There’s nothing like a good punch up is there?
I mean on the screen of course, not down the pub or outside Gregg’s on a Tuesday afternoon because someone bought the last vegan sausage roll.
Fighting games normally take the form of the classic Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat options that have dominated arcades over the last 30 years or so. You might get a punch up as a bit of side action to other genres – with the most recent addition being that of Red Dead 2 and its cowboy brawls. But it’s a rare thing to base a whole game around fighting and martial arts. That rare thing though is here – and it’s called Absolver.
Absolver has been available on PS4 and PC for some time now, but a new ultimate edition including the Downfall expansion has now come to Xbox One, launching on the brilliant Xbox Game Pass. There is a single player story that focuses on a tale covering a species of apprentice fighter – who just so happens to wear a mask like a VR headset – before being sent out to battle three major league bosses with the reward that of becoming an Absolver. At least I think that is what it’s pretty much about, but if I’m honest, I got lost a bit along the way. Because you see, this game is all about the fighting..
The closest Absolver comes in regards the techniques used in gameplay is with Ubisoft’s “For Honor”, seeing you position your fighter and try to counter/defend your enemies’ attacks before going in for the kill. Absolver’s fighting moves are based on real-life martial arts and you can get a sense of that from the very first moment you drop into the tutorial at the beginning. Still though, you’ll get to choose a fighting style and this basically decides whether you want to be more attacking or defense in your style, or more agile and reliant on the counter move.
As you wander through the game world, new fighting moves are learned. For example, you can change your stance on the hoof to confuse your enemies or to be able to defend thoroughly. The whole fighting mechanic is well executed and for me the highlight of the game and what it has to offer – which is a bit of luck because that’s the main draw. Of course though, like anything, dispatching grunts isn’t just the way to go and big bosses are also in place. When you reach these guys, you will – at least if you are like me – need to spend time working on attack and defence patterns a fair few times. Thankfully though, you would have learnt your trade and got an idea of the best strategy in the build up. It’s an interesting and intriguing piece of gameplay, and it really does hold your focus as you battle through the world.
You will also find yourself leveling up, spending ability points on new moves, focuses and the usual stats; Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, Endurance, Will, and Mobility, depending on the armor you are wearing. You can even pick up weapons or armor on the journey and these will give you certain benefits and abilities in battle; extra strength or more agility in your movement. This all combines to see Absolver, on the whole, working very well, but at no point does it ever feel like the world is alive enough. Instead it becomes a series of pathways leading to a new fight, and that’s a shame.
Completing the main campaign will allow you to do it all over again, just this time with tougher bosses, but there is also an online element that tries to expand the game’s longevity. This sees you progressing throughout the world, but with other real-world players there as well, moving around and doing their fighting business. They can attack you, you can attack them, or you can join forces to take on a tough boss together. With the usual collection of emotes to communicate with each other, you will no doubt become experienced with a whole mixture of interactions from being hunted, to battling alongside a kind person who does most of the work for you. Thank you, kind soul, whoever you might be.
You can even join a fighting school or set one up – at least when you reach level 50. This school will see you partaking in 1 vs 1 battles over three rounds, as you get ranked on your skills. It is pretty cool and it could just be here where the hardcore Absolver fans will get the most fun out of the game overall.
This fighting lark all looks very nice too, with a clear tone and very nice use of character design. It reminds in looks of Ashen with its abstract character design and world. However, whilst the crisp visuals are lovely, at times the environment feels barren – even allowing for the ruin-filled settings – and it feels like there is something extra missing that would be able to put it into a higher category of gaming.
To conclude though and I feel that there is a brilliant game in Absolver that is very close to rising to the surface. It’s a refreshing change to have an action adventure just focusing on martial art fighting, and it’s good to see that the options available for your style are diverse, engaging and easy to implement. The world does feel a bit empty, the story is just about alright, but if you’re not into the brilliant fighting mechanic, then there isn’t much more for you here. However, the PvP additions give it much longer lasting appeal for experts of the game to involve themselves in, and there is fun to be had with developing the best fighting school and players.
I would say that if you have a subscription to Xbox Game Pass then it’s an instant download, if not then it may well be best to hold off for the price to go down a little. Whatever though, if you fancy something different and are a fan of hand to hand combat then get into the world of Absolver for a good old punch up.