With the releases of Street Fighter V, Injustice 2, and the upcoming Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, the 2D-fighter sphere is alive and well. However, Ubisoft’s For Honor and developer Sloclap’s Absolver seem to be ushering in a new era of fighters that focus on the execution of combat in a 3D space. While both games take diverging approaches, it is only the latter that doesn’t deliver a satisfying combat system to keep the player going until the next battle.
The game definitely has a unique vibe to it as players wake up in the mysterious land of Adal, a sprawling landscape of limited biomes populated by other Prospects. The endgame is to reach the rank of Absolver, the highest class of warriors, by completing trials and duking it out against other players. The water-painted world of Adal is full of breathtaking vistas and towering structures that constantly distracted me from the fighting. Unfortunately, the beauty in these moments is contrasted by some downright horrific sections that look a generation old and feature repetitive architecture. This doesn’t help when tracking down mini-boss locations as it makes the journey feel like a twisted puzzle.
See, whereas Adal is meant to serve as the game’s playground, it ends up turning into an insane asylum due to the amount of backtracking and déjà vu moments from the lack of a mini-map. Drawings of the world can be found at altars but it barely helps when there aren’t enough distinct landmarks to guage which area you’re in at any given moment. And because so much of the map looks the same and some areas can only be discovered through a hidden passage, the game feels more like a bad Portal 2 than a different take on For Honor.
While I have issues with some aspects of the aforementioned For Honor, the combat system makes the controller feel like an extension of my in-game avatar. The same cannot be said about Absolver, for the most part. As the camera pans down close behind the shoulder of a Prospect, players are given the ability to change their stance on the fly in order to get in different positions and thereby execute different moves. Players can mix and match new abilities they’ve learned – taken from victorious battles – and catch their opponent’s off-guard with a flying overhead kick or a sweep of the legs. What I like most about the game’s combat system is that it’s totally unforgiving. A certain level of focus is required to both land shots and dodge attacks, especially against unpredictable human opponents.
The problems arise when you actually hit a button. Besides the cinematic dodge move that makes you feel like a kung-fu master when timed perfectly, the combat system isn’t exactly that engaging. I don’t feel like much of a warrior when I land a killing blow or jump back to activate an ability. I’ve never felt like I was in a rhythm after landing consecutive shots as my controller continued to vibrate without any real kick to it. It might simply be the lack of complex animations that larger developers can show off or the quick movement of limbs without many satisfactory slow-mo moves that end with a satisfying payoff, but the game simply doesn’t feel as good as its competitors.
While the single-player journey in Absolver is wrought with loneliness and navigational confusion, fighting alongside and against other players is where the real fun can be had. Besides the one-versus-one action during the trials, players can explore and battle alongside random players that populate the world. Unlocking points to upgrade your Prospect’s attributes and slaughtering enemies is more enjoyable when another player is wailing on them from the other side. There’s just something wonderful about meeting up with a non-hostile player and working towards a unified goal. However, there are some problems when working with other players like a certain occasion where an untouched boss was taken down by another Prospect before I could revive myself and give it another go. The lock-on system when fighting with other players could also use some work. There’s a certain charm in the fact that you can accidentally hit allied players when taking on AI enemies, but it’s also a bit frustrating in difficult battles when you have to constantly make sure you’re on the opposite side of your ally to avoid scissor kicking them in the face.
You can always avoid working with others and instead attack idle players sitting near an altar to grind XP. That is until the high-level player you were beating on suddenly comes back from a snack run and absolutely pummels your rag-wearing character into oblivion, only for you to accept his revive request and die painfully again. And speaking of rags, the character customization in Absolver is truly rags to riches. Starting with almost no clothes on your back, finding items scattered around the world and building up your persona is visualized throughout the sheer awesomeness of some of the armor options in the game. The PvP arena is where this is the most apparent as I fought against players that didn’t even look human with the amount of armor they had on, not the least of which includes the plethora of bizarre, alien-looking masks. Maybe it’s just the innate human need to always want more, but the different looking characters makes it feel as though you are working towards a tangible goal.
While Absolver is up and down in a lot of places, the game just doesn’t come together well. There’s something about the underlying design that makes it feel disjointed. Most of this comes from the quasi-open world aspect, but the ridiculous level of grinding involved and the disconnected PvP mode makes Absolver feel like a game that’s at war with itself. It certainly has the potential to be great though, with more of a focus on interweaving the PvE and PvP content as well as some expansions to the tight and narrow world of Adal and a very much needed mini-map system.
Absolver PS4 review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.