Reviews August 29, 2017

Absolver

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: PC (Also on PS4)
Genre: Action RPG/Fighting
Rated: T
Players: 1 (2-Many Online)
Cost: $29.99
Release Date: 08/29/2017
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Sloclap

It’s crazy how our expectations can impact our experiences. Preconceived notions can even taint a physical product – a good film or game can seem mediocre if we go in expecting more than what was promised. The inverse happens as well. Which is why it’s wise to temper our expectations. Be reasonable as that’s the only way to not be let down. Unless of course, we were fed some insincere information from the start…

Say what you want about titles like No Man’s Sky. Most are passionately developed by people who love video games. That said, it can be tough to defend them outright given how much is promised up front. This is especially true with Hello Games’ founder, Sean Murray, as he can be seen on video talking about aspects of No Man’s Sky that weren’t included in its initial release. While it’s true that gamers heaped “hype” onto the game from the beginning, a lot of the fault hangs over Hello Games’ collective heads. They helped in ruining what could have been an decent experience for many players. I’m afraid that this sort of thing is going to happen with Sloclap’s first title, Absolver. Although not on the same scale, mind you – the confusion here doesn’t come from months of speculation, snazzy trailers and bad interviews. At least, not entirely. This is because Sloclap’s (and maybe Devolver’s) descriptions are vague enough to allow for multiple interpretations, possibly leading to misconceptions about the game.

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Absolver is an online multiplayer combat game set in the fallen Adal Empire.Players will take up a sacred vow to become Absolvers (think Jedi) who are tasked with maintaining stability in the world. Before they can do that though, they’ll need to explore a rich and dynamic world as Prospects. PvP and PvE options are highlighted – players can put their skills to the test against one another or team up to tackle the dungeon mines of Adal in hopes of acquiring rare loot.     

Sounds good, right? I paraphrased some of the descriptions I saw in press releases, the game’s official site, Steam, etcetera. The problem though is that a lot of these “details” are misleading. Take Adel for instance. This fallen kingdom is made up of four small maps that adjoin at their edges, forming a larger circular area. Some are interesting in design, though all are mostly barren spaces sans the rival Prospects and enemy NPCs. They offer a place to run around in as you complete a lengthy tutorial, but they aren’t dynamic environments (only the time of day changes) and they don’t provide much in terms of exploration. There’s a bullet point for narrative but the plot is nonexistent. And no, the unique “stories” that happen when you encounter other players don’t count. There are also no dungeons to speak of* or special PvE areas where players can work together to get rare loot.

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It may seem like I’m reading into things. No one specifically said that we’d get a lengthy plot or large open world to dive into. At the same time, all of those phrases used to describe the game start to paint a certain picture that just isn’t there. It doesn’t help that Sloclaps Creative Lead, Pierre Tarno, likened Absolver to Dark Souls in an interview last year – aside from running into tough opponents while roaming a mysterious land, there’s nothing Dark Souls-ish here.

As it turns out, Absolver is an online fighter with some extra baggage. At the start, you’ll hunt down special Prospects and mini-bosses throughout Adel. Once defeated, you’ll be allowed to fight an Absolver named Risryn. Best her in combat and you’ll be promoted to Absolver. After that you can continue running around Adel and fighting the low-level Prospects and random players you bump into. Or you can jump into a competitive PvP mode, complete with matchmaking. This is recommended as Adel holds nothing for Absolvers besides rematches with the boss characters, which are only possible after you’ve ranked up online. And…that’s it. No bells and whistles. No grand story. There aren’t even any interesting characters worth talking about. Just a giant tutorial that sets up the real game.

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The good news is that Absolver’s combat is exceptional in design. It’s similar to For Honor in that you have multiple stances that allow for different moves. Attacks flow into one another, moving you in and out of different stances in real time. Certain transitional attacks allow you to skip to a preferred stance, switching up what attacks are performed during combos. Combat decks are layered on top of these stances. As you battle enemies, you’ll learn new attacks and abilities, which can be added to a deck/placed according to their corresponding stances. It sounds more confusing than it is. Ultimately though, this system makes it possible to attack and defended with a level of control not often seen in video games.

It’s possible to jump over a sweep or duck under a punch as it comes. A dodge is realistic in nature and momentum can be used to your advantage. Stamina is a big facture, requiring players to think strategically when it comes to attacking and blocking. Properly timed button presses will allow players to attack longer were as flailing about will cause them to tire, leaving them open to attacks; you can’t block if you’re out of stamina. This creates a steep divide between button mashers and those who learn the inner workings of combat. Fights between skilled players almost look choreographed.

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The 1v1 bouts can are exhilarating to say the least. It’s a shame that I still found myself growing bored with Absolver. I didn’t really care about my character with the lack of a compelling story. I mean, Street Fighter doesn’t have the greatest plot but the characters have interesting backgrounds/personas. I tried getting into the cosmetic side of things but was met with resistance. Everything you wear contributes to your weight, where lighter items allow for harder hitting attacks for certain classes but less overall protection. So, when utilizing the Stagger style, I had to decide if wearing a cool mask I found is worth forgoing some power.

Speaking of styles, there are only four available to learn. You can mix and match learned moves from each one along with secondary options (like combat decks for weapons). It didn’t take long to start see repeat moves regardless of who I faced though. The matchmaking is rough. It isn’t fun fighting a level 60 player when you’re still in your twenties. Even if I could counter all of their moves, the difference in stamina made it hard to compete; it isn’t excatly correlated with character rank, but higher leveled players would have made sure to add points to this stat. Higher level players also had way more attack options to customize their decks with. Because you can only learn moves by blocking or countering when in fights, learning new attacks to even the odds is a slow process. To be fair, I was only able to play with other journalists and Youtubers. So, it’s possible that the matchmaking will fix itself once more people are playing. That doesn’t save you from the people roaming about the different maps though, as anyone can start attacking you while out in the field.   

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I don’t think Absolver is a bad game. I just imagined more. And honestly, it seems like Sloclap did too. It feels like there should be more. Maybe I missed something. Some secret NPC that fills in the blanks or an interesting boss that requires multiple players to dispatch. All I know is that I searched just about every inch of Adel. The only viable options after the weak story are the ranked PvP matches and regurgitated boss fights. The fighting is rather entertaining so I’m sure many will be pleased with what’s here. Personally, I’m a bit disappointed.

Gameplay: 7
The combat is Absolver’s saving grace. I’m not sure if that’s all it needs to be successful though.

Graphics: 8
I like the clay-like aesthetics.  

Sound: 7
The music is ok at times. Though a lot of the attacks sound weak, like I’m punching pillows.

Replay Value: 3
Some will enjoy the competitive mode. I grew bored rather quickly.

Final Score:

6.3  

*The dungeons are supposed to come post-launch. That was announced before the game released. However, that information hasn’t been updated on the game’s official site. Reading the descriptions there makes it seem like Absolver would launch with dungeons ready to be explored.