Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC

I’ll admit that Absolver, the new martial arts/adventure/RPG game from developer Sloclap and publisher Devolver Digital, has been one of my most highly anticipated games of 2017 for quite some time, so if this review ends up sounding a little overly biased, I apologize in advance.

Being a longtime lover/practitioner of martial arts as well as a fan of adventure/RPG games, I had high hopes for Absolver, and I’m glad to report that, in many ways, Sloclap’s latest has lived up to the hype. While it may not be perfect, Absolver makes a strong first showing and also has plenty of room to grow over the coming months.

Strong Prospects

Absolver is admittedly light on story, being set in a unique ruined world called Adal in which men and women train in various fighting styles in the hopes that they will one day graduate from the status of ‘Prospect’ to ‘Absolver’ (the latter of which being a sort of revered guardian/warrior). You enter the world as one of these many Prospects, creating your own original character and tweaking details like their gender and hair color before you choose one of three different starter fighting styles (essentially character classes for you RPG folks out there).

Once your Prospect arrives in Adal, you’re free to roam around and explore the world’s various regions, each of which has shortcuts and hidden items to uncover, AI enemies to battle against, and, ultimately, a variety of mini-bosses and bosses to challenge and defeat.

I found the lack of direction the game offers and the sheer number of different paths to take a little intimidating at first, but I soon discovered that the entire game world you can explore is actually not too large. Granted, it’s large enough that it will take you a bit of time to get your bearings, but eventually you’ll be able to navigate to specific areas with ease.

As for the fighting, Absolver manages to strike a pretty solid balance between ease of use and technical depth. You really only use two main buttons for unleashing your Prospect’s various punches and kicks, but the added elements of dodging, blocking, feinting, and using your style’s unique defensive move add many additional layers of strategy onto otherwise typical strikes and combos. Plus, there is what is perhaps Absolver’s most unique and engaging feature: the Combat Deck.

If you played games like the PS2 cult classic God Hand or Dontod’s Remember Me, the Combat Deck in Absolver should look and feel somewhat familiar. Essentially, it allows you to customize your Prospect’s fighting style by laying down your own hand-picked combos and attack patterns.

This combined with the game’s stance system, a system that allows you to fluidly transition between different combos depending on which of the four stances your Prospect is in, adds even more depth into the game’s combat system, and all but guarantees that no two players will fight in the exact same way. Add to that the fact that you can learn a staggering array of new moves by defending against them in both PvE and PvP play, and the well of potential within Absolver’s combat system only gets deeper.

Combo Breaker

I started playing Absolver pretty much as soon as it launched (did I mention it was one of my most highly anticipated games?), which means I have sadly also born witness to much of the game’s growing pains, both launch-related and otherwise. For starters, the game’s online servers were down at launch and remained down for roughly a full day afterwards.

This wasn’t such a huge deal since a fair bit of Absolver can still be played when offline, but much of the late-game content that is offered is directly tied to your online combat rank, a rank that can only be increased by participating in structured online PvP matches, so you can see why fans weren’t too happy that the online functionality was so spotty out of the gate.

I also encountered a fair amount of bugs and glitches during my first few hours with Absolver, a few of which required me to restart the game. Fortunately, Absolver’s generous auto-save system meant that I never really lost any progress as a result of these issues, and, in all fairness, Sloclap isn’t a large development team, and I doubt they anticipated just how many people would be trying to play Absolver at launch. I don’t want it to sound like I’m making excuses for Sloclap, it’s just that, considering how small the development team is, the inaugural launch could have been a lot worse.

There are also a few other nitpick issues I had, such as the lack of a proper mini-map or any method of knowing which direction I was traveling in, both of which quickly made tracking down the various mini-bosses you have to defeat into an aggravating chore.

I also didn’t really like how, if you manually disable open-world matchmaking in an area, it just re-enables itself as soon as you enter a new area, which means you’re never truly safe from being ganked by another player if you want to play online. Neither of these issues was a huge problem though, just minor irritations that marred my otherwise very positive perception of Absolver as a whole.

More Mountains To Climb

For now, Absolver’s endgame is made up of slim pickings, consisting of little else besides 1v1 PvP fights and grinding against AI foes to level up your Prospect and learn new moves. However, Sloclap has stated in the past that additional gameplay systems such as structured co-op and a 3v3 PvP mode are on the way, so while Absolver didn’t make the strongest first showing, I’m excited to see how the game grows in the near future.

Absolver feels, at least in my opinion, like an interesting mish-mash of other games and game concepts I have enjoyed immensely in the past. God Hand, Journey, and even Dark Souls have influenced Sloclap’s new martial arts title to a degree, and if that doesn’t sound like a game that would appeal to my sensibilities, I don’t know what would.

While it is admittedly a little barebones for now, especially if you decide to play it offline, Absolver really has nowhere to go but up, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Sloclap improves and iterates upon the game’s already strong foundation.