I feel like I have to lead this review off by stating that, by and large, I am not a fan of fighting games. At all. I have a hard time getting into their lack of dimensional depth (save the Dragon Ball and Naruto style games), the repetitive nature of the games core mechanics loses me pretty quickly. I played Mortal Kombat X for about three hours before letting it go. That was the last one I really played.
Earlier this year Ubisoft took a stab bringing something unique to the fighting game genre with For Honor. In fact, For Honor's foundation in the fighting genre eluded me until I had played the game for about fifteen hours. I thought the use of a three dimensional camera, direction-based attack and defense, and "Deadliest Warrior" aesthetic were really great. But eventually, it too became "just a fighting game" to me. Not to mention its myriad issues with balance, exploits, and game breaking mechanics.
All of that being said, something about Sloclap's Absolver drew me in like a high school athlete to an all you-can-eat buffet (Chinese buffet, because when does Chinese ever sound bad?). A lot of that draw came from the simplistic aesthetic. It had beauty in a fashion that reminded me of games like Journey, where the lack of photo-realism gave way to a stylistic, almost painting like feel. What truly drew me in to Absolver was its unique gameplay.
Absolver gives you control of a warrior in an open world and tasks you with learning different schools of martial arts from those you fight, player or AI, along a journey to become "Absolved." It is a bare bones premise with a small amount of story given, but in Absolver, the player's journey quickly becomes that story.
I don't generally like fighting games, but I love Absolver. With a little more than fifteen hours under my white (maybe yellow) belt, there is something immediately poetic and fluid to Absolver that doesn't really exist anywhere else. The fighting system is built around the orientation of your fighter to his or her target, giving players forward-left, forward-right, rear-left, and rear-right. From there you have a list of attacks that you start with, all with starting positions and ending positions. For instance, say I am in stance facing front-right, pretty standard stance. If I were to perform a rear-leg, low-sweeping leg kick, I would end up facing rear-left. The attack would have spun me into a new position.
This system, while immediately confusing, after deliberate practice, leads to fluid melee combat that is unlike any other combat I have encountered. Players can then create attack combos that, if coordinated properly, lead into a new stance and a new combo. This can be crafted so as to leave players with a closed, cycling "style" of combat unique to each player.
The learning curve for this combat system is STEEP. I mashed buttons, a habit that is severely punished, when I first started. It was only after I began to understand the countering mechanic that I realized that the name of the game is patience. Each attack is meant to be timed, conserving stamina leading combo into combo. Couple that with learning opponent attacks by blocking or using your class specific evasion technique, and you are given a system, not far from martial mathematics, that has nearly infinite iterations.
Like I said, I have only put a mere fifteen or so hours into Absolver, and there is far more to learn, many opponents to defeat, and entire schools of martial arts not given in the beginning that can be learned in the wild.
I plan to dedicate far more time to Abslover in the coming months. Check back soon as I get further into the game and can give my final thoughts.