Personalize every punch.
By Jon Ryan
Everytime I see more of Absolver’s slick exterior, I feel like I’m pulling back another layer of its mysterious shell. At it’s core, it’s a fighting game – mixing weak and heavy attacks that seamlessly flow in and out of fighting stances, while learning unique combos and attack strings. But Absolver is clearly more than just a brawler – it’s an open world community experience where players can meet and group up into three-person cliques, as well as a light role playing game, where you’re free to explore, collect, and grind your way towards becoming an expert fighter. Absolver is all these things – but its biggest mystery remains: how it’s all going to come together.
It’s where you’re free to explore the semilinear landscape, customize your fighters’ movesets, loot equipment from chests and victims, and learn new moves from blocking, dodging, absorbing, and parrying enemy attacks.
The environments I explored in my brief demo ran the spectrum of derelict locales: an overgrown sunlit forest, a dank swamp dotted with ancient ruins, and the dilapidated remains of a cliffside village. All had a distinctly unique feel – gorgeous, yet eerily quiet, serene, and sad. Each area hints at an unspoken lore to delve into, but our playtime mostly consisted of running between the checkpoint-like altars. In our team of three (both strangers and friends can meet up and exchange emotes, form parties, start a PVP brawl, or simply ignore each other), we journeyed from place to place beating up nameless, faceless combatants – and each other – while experimenting with the vast customization system that lets every player design their own unique fighting style, move-by-meticulous-move.
Under the guise of Meditation, players can browse through a roster of available fighting styles – I got to experiment with two of these styles: my character’s default Windfall style, which is focused on avoiding and countering attacks, and the drunken-boxing-inspired Stagger style I unlocked, which stumbles between offense and defense to create a more versatile fighter.
You can pick and choose the individual kicks, punches and strikes that work best for your playstyle.
More can be unlocked as you progress through the game, and each individual move can be learned through combat. You’ll inch your way towards unlocking a Spinning Back Elbow attack by blocking it, dodging or parrying it. At the end of a fight, when your opponent finally slumps down in defeat, it’s invigorating to see your understanding of the punches, kicks, and wild elbow attacks you deflected during the fight slowing tick toward completion, when you’ll be able to unlock and use them yourself. It’s almost like collecting cards in a CCG, but instead of opening foil packages you’re breaking noses instead.
Each fighting style contains different moves for multiple combat scenarios. Regardless of whether you’re bare-knuckle boxing or using a weapon, there are dozens of moves that cater to each style’s four combat stances. While manually swapping between these stances during combat feels a bit clunky, especially when you’re still learning the timing on an attack combo, there’s no denying the satisfaction of assembling and landing a combo that flows seamlessly from one to another and another to another.
Pulling moves from your Combo Deck, you can pick and choose the individual kicks, punches and strikes that work best for your playstyle. Need to deal a lot of damage up front? There’s a deck set for that, which peppers in guard-breaking kicks and haymakers. Need to perform a quick flurry of attacks instead? There’s a moveset for that too. So long as you manage to keep chaining attacks, you can create a potentially infinite loop of face-punching precision. The deck building system is especially useful when grouping up with friends to explore the world in 3-player co-op. Sure, you can spend your time fighting one another instead, but there’s an extra-gratifying crunch when your heelkick lands as a perfectly timed follow-up to your partners punch.
All these elements blend together well, but I still find myself asking what the sum of these parts will be. Absolver has the potential to be one of the most intricate fighting games ever made, but it’s hard to know from my brief playthrough what lies beyond the fight.
JR is an editor at IGN. When he’s not writing wikis, he can be found screaming endlessly into the void on Twitter.