Absolver (PC Review)
Absolver does definitely borrow a lot of great ideas from the brutally difficult dungeon crawler Dark Souls, but it has trouble actually achieving any them.
Let’s start with Absolver’s story. The story behind the Dark Souls series is absolutely baffling, requiring a Masters degree in historical studies to untangle from the bizarre series of cutscenes, in-game references, and clever item descriptions. Absolver tries to do all of this, but you’re left just scratching your head: you’re dropped in the middle of a “Prospect” ceremony, where fighters are chosen to take on the challenge of becoming Absolvers. To become an Absolver, a Prospect must go out, defeat a series of chosen fighters called “The Marked Ones” and climb the Tower of Adal to defeat a final boss named Risryn. Why? Who can say? Is Risryn bad? I’m not sure. Even after defeating her, I was very much like, “Oh, she seemed bad, but if this is a right of passage to become a vaunted ‘Absolver’ and I’m not the only one attempting this climb…wait, how does Risryn keep coming back? The point of training prospects is to climb the tower to defeat Risryn, but if I defeat Risryn and come back as an Absolver to train other prospects to…climb the tower to defeat Risryn…wait…” The problem is that there is very little in the way of story to fill any of this out, even to the point of making someone wonder why they’re playing Absolver in the first place. There’s no exposition at all.
There is an “active reload” style mechanic (from Gears of War) in the game to keep people from mashing the attack button over and over again; simply wait until the blow strikes, then attack again to chain together a series of quick and devastating attacks. This isn’t really explained to you in a tutorial (nor is really anything), but once I figured it out, I was devastating on the battlefield. Which was a shame, as I really wanted to implement some of the other skills I’d learned from the enemies I fought, but the nosebleed I got from looking at the combat deck and trying to piece it together (“okay, now this skill is being used, but now wait, this one is from a different style, so it would do less damage, but I need a move for this stance…”) made me more or less give up on the system altogether.
I did have some good interaction with another player towards the end of Absolver, where the two of us fought side by side together…but even that was clunky. We were regularly accidentally hitting one another while trying to hit our targets, and then being marked as “hostile” by the game. Absolver’s lock on mechanics are rough; you can lock onto a target, but you can’t flick a button to quickly switch targets: you have to unlock your current target, then make sure the target you want to fight is closest and the one you’re looking at, then hit the lock button again.
Loot drops! Surely there are unique items that drop off enemies so you can personalize and power-up your character, right? There are, but never enough to feel like you’re making much on an impact. As there are no real “power weapons” in the game, you’re simply finding better and better balance between being too weighed down and how much damage you can sustain. Generally, the heavier the armor, the more punishment you can take, but there are no special attributes or abilities assigned to any piece of kit. Nothing gives your attacks elemental damage, nothing makes your stamina regenerate faster, no bonus increases to statistics, nothing.
In the seven hours it took for my to finish Absolver, I saw that it has a lot of great ideas, but with its overly complicated combat system, bland and repetitive environments and enemies, and a lack of real purpose makes it a tough sell. I like where I think Absolver was going overall, but there are just so many promises that it is unable to fulfill that I’m unable to recommend it to anyone.