Set in a somewhat futuristic world that’s deeply rooted in the past — or at least old martial arts movies — Absolver (PlayStation 4, PC) is a third-person action-RPG that has you, as a masked warrior of your own design, getting into a bunch of random fist fights. But while it’s often engaging and challenging, it has some issues that may be more matters of personal preference than design flaws, but they still make this less interesting than it could’ve been.
In Absolver, you run around an open world that’s full of people just itching to get into with you, including other players connected online. And when you’re not duking it out with people, you spend your time looking for weapons and sturdier clothing that will keep you from getting hurt. It’s kind of like being in the movies Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, but without the teen angst.
In other ways, though, Absolver is somewhat Destiny-esque, albeit with a third-person perspective instead of first-person one. Not only is the world full of people both real and computer-controlled, but it also has light RPG elements, including the ability to to improve your strength, vitality, and other attributes with points you earn by leveling up. You can also improve your stats by finding cooler clothes, though unlike many RPGs, there’s no shopping, enemies don’t drop loot when defeated, and people don’t store their valuables in easily smashed clay pots. Well, usually.
Where Absolver really differs from Destiny, though, is during combat. Instead of guns and grenades, you use your fists and feet in ways that clearly indicate that you’ve studied some form of martial arts. You also have a variety of combos, as well as the ability to block and dodge.
Yet while Absolver was clearly made by people who enjoy martial arts movies, the computer-controlled characters in it apparently don’t because they’ll come at you at the same time, even if it means cheap shoting you from behind.
It is during these moments that Absolver recalls the fisticuffs in Batman: Arkham Knight and the other games in that series. Not only because you face multiple enemies from multiple directions at the same time, but also because you’ll only get so far by button mashing; if you don’t learn when to dodge or block, you won’t last long.
This is especially true when facing other players. As in Destiny, you can team up with other people and fight together. But unlike Destiny, which relegates its player-vs-player combat to special arenas, Absolver also lets you fight other people, and you can even get into battles both with and against a mix of real people and A.I. enemies at the same time. Something I saw first-hand when I was set upon by two A.I. enemies, and a real person else came to my rescue, only to be attacked by yet another online player.
Further augmenting the combat in Absolver is your ability to take different stances, which alter what combination of jabs and kicks you’ll perform. You can even, as you progress, unlock new attack stances, customizing how you deliver beat downs to your opponents.
As deep as this system may be, though, it’s sadly not as layered as the one in the aforementioned Batman games. Granted, part of it is because you don’t have Batman’s wonderful toys or his distracting cape. But it’s also because Batman is rather acrobatic in those games, something you are not, which gives him even more combat options.
Along similar lines, while there are times in Absolver when you can grab a weapon, you never grab it tight enough, and always manage to drop it when you’re hit hard a bunch of times or if you’ve used it for more than a minute or two.
It also doesn’t help that Absolver isn’t eager to let you back down from a fight. While you can lock onto an opponent with the click of a button, clicking on it again doesn’t break the connection for some reason. You can dodge backwards a bunch of times, and hope your enemy will lose interest, but they’re just as likely to keep coming after you.
All of which is made problematic by Absolver having rather loose camera controls that only get slightly better when you adjust them. Though even then, this never feels as good as either Destiny or Batman: Arkham Knight.
But the biggest issue I had with the combat in Absolver is that there’s a stamina meter that drains whenever you throw a punch. Until you upgrade it considerably, your character has about as much vigor as an overweight, out-of-shape, 49-year-old who, until recently, hadn’t exercised since the Clinton administration. Granted, the meter does refill rather quickly, but never fast enough that you can go all Fists Of Fury on people. Well, not effectively, anyway.
Sadly, the shortcomings in the combat aren’t the only problem I had with Absolver. Though as with the combat issues, some of these complaints are more a matter of preference than outright design flaws. First off, the world is open to everyone; you can’t restrict it to just your friends, nor can you keep everyone out if you’d rather go it alone. This not only means you can’t play if your Internet connection goes down, or the server is taken offline for maintenance, but it also means you can’t pause the game, say when your pizza arrives or your mom calls to yell at you for eating pizza, you’re overweight and out-of-shape.
Being persistently online also means Absolver doesn’t have options when it comes to the difficulty. Which is not only a problem if you’re a terrible fighter and don’t want to get your ass kicked all the time, but also if you’re a master of the martial arts and are looking a true test of your skills. Though the game is pretty challenging.
Absolver also presents its dialog in text form, instead of being voiced, which, as always, makes this feel a little low rent. And oddly so, given that that clearly didn’t skimp when it came to either its stylized visual style or its beautiful score. Though it also doesn’t help that this lacks an engaging narrative driving the action. This may play like a video game version of Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, but it doesn’t have as compelling a story as either of those movies.
But the biggest problem I had with Absolver — along with the aforementioned stamina limitations — is its redundancy. Yeah, there’s variety in your combat moves and so on, and you’re not fighting the same five grunts over and over. But, ultimately, you’re still just running from one fist fight to the next. There’s nothing in the way of variety.
Because of this, Absolver is best played in short bursts than in marathon sessions. Though even when I did this, it never grabbed me as much as, well, Destiny or Batman: Arkham Knight. Ultimately, while I can see other people really getting into this, for me, it was more of a grind than a good time.