Fight or Kite: Absolver is the greatest martial arts melee brawler you never played


I’ve been wanting to write about Absolver for the better part of my time here at MOP. In fact, it’s been rolling around the back of my mind since I joined. It was one of those flash-in-the-pan sort of games for me. It did everything it set out to do almost perfectly and yet just didn’t quite make the splash that it needed to ensure gamers continued to play it longer term.

Some may even wonder what happened to Absolver. Well, fortunately, the developers over at Sloclap made the clever choice of building their pseudo-online world in a way that allows it to exist in perpetuum as an offline single-player game as well. The experience offline is not nearly as impactful as the original intended gameplay loop; however, the fact that you can play it and experience the combat, the world, and the story even if the multiplayer features are disabled is fantastic.

Absolver falls somewhere in the realm of a what we call a “not-so-massively” game. It’s much more than a simple arena brawler or battle royale, but it’s also not as ambitious as a true persistent world MMO. It’s been a long time since I played through the story, so you’ll have to give me a bit of leeway on the details. What I do recall is that the world was broken or torn apart in some way. You play as a Prospect battling your way through the world in order to become an Absolver who can help maintain the current world order… or something along those lines.

Now, the lore of the world in game is actually highly detailed. When building your characters, there are all kinds of descriptions about the different people, where they are from, and some of their goals. It’s all basically just background lore, but it helps to build up the world you’re going to be playing in. The character builder itself is fairly light, but there are a ton of other ways to customize yourself.

Where the game is able to blur the lines between offline single-player game and multiplayer title is through your exploration of the world. As you roam the world fighting off NPCs, you’ll randomly encounter another player. The player’s name doesn’t even float overhead, so there isn’t a lot to distinguish your fellow gamers from the NPCs. Until you’ve played for a bit and have a feel for how the NPCs look, other players are almost indistinguishable.

Absolver also chose the route of not allowing any form of chat, so when you do encounter another player, your only means of communicating is through emotes and your actions. That means that every time you come across other players, there is a moment of hesitation as you wonder whether they’ll be friend or foe. Of course, they are typically foes. However, sometimes they are chill. And more often than not, even if they are looking for a fight they’ll usually rez you afterwards.

The world is basically entirely instanced, but you never really feel that way. Other than major zone changes, you fairly seamlessly move between zones. While your encounters with others are random, the game allows only three players to spawn within an instance at a time. This of course also means that if you are partied up with a friend, you know you won’t be outnumbered.

Combat is fast, smart, and unique

In my mind, Absolver’s combat is hands down the single best fighting system ever made. It simply has no equal, though there are some tangentially similar systems out there. The depths of the system are far too complex to do any justice to in this piece, but I’d still like to give you a general idea of what it’s like.

If you’re familiar with For Honor, or even Chivalry 2, then you’ve got a starting point for Absolver. It’s actually pretty funny to me because I was extremely into For Honor for the handful of months it was released prior to Absolver, and then I went all in on Absolver. In fact, I recently went back to see how much has changed in For Honor, which was quite a bit. In For Honor, you have a high, left, or right stance each with a set of combos you can memorize and unleash – sort of like a classic arcade fighter. Absolver adds one more to that with a front left, front right, back left, and back right stances. However, rather than learning a strict set of combos, players are actually able to build their own combos. Now, Sloclap called these custom combos something like a combat deck, but I never liked that. Calling it a deck makes me think of card games, which this is certainly not. These skills are no more cards than a skill on any MMO skill bar.

There are maybe hundreds of different attacks or skills in the game, but you learn each one by encountering a foe with that attack and blocking or dodging it until you’ve “learned” it. At that point it’s available for you to set in your attack chain. Each attack begins from a specific stance but can also leave you in a different stance when it ends, so where an attack ends determines which attacks you can begin from. For example, if I start in the front left stance and throw a roundhouse kick that ends me in the front right stance, my next attack must be one that starts with this stance.

Then, while you’re in combat, if an attack comes from your right, you would need to block or dodge that direction. Or, if you know your own skills well enough and you know that your starting attack from a stance includes a spin that dodges the attack from the left and you see that coming, you can begin your rotation. It all sounds very complex, and it is, but in practice it works really well and makes a lot of sense. The way Sloclap designed the build system for your character makes it super easy to use.

There are also five combat styles you can learn, only one of which can be active at a time. Each style offers a unique activated power, such as an improved block or dodge. And not only do you have unarmed combat moves, but there are also two or three different weapons you can gain, each with its own set of combat skills. Now, add on top of this combat the ability to customize your gear, where heavy gear makes you tougher but slower… and you can start to see where it can get very intense.

One last thing to mention about the combat is the system Sloclap designed for guilds, called schools. Players are able to join a school, which allows them to instantly use a completed build designed by the head of the school. I think you could see everyone in the school, so if you wanted to party up, that simplified the process. I don’t recall if there were any other features included or ways to interact with the members of the school, but it was a cool feature.

The quick in and out arena mode worked well

The game’s arena mode never really grew out of its infancy. For what it is, it works really well. You can queue up for a match and compete in a random 1v1 best of three fight. I believe you have to be at one of the spawning statues to queue up, so that isn’t the best, but the statues are common, so you are never more than a 5-minute run to one of them.

One of the final updates from Sloclap added 3v3 conquest three-point capture arenas. Unfortunately, these didn’t play as well. For all the accolades I can give to the combat system, it simply was not designed for anything greater than 1v1 combat. Sure, there are times when you’ll fight more than one NPC at a time, but those are NPCs. Real players simply stand on opposite sides of you, and you’re done for. There isn’t really a mechanism to defend from more than one side at a time, so you just get rekt.

There’s so much to say about Absolver. It grabbed me in a way very few games have. It is still available too on Steam and elsewhere. The last time I looked, players were still in the Discord server talking and setting up duels as well. Some other good news is that while Absolver may not see any other updates, the team did recently release a new game called Sifu, which looks like it could be a spiritual successor to Absolver. It’s a wholly single player game, unfortunately, but it may have built on the combat system from Absolver. If you are interested in martial arts, melee, or action combat games in anyway, then you absolutely must give it a try.

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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