DARK SOULS, DARK SOULS, DARK SOULS! Everyone in the collective gaming journalism biz likes comparing everything to DARK SOULS. Even I’m guilty of it on occasion. For a lot of people, DARK SOULS sets the bar pretty damn high for what to expect from an action RPG, so much so that it kind of created its own genre of games trying to emulate the feel of the series, games like NIOH and THE SURGE being the most notable. But even regarding those “Souls-likes,” it seems like everyone and their grandmother has to compare any game that boasts challenging gameplay or a cryptic story to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s well-regarded franchise. So when you put out a game that’s been described as “DARK SOULS meets FIST OF THE NORTH STAR,” I meet it with heaviest of skepticism and eye-rolling, yet also hopeless optimism. The results of doing so were . . . not all that positive.
If me saying “Dark” and/or “Souls” were a drinking game, you’d probably be dead at this point
On that positive note, let’s actually try to pick this thing apart. ABSOLVER is a roleplaying fighting game, with heavy focus on that fighting aspect. Its primary attractions are a very meticulous and versatile combat system, and its multiplayer mechanics that can effectively allow brawls between teams of up to three players. But those are really the only aspects I can praise. The rest of the game, unfortunately, is nothing to write home about. Frankly, most of the game in its design aspects, such as its story and the “roleplaying,” feel empty. There’s a lot about ABSOLVER that feels incomplete, as if the devs forgot to construct a world around the gameplay.
As noted above, ABSOLVER’s combat is obviously the key focus of the game, and very obviously the aspect of the game with the most polish and nuance poured into it. Without delving into the realm of long-winded-ness, players are able to create a character and select a fighting style upon starting the game, which they will proceed to build upon as they level up and mold their skills to create a unique combat style. Additionally, the player can group together learned skills into a set, creating up to four “Combat Decks” that can be cycled through on the fly. All this, on top of feint attacks, dodging, parries, and being able to attack the lower, middle, and upper body, make ABSOLVER’s combat system probably the most intimate and complex I’ve ever experienced. Which, in some respects, is detrimental due to it being too complex, but for the sake of argument, I’ll give credit where credit is due.
As for how well that combat system translates into the actual gameplay, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In the visuals department, every motion is fluid and well-choreographed. You can feel the weight behind each impact, making fights feel realistically-paced and satisfying. Likewise, that weight and fluid nature makes performing combos feel natural and gratifying to perform (granted they land), while outsmarting player-controlled opponents and beating them down with your crazy martial arts skills adds some tactical pleasure.
You will know the fury of Punchy McSimmons
But by mentioning player-controlled characters, I have to bring up one of ABSOLVER’s critical issues regarding combat. While the game takes some time to get a hang of at the beginning, after an hour or so you can beat down any NPC with relative ease. The difficulty doesn’t spike until a little ways into the semi-open world, when you can interact with other players. ABSOLVER was clearly made for sparring with these other players in a pseudo-MMORPG manner, as that’s essentially what all this game’s endgame content consists of. But if that’s the case, why bother implementing the hassle of NPC fodder to the degree that exists if they don’t pose that much of a challenge? On a related note, while players can randomly appear in up to groups of three, no one is obligated to help anyone. It’s kind of a detrimental approach to multiplayer combat when you happen to have three skilled players wailing on another inexperienced one without any real kind of balance.
In ABSOLVER, gankers spank you!
ABSOLVER is fairly empty in the roleplaying aspect. In what little story is mentioned, you play as a nondescript masked warrior known as a Prospect, and are given the task to become an Absolver, a powerful fighting master that brings balance to the world. It’s just as cookie-cutter as it sounds, with the few other instances of story shared either through text dialogue with NPCs or short cutscenes not really adding anything of substance. While the art style of the game may be pleasant to look at, its locales don’t really offer much flavor outside of “Generic Fantasy” and “Ruins,” the layout of areas are limited and mostly barren, and there’s a distinct lack of worthwhile benefits or rewards to exploring outside of more faceless people to punch.
In all honesty, ABSOLVER just feels like an unfinished product. It clocks in at maybe just six hours’ worth of play time to complete the “story,” and it’s not really an enjoyable ride at that. And unless you like mindlessly kicking the shit out of random players for no reward outside of saying “I beat another person,” the endgame is pretty hollow too. Maybe there is a demographic out there that wants to punch things forever without reason, but then there are better ways of reaching it than with an RPG. Sure, you can build up the character’s stats and learn new moves and be the best fighter you can be, but what’s the point if there’s no real journey, or even a destination for that matter? ABSOLVER as a game is just like the player-controlled avatar, when you think about it. Violent and methodical, yet unremarkable and devoid of an identity.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PC, also available on PS4