetic and pull it off, it adds something special that makes the game stand out from similar titles with run-of-the-mill graphics.
The graphics team at Sloclap has made Absolver a beautiful game. The character designs are just as striking as the impact from a fast elbow. The graphical style, in tandem with the vague, thin monk bodies and expressionless masks, are pretty iconic. I imagine we'll be seeing a lot of cosplays from this game over the next few years.
The environments in Absolver are absolutely gorgeous. The ruins, the water, the trees, and everything else create an atmosphere that's a mix between whimsical and bleak. Adal feels like an old empire. I haven't finished collecting all the armor sets, but those I have seen so far look great and can be mixed-and-matched to make sure that, despite having the same build as other characters, your character will still look pretty unique.
The animations are very fluid as well. Each attack has its own wonderfully executed animation. The fast attacks are quick, yet they pack a punch (or kick). And the heavier ones make a big impact. The emotes in this game are great, too. You can tell a lot of effort and love was put into designing this aspect of Absolver.
The music in this game is good -- but compared to the graphics and gameplay, it doesn't stand out quite as much.
There is also very little spoken dialogue in this game, but when there is, it grabs your attention. The developers have made their own language for Absolver and it adds another interesting layer of lore to the world. The combat sounds are fantastic, and there's nothing quite like landing and hearing a big blow on your opponent before defeating them.
Other than the graphics, the gameplay is where Absolver really shines. While I haven't been able to play enough so far to say whether or not the game and its different styles are balanced, what I have played has been fun and simple to learn in terms of basics, but almost too deep in its advanced form.
The combat is mostly bare fist/gloved melee, though you can get gauntlets and a sword to fight with as well. There are four different stances that you can switch between and combo into. Your character's stance changes visually, and this is one of the most important parts for knowing when to attack, when to block, etc., as your and your opponents' attacks depend on the stance. Learning to read stances and knowing which attacks start from where is key to succeeding in fights.
When creating a character, you'll choose one of the three styles to start with. I picked Windfall for the character above, as I'm a fan of fast fighting game characters. This style lets me dodge with my R-stick, whereas one of the other ones will let you absorb attacks, and another one lets you parry. Windfall doesn't have to be played fast, however, as you can equip heavy armor but still dodge with your style's special feature. It's hard to say how viable this is, but it is an interesting premise.
The aspect of the combat system that stands out the most in Absolver, though, is its combat deck editor. You start off with a few base moves you can do, but the further your character levels and fights opponents from different styles, the more moves you learn. Eventually, you can even switch between styles. You can string together these moves you learn in the combat deck editor (see screenshot). There are lots of moves to unlock -- each with its own speed, placement (high, low, etc.), and power.
The multiplayer/single-player functionality in this game is quite similar to the Souls series. However, instead of needing to summon allies or enemies to drop into your world, you will just run into each other in the game world. Whether another player is your friend, foe, or just a passerby is part of the fun, as you never know until one of you makes a move.
While I haven't had a chance to engage with Absolver's lore as much as I want to yet because the game has been constantly disconnecting or crashing, what I have seen has been quite interesting. The game has its own language which is really, really cool. The history of the world is revealed through NPCs and items in-game, quite like Dark Souls. Each new armor piece not only gives you the possibility of improving your character, but also a better understanding of the game's world.
The PvE story in Absolver is less than 10 hours long by most players' accounts -- and most of that is navigating the world, as the only way to view a map is to go to an altar (a safe spot sort of similar to bonfires in the Souls series). You can complete it offline or online, though online is definitely recommended. When the servers were down for a while, I played the game offline and it kind of feels like you're cheating. It also feels super lonely without other players joining you and/or sabotaging you. Some players have also reported their characters disappearing if they play offline only for too long.
As previously mentioned, the map is only accessible in certain locations. This makes the world quite difficult to navigate. For some players, this added difficulty will interest them -- but for me, it was a bit of a turn-off and felt like an artificial way to extend the PvE aspects of the game. That being said, it is fun to find loot that seems inaccessible at first until you explore every nook and cranny to eventually reach it.
Server Issues and Bugs
If you can't tell by the multitude of complaints above, this game is loaded with problems in spite of its good design. Before getting into the complaints, it is worth noting that Sloclap is a small, independent studio. This game is ambitious for any studio, let alone one the size of Sloclap, and they have been doing their best to address the issues that have been happening since Absolver launched a few days ago, like adding an Oceania server for Aussie and NZ players.
I have yet to play this game for more than an hour without it disconnecting, crashing, or some sort of bug happening that forces me to restart the game. When entering new areas, sometimes your character's model will duplicate and you will be unable to move. One time I managed to get unstuck from this position, but I have yet to replicate it in the multiple times it's happened since. In fact, my most recent encounter with this bug created a second duplicate of my character model (see screenshot). Even the bugs have bugs.
The game server was down for most of the time I played last night. I ended up playing in offline mode, but Absolver isn't quite as interesting without other players running around as previously mentioned. After completing the PvE, it's not worth touching without access to other players.
Those aren't the only problems I've experienced with Absolver. Multiple times, I've had the camera get stuck in one place and have been unable to get it back. It felt like I was playing Resident Evil. There's also been a bit of lag in the fights, which steals the joy from any fighting game.
The most frustrating aspect of the game the game can be running smoothly for a while, then it will randomly freeze on a specific frame and crash. I had this happen in my second, lag-free 1v1 match. I was 2-0 and about to win, then it froze on my character performing a kick before kicking me out of the program.
Absolver's gameplay and graphics are so wonderful that it makes these issues all the more frustrating. If these problems only happened once every few hours, it'd be one thing -- but sometimes you'll encounter error after error or just be plain unable to connect for hours at a time.
Should You Buy It?
This is a tough question for me. Aside from my scrubby butt having a hard time navigating the map and properly building a deck, I really like this game at its core. If the bugs get fixed, it could possibly become one of my favorite games.
If For Honor interested you and you're cool with playing a game that will be mostly PvP, Absolver is for you if you can wait out or handle the bugs. If you only want PvE, I would hold off even if the issues get fixed. Sloclap has discussed their plans for upcoming free updates to the game so there might be more PvE in the future, but as of right now, there's not enough to keep single player fans engaged.
All things considered, this has been a disappointing experience for me. I have been excited for Absolver for quite some time because of how much of a mess For Honor was. It's such an amazing game at its core -- but when you can't run through the map without risking losing control of your character or camera, it is hard to have fun.
I'm giving this game a 6 because it's a small studio, yet the devs are taking actions to address these issues. Had this been an Ubisoft game, I would have given it a 4 or a 5. If all the bugs are fixed, this game becomes an 8. If there is a more in-depth tutorial and a better map system added, this game becomes a 9 for me. However, things currently stand, I already feel like a 6 is pretty generous.
If you want to check it out for yourself, Absolver is available on GOG for $29.99.
[Note: GOG provided a free code for Absolver to the writer for the purpose of this review.]