Having grown up on action flicks from martial arts icons like Bruce Lee, Sammo Hung, and Jackie Chan, I’ve long waited for a game to deliver the definitive kung fu experience. Absolver, the gorgeous action RPG from developers Sloclap, certainly looks to pack the ingredients for success, but is it the answer to my prayers? Well, yes and no. While its intricate combat system and PvP battles hit all the right spots, a lack of overall content stops Absolver just shy of greatness.
As a Prospect, your journey begins with character creation. Customization options are quite limited (only gender and hair style are changeable) as the bulk of your appearance is dependent on gear. The major choice here lies in deciding which of the three combat styles to take on. Khalt focuses on defense and allows its users to absorb blows and power through opponents with slow, heavy strikes. Windfall, on the other hand, is fast and furious, relying on avoiding incoming attacks to create openings. Forsaken is a mix of the two, offering strong offense and the ability to parry and counterattack. There’s also an unlockable fourth style, Stagger, which features unpredictable movements full of feints and dodges.
“Since no two Combat Decks are the same, every encounter — from the beginning to end — feels fresh.”
You’ll come to learn the other styles through combat with users of that style. You can then mix and match the techniques into unique move sets through the Combat Deck, which is what separates Absolver from other fighters. In combat, you have four stances to swap between. Each stance can be customized with a series of up to three attacks and one alternate attack to serve as a combo breaker of sorts. Not all moves chain together. Some end in another stance, setting you up for a different series of attacks. Certain attacks possess special properties, such as guard break, and it’s up to you to decide where to slot them in. The two weapon types, sword and wargloves, also come with their own sets of customizable Decks.
Depending on your playstyle, you may opt to go for different functions, like an infinite loop of quick punches to overwhelm an opponent, or a string of high and low attacks to throw off Windfall users in PvP. With over 180 attacks to discover, the possibilities are near endless, encouraging thorough experimentation and a high level of replayability. Despite the sheer number of options, the Combat Deck never feels daunting to use. A casual player will have no trouble tossing together a few moves. At the same time, the system rewards those willing to spend a little extra time studying its nuances.
As if the Combat Deck isn’t complicated enough, you have two resources to manage in battle. The first is stamina, which is drained through attacking, blocking, and dodging. Take a hit with a depleted stamina bar and you’ll go into a stunned state, creating a wide opening for enemies to strike. The second resource is your Tension Shards. Accumulated Shards can be used to activate weapons or special abilities such as healing.
All of these layers come together beautifully, resulting in chess-like battles that require both strategy and quick-reflexes. You’ll have to gauge each new opponent for their style, move set, and weaknesses, then plan your approach accordingly. Since no two Combat Decks are the same, every encounter — from the beginning to end — feels fresh.
“The good news is that the singleplayer acts like more of an extended tutorial for the PvP, which is where Absolver truly shines.”
In Absolver’s bleak, barren world, there are nine bosses you must seek out and beat to a pulp in order to become, well, an Absolver. For the most part, these boss fights are fun and challenging, requiring you to win by adapting to their respective fighting styles. The problem comes in the fact that half these bosses are not alone.
Though Absolver excels at one-on-one duels, the combat system falls apart when there’s more than one opponent involved. You must lock onto an enemy in order to fight, but by doing so, your peripheral vision becomes obscured, allowing for enemies to flank. Foes do not fight fair and will often attack simultaneously, leading to frustrating moments where you’ll find yourself juggled by a flurry of unseen punches. This is made worse with bosses, who tend to have at least one powerful henchman in their company. Unless you’re a highly skilled player, you’ll likely have to cooperate with another player for these fights.
Those hoping for a lengthy campaign may be disappointed to know Absolver takes only five to six hours to finish. Storywise, there are no twists and turns or even much of an ending. Apart from collecting all 180 attacks, there’s not much to do in terms of endgame content. There are no hidden bosses or secrets to uncover. Armor and equipment made such negligible differences to my attack power and defense that I never felt inclined to hunt them down. Similarly, leveling up also produced little change in my stats. As a Windfall user, I pumped all my points into Dexterity thinking it would turn me into a glass cannon and was disappointed to find that, after 30 levels, I was hitting only marginally harder than I was in the beginning. I suspect this is meant to balance PvP, but the lack of noticeable improvement in my damage output kept me from going back and grinding for more levels.
The good news is that the single player acts like more of an extended tutorial for the PvP, which is where Absolver truly shines. These online duels will put everything you’ve learned to the test. Strategies that work against the AI won’t fare so well against real players. Button mashing gets you nowhere, and abusing the same combo is a one-way ticket to defeat. It took many matches before I won, and when I did, I was overcome with such a cathartic wave of gratification that I immediately dove into the next fight. Character progression carries over online, and you’ll even continue to unlock new moves. Currently, Absolver only supports 1v1 duels, though that’s expected to expand after release. Aside from PvP, you can also team up with other players to take on the campaign.
“With over 180 attacks to discover, the possibilities are near endless, encouraging thorough experimentation and a high level of replayability.”
Graphically, Absolver is stunning to behold. Its simple, cartoony art direction keeps the eyes focused where they belong; on the action. The fluidity of one attack chaining into the next is mesmerizing and gorgeously animated. Though the game world is by no means large, each location is imbued with a unique sense of identity and hints to a past that’s sadly not fully explored by the lore.
Absolver isn’t for everyone. Fighting game fans will likely get loads of mileage out of building their own Combat Decks. But until Sloclap releases new content, the only endgame here is in PvP duels, which some players may find off putting. For anyone with even a slight interest in kung fu or martial arts movies, give Absolver a shot. It just might hook you.
*** PC code provided by the publisher ***
- Deep, customizable combat
- Lots of attack moves to discover
- Victory requires as much thinking as reflexes
- Satisfying PvP
- Little PvE content
- Combat doesn’t well work against multiple opponents