Preview: Hands on with Absolver, the combat RPG everyone's talking about

All of the animators for Absolver, I am told, have at least a few years of martial arts training, and one of them is a hip hop dancer, so he enjoys how movements transition and link into one another. This is important in the context of making Absolver. It’s a kind of open world, free-roaming action RPG, and in it you can build combat moves into an increasingly complex series of dance routines.

Absolver isn’t a game where the fighting is literally dance-battles, but the combat is a martial arts dance nonetheless, and if you’ve been following Absolver (and you might weel have, as it’s been making some significant waves), you’ll already know that this concept was always at the heart of its development. But it’s impossible to really get just how complex and layered Absolver is until you actually play it.

There are several different styles of fighting, each with their own moves and special abilities. Stagger style, for example, is based on the zui quan ‘drunken fist’ style of martial arts. As you progress through the game you get access to more styles and more moves, and weapons you can pull out to give yourself an edge against enemies (you can play co-operatively or competitively against other players, and will always have AI opponents around). So far, so what-you-expect-from-a-game. But while each of the fighting styles come with preset combo attacks, you can go in and build your own, swapping moves around and customising your fighting style completely.

But wait, there’s more! When you’re in combat, you assume one of four stances: front left, front right, back left, or back right. Each attack move has a starting and an ending stance, which you should consider when chaining them in your combos. When the ending stance of one doesn’t flow well into another, you can feel the little awkward step-switch your avatar has to do. A little pause, a hitch that would make Len Goodman say you’d lost a bit of your rhythm and knock you down to a 7, and Brendan Cole would be livid with you for screwing up his gothic paso doble. But you can spend time making it all slip elegantly together, and on into the next combo, and the next… You can even do feints, purposefully breaking that flow when your enemy isn’t expecting it, baiting them.

Absolver Screenshots

The clean, beautiful simplicity of the game’s art, and the design of the environments — which takes inspiration from a bunch of different cultures, including the wooden halls of the Vikings — is harmonious with the idea that everything, even battering your enemy, can be effortless and graceful. The world itself flows together, with the lines between different areas blending as smoothly as a Kardashian’s contouring. 

The buzz around Absolver exists for a reason, but the effortless feel of it all belies how complicated it can be. I suspect you’ll get reward out of this game in proportion to how much time and effort you’re willing to put in, with the almost inevitable result that a few, extremely good, players are going to spank everyone else on the server. Absolver will, in all likelihood, be great, but not for the faint of heart. Or those who can’t dance.

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