Chosen from the many, I am sent to the ruins of Adal with no memory of getting there, just a vague recollection of a ritual I volunteered for.
Absolver by Sloclap, published by Devolver, is a game about exploring a hauntingly beautiful fallen empire and honing your combat abilities by facing off against those who have given up and those who seek power throughr means besides becoming an Absolver.
Absolvers are an elite fighting force, a militant group of justice-seeking badasses. When you start the game proper you have a few moves and a limited understanding of combat, and what's more is that the land of Adal can be overwhelming with its looping pathways and hidden doors. One of the areas I came across early on is spread across a section of city that has been uprooted by some kind of geological event - floors slope in confusing directions, towers lean haphazardly with makeshift wooden bridges spanning the spaces between, broken walls become pathways and shattered floors become tempting ledges that lead you astray. Spread throughout this area are life-like statues that could be other Prospects (more on this below) captured in stone as they explore the endless labyrinth, adding to the sunlight-soaked atmosphere and enriching the environment with a sense of story untold.
Narrative in Absolver
is something that is inferred rather than made blatant. You are given a goal - to become an Absolver
- and there is lore to be found in small chunks. This suits the game marvellously, giving just enough to keep you moving forward without weighing down the core experience.
Coupled with the stunningly beautiful landscape it all becomes a stage for the game's true star - the combat.
There is a grace and flow to Absolver
's combat system that feels like it has almost no parallel. Button mashers be warned, you will fall quickly here even against middling NPCs. Flailing at them only presents openings for them to slide in to and deliver swift defeat.
Instead, combat rewards timing, observation and patience. Keeping up your guard allows you to observe your opponents' moves, which in turn also allows you to begin learning their moves that you don't already possess. Once you've identified their abilities you can counter them with moves of your own, choosing from a constantly growing list of self-made combos. This game hands you a tool bag, it is up to you to build something solid with them.
As you explore, every so often other players will enter your game. They can be a hindrance or an aid and it is all seamless. Usually with this kind of multiplayer the community inevitably decays in to a free for all, and this is something I was worried about until I started encountering more and more live players. Most of the time they are neutral and will either help in battle or stand by and watch. Almost everyone, once free of NPC distractions, will acknowledge each other with bows and waves. Even when combat between live players occurs there is an unspoken etiquette being followed. Whether this persists beyond launch is another matter, but so far the community has been excellent to each other.
However, sometimes battle between two players is inevitable and it is here the combat can really shine. Between two equally skilled players a fight transcends violence into a dance that moves back and forth as blows are exchanged, countered and dodged.
If I am about to defeat someone in a fuel I step back and give them a chance to bow out because being defeated spawns you back at a checkpoint and also respawns enemies throughout the zone - think Dark Souls
, but less punishing.
There's a staggering number of moves you can learn. Each has its own animations, strengths and places in a combat deck. When a new Prospect enters the land of Adal he or she has a chosen style of combat, and each of them favours different stat balances that ultimately affect your overall speed and how much damage you can put out.
The Combat Deck offers four stances, and changing to a different stance offers up a combo of up to four moves. If you wish you can set each four move combo to finish with a move that alters your stance, and this in turn lets you keep the combo going. However, this can also lead to you being predictable so you can also use an alternative attack that will shift your stance to somewhere else in your combo or produce a combo of its own. But be aware that you only have so much stamina. Once you run out you are as defenceless as a baby. Keeping tabs on your stamina, your stance and how your opponent is responding is where victory lies and as one of the friendly NPCs you meet, Talem, says: "Victory is the only way to new knowledge" ...or something like that.
I went in to Absolver
with high hopes. It captured my interest when it was first announced and I have followed it keenly ever since. This usually leads to disappointment, but not so with this game. Sloclap have crafted something of beauty and grace with a combat system that is both intuitive and deep. Its environs can feel starkly empty at times and sometimes so crowded you can easily become overwhelmed. There is so much potential for Absolver
to grow beyond what is already a great game and it is a potential I am looking forward to experiencing as I too grow as an Absolver
+ Combat is finely-tuned and polished to a high shine
+ The Art Direction is clear, consistent and beautiful
+ Seamlessly entering other players' games creates community, but also tension
+ Speaking of tension, you have Tension Shards; they fill with combat and give you useful magic abilities
+ Soundtrack is minimal, but it complements the atmosphere of Adal
SPOnG Score: 9/10