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Absolver Review: Like Water

In Absolver, you arrive on the scene as a fallen empire attempts to gather itself back together. You’re guided by the new rulers of this land as you seek to become an Absolver, an elite corp of peacekeepers. While playing Absolver, a melee brawler that pays homage to the martial arts tradition, I thought of Bruce Lee’s legendary quote: “You must be shapeless, formless, like water.”The journey to the honored title of Absolver, and even the experience after, is set upon a road that is as simple or as complex as you want it to be. It will acquiesce to your desires, like water.

The path to becoming one of those peacekeepers involves becoming more adept at Absolver’s main dish: melee combat. Thankfully, that main dish is an incredibly delicious experience with more layers than I expected. You’ll choose from three fighting styles (with a fourth to be unlocked later) to use in the game but you can expand and evolve your style over time by adding new attacks to your Combat Deck and changing your combo structures. Button-mash at your own risk, but this brawler rewards pacing and laser focus on the stance and moves of your opponents. In short bouts of frustration, I’d start throwing everything but the kitchen sink at enemies, only to be quickly be reminded I should relax when I was countered into oblivion and my health bar depleted rapidly.

After surviving the tutorial, Absolver’s world opens up and you’re able to explore eight areas with another unlocked later. The Guidance Bridge is the hub for players and a few exits from it lead to areas for you to fight and explore. There’s not much actual “guidance” at this hub other than a totem with a few lights to show where your main targets are and, in general, the game takes a very hands-off approach to discovering the corners of the game world in way that’s reminiscent of hardcore RPGs like The Surge or Dark Souls. That minimalist approach can be found all over Adal, from the art design to the sound, and it all comes together in a really beautiful package.

When it comes to voice acting, there’s barely any to speak of. Your own character and the majority of those you encounter in the world are silent. This works well in a couple of ways: It gives you a chance to appreciate the lovely ambient noises of each area you move through and it also makes the voice acted boss fights that much more impactful. Words aren’t spoken aloud in Adal except to signal the appearance of an important character so you’ll do the most communication with your fists and, when you do, every statement is striking. The sounds of your limbs cutting through the wind and the varying degrees of impact all come together to create a wonderful song you won’t get tired of hearing throughout your experience.

The general structure early on has you fighting through the game world against AI and other players as you seek out special warriors. Once those warriors are defeated, you’ll unlock the final dungeon: The Tower of Adal. Throughout all of this, you’ll be earning gear that changes your strength, defense, health, stamina, and speed. The speed attribute isn’t increased over time, but is changed depending on the weight of your gear. Thus, you can put on heavier gear that will likely give you a defense boost, but it will likely slow your attacks and make it easier for opponents to read and defend against. Once you complete the game’s campaign, you’ll become an Absolver and the endgame will be focused on improving your Combat Deck, facing harder versions of bosses, and creating a school based on your fighting style if you reach a certain level of prominence.

You’ll often see a bunch of players running around and getting their bearings in the Guidance Bridge hub and other locations because Absolver is always online. You can turn it off temporarily but, you’ll be reconnected to the online world once you enter a new area of the map. You’re able to team up with the other players you see in your instance and take on the scattered AI enemies and bosses. You can also eschew the cooperative element and just fight anyone you come across, but you will have to encounter them at some point no matter what.

At launch, this “always online” feature could lead to some incredibly frustrating moments. Enemies would randomly pop up or disappear suddenly, putting you in a precarious situation or taking away your opportunity to learn new moves. When you block, counter, or dodge enemy attacks that aren’t a part of your own combat deck, a progress bar climbs until it fills and, once you defeat that enemy, that progress is chiseled in and you learn the move if you have done enough. If you die, that progress is lost, and it’s also lost if the enemy just disappears. The server issues also hindered the private PvP matches. With a combat system so dependant on timing and awareness, constant stuttering muddies the experience fully.

Appearances can be deceiving when it comes to martial arts. With the right knowledge, the unassuming or physically unimposing can dismantle opponents completely. Absolver, on its surface, is a multiplayer brawler with progression elements. At its center, it is a hardcore RPG that will reward players that invest in it heavily and it has more than enough value at its lower price. The game’s most significant issues have been addressed with a patch, thankfully, and any that step into the world of Andal is in for a treat. 


This review is based on a PS4 code provided by the publisher and the game was played on PS4 Pro. Absolver is now available on PC and PlayStation 4 for $29.99. The game is rated T for Teen.

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Absolver

8
very good
  • Intense, Engaging, and Deep Combat System
  • Great Sound Design
  • Beautiful, Minimalist Visuals
  • Lack of Enemy Variety
  • Connection Issues