'Absolver' Is a New Approach to Fighting Games in a Genre Desperate For It
With its weird world and customizable combos, this open-world adventure is a fighting game for players who don't like fighting games.
All screenshots courtesy of Devolver Digital.
The ruins of the Adal Empire are vast and full of lost souls. Danger lurks in the crumbling farmhouses of its countryside and the sunbaked tenements of its inner city. The gibbering mobs of fighters assault me without provocation. Their attacks are a reminder of the price of failure.
Adal is a dangerous place for a prospect, new warriors on the path to enlightenment, but the Empire's new rulers require all prospects to brave the journey to join the ranks of the absolvers. I must find my marks, beat them, and learn their combat techniques to ascend. Through this journey, I am beset on all sides by those who failed, who fell to madness and in their despair lash out at anyone who approaches.
As I journey, I also encounter other prospects at different stages of their own trek through the Empire. Some help. Some hinder.
This is Absolver, a new online fighting game developed by Sloclap and published by Devolver Digital. It represents a different kind of fighting game, a video game genre long focused on memorized movesets and frame counting. Absolver offers something different.
The opening area works as a tutorial introducing players to the core concepts of combos, blocking, and dodging. Then a monk gives players a list of targets, a vague map, and targets to hunt down and defeat. It's a lot to take in and Absolver doesn't hold the player's hand. Instead, it asks them to pay attention, fight, fail, and learn.
In a typical fighting game, players memorize the move-set of their favorite characters, learn the hard counters and combos of that character, and then dive into the minutia of memorizing the frames of each animation. Fighting game designers know this and develop games with the tournament scene in mind.
Fighting games adopted by the big tournaments such as EVO, for example, mostly follow the same basic formula. Players stand on opposite sides of a long playing field and square off using combos and killer timing.
This is all well and good for the hardcore fighting game community, but as a casual player, I yearn for something different and weird. I love fighting games, but I'm tired of going through the motions of learning a new character's move set and then figuring out the right time to deploy a counter. I've done it for years and I'm bored with it.
Give me something different. I want strange brawlers with interactive environments like Power Stone. Give me the Def Jam series, where rappers beat up Henry Rollins. Competitive fighting games require precise input and high level skill ceilings, but I want the odd controls and strange damage systems of EA's Fight Night boxing games. Give me something new.
Absolver is exactly what I was looking for. This is a game for people who love fighting games but tire of chasing the tournament scene. Like other games in the genre, Absolver tasks players with memorizing a move-list, but that move-list is deep and customizable. You make it your own.
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Players pick a fighting style at the top of the game and assume four different stances within that style. During combat, players can easily flow from stance to stance. The moves and combos within each stance are customizable. A player pulls from all the moves they've learned to build their combat deck and assign moves to those stances. And each one of those combos can throw players into a different stance, allowing fighters to design long, interlocking attack strings.
In my game I set up a simple infinite combo limited only by my character's stamina. He'd start in a high stance, side kick then use a leg breaker to stagger the opponent. This typically threw my opponent off balance and put me in a low stance with my back to the character. From here, I'd use a power move that swept the leg and put me back in the high stance. Wash, rinse, and repeat until my opponents died.
It didn't always work, of course, but it worked enough that I felt as if I'd designed my own almost infinite powerful combo, which was thrilling. Add to this Absolver's light RPG elements and intuitive multiplayer and you've got something different from any other fighting game on the market.
As players explore Adal, they level up, put points into skills that improve their stats, loot gear from fallen opponents, and interact with other players. Players build out their combat deck by doing and seeing. When an opponent uses a move on you, your character gets a little closer to understanding how to use that move and add it to their pool of possible attacks. Defeat the opponent and gain XP for the move, fall in defeat and forfeit all that potential experience.
The multiplayer is different, too, and here the Dark Souls comparisons are apt. There's no voice chat, just a simple system of emotes. As players wander the game, searching for their targets, they'll encounter other players who might help or hinder their cause. During my time with the game, I fought a few trollish players out for blood, helped a guy take down a mini-boss, and even teamed up with a player for a few hours to clear out an area. All without using voice chat.
Absolver's disparate elements aren't new. Other fighting games have had RPG elements, experimented with open worlds, and offered customizable movesets. It's setting is straight out of Dark Souls and it's graphics aren't revolutionary. Yet developer Sloclap has taken all those elements and mixed them in a way that makes it all feel new, even though I've seen it all before.
Playing Absolver scratched an itch I didn't even know I had. It's similar enough to the things it takes inspiration from to make me comfortable, but different enough to keep me playing. Above all, it got me excited about the fighting game genre in a way I haven't been since the first time I played Super Smash Bros. or read about Thrill Kill. That alone is worth the price of admission.