Absolver Impressions

What’s your take on Absolver? It’s an online brawler with big emphasis on customization, reminds me of God Hand:

It’s interesting, and manages to make single and multiplayer combat work fairly well in the same system by taking a lot of the lessons from dark souls and increasing the pace slightly. It’s just kinda simple because you don’t have access to that many attacks at any given time, and can’t switch stances very quickly.

There is no throw option however, but this is compensated by making the default block terrible compared to your timing-dependent defense options, which each have unique block zones versus attacks. Dunno whether this will bite them, but it does make defense unique compared to most fighting games.

Also, it’s aiming to be like MMO dark souls. Big server with tons of people on it, every person is individually instanced, you’re constantly getting connected and reconnected to different people every time you die, so you run into people all the time and can easily decide to team up or fight each other. By keeping instances small they can solve a lot of network issues, allowing them to have their fancy fighting system.

It’s gonna be unique, I think it’s a worthwhile experiment, but wouldn’t say it’s gonna be a big hit. Probably something on the level of For Honor.

Notes:

The basic mechanics are, press X to Attack, Y to Alternate attack, RB toggles lock-on, while locked on you can use the right stick to use your style’s unique defensive mechanic. B performs a universal dodge, and LT can be held to block.

I only tried 3 styles, Windfall, Forsaken, and Kahlt Method. These give you defensive options that are specific to each one, and generally superior to the default dodge and block, but at a price. The default dodge has a startup time, although it is invincible when active, and blocking slows your movement and stamina regeneration, and can be broken with enough attacks. The 3 styles grant unique defensive options that have instantaneous startup, but do not move you away from your opponent and require you to defend in a specific direction versus your opponent’s attacks. The Windfall style is a dodge with instantaneous startup, but it can only dodge left, right, weave, or hop, so you need to see or predict which way your enemy’s attacks are coming from in order to use it. A successful dodge will slow the enemy’s attack. The Forsaken style is a directional parry with two block zones, left and right. You need to watch your opponent’s attacks and predict which direction they’ll come from. Because there’s only 2 directions, it’s a bit easier to keep track of where attacks are coming from than the windfall style, but the timing on parries is tighter. Attackers off to the left or right of you will always be parried in that direction, where the attacker you’re locked onto can attack into either block zone. Successfully parrying an attack will inflict a stun on your opponent, giving you a chance to counter attack. Kahlt Method’s unique ability is a super armor parry, which can be canceled into attacks, and restores health when used successfully, but does have a recovery time before you can normal block or dodge. It has a tighter timing window than Forsaken parries, but no block zones, which makes it a fairly even trade. It does not slow down the opponent in any way, so you need to armor through attacks and cancel the armor in order to get a leg up on your opponent. The health recovery from it is extremely small.

When attacking, there are 4 stances, left, right, backleft, and backright. You can tell which stance someone is in by which way they’re facing and which hand is forward. Each stance has a string of 3 attacks assigned to it, performed by pressing X, and an alternate attack assigned to Y. At a specific point in each attack, close to the ending, your character will flash yellow, and pressing attack at that point will cancel the attack into the next one, as well as make the next attack play faster. This is called a Perfect Attack. You can also check the timing of these with the arrow on the stamina bar. Once I got the timing down for this, it felt really smooth. It has sort of the same snap to it as doing an extended attack chain with Nero in DMC4, where you get successively faster attacks after the first one and it keeps up the speed as long as you stay in rhythm. The timing is consistent enough across attacks that I found with a bit of practice I was able to intuit the timing fairly easily. I had a much harder time doing it by watching the stamina bar than the character themselves, because the timing is different per-animation and it’s easier to intuit the timing by looking at the animation itself. I don’t think the animations are particularly amazing for this game, but they’re serviceable and they keep the timing of the perfect attack consistently placed across them. Blocking an attack or having your attack blocked will prevent the attack from being flow canceled in this way, giving the defender some measure of momentum, allowing them to dodge out, use their style’s defensive ability, or attack back if the attacker tries a faster attack. It doesn’t seem like attacks can combo, just overwhelm people with how fast they are.

You know how we ALL had that idea of making an MMO that is really just a normal game with fun gameplay, but there’s a ton of people in the same world at the same time? I’m pretty sure Absolver is trying to do that.

The game format is a lot like an MMO. There are areas you can run around in with mobs spawned offscreen. Other players can appear in the same areas as you, and you move between Altars that serve as checkpoints. There’s way too few players and the areas are way too small for it to be full MMO from my observation, so I’m pretty sure it’s instanced with people randomly getting shoved into the same instance as you, with that getting changed up when you die. Dying seems to put you in a new instance with all the enemies respawned. If you didn’t kill an enemy, it has the same health as you left it, except it regenerates that health extremely quickly. So if there’s an enemy right next to the altar you can wittle it down a little. Other players can co-op with you easily by simply requesting to team up if you’re close together and you accept or deny on the gesture menu. When you die, you’ll respawn after 60 seconds, or any player can revive you. Friendly fire is on towards other players at all times, even if you’re allied with them, so teaming up on enemies can be a risk to your allies. You can see the outline of allies through walls. There’s Dark Souls style gestures. Fighting enemies grants you experience and once you gain enough you gain an ability point that can be invested into stats. The stats are Strength, Dexterity, Vitality, Endurance and Will. Strength and Dexterity both govern the damage output of various attacks. Vitality increases health. Endurance increases Stamina. Will increases the rate at which Shards are gained. As you fight enemies and players, if they have an attack you don’t, you’ll gain experience in that attack every time you block it from them, and this experience will get locked in when you kill them. So you can learn an attack from another player by blocking it a bunch of times, then killing them. If you die before then, then the experience is lost.

Attacks tend to be just barely reactable, so parrying or dodging in a specific direction can be tricky, it can require learning the moves of your opponent. There’s a dark souls style stamina meter and everything costs stamina, so the usual dark souls tradeoffs apply. Dodging and walking are the only ways to get distance from your opponent. You automatically lock onto anything you attack. You need to awkwardly hold RB and press a direction on the right stick to switch lock-on targets. RT + right stick direction can switch your stance. Blocking may give you momentum, but you take stamina damage on block, as well as chip damage. There are no blockzones for a regular block, and it activates instantly and has no timing requirement, so it’s your most reliable defensive option. However because you take stamina damage, and chip damage, and can be guard broken if you have no stamina left, blocking is also the most costly means of defense. So blocking is easy and there’s no counter option to it, but it’s also terrible and you should do it as little as possible. Also, since I think you get shifted minus on block, but your attack isn’t directly punishable, as the attacker, you need to react to your opponent blocking and pick a defensive option, much like Tekken or Smash Bros. (Edit: you don’t get shifted minus, you can actually just keep spamming quick attacks on block, the system is fucked! The stated developer intent was that blocking should tire out the attacker faster than the blocker! OUCH! What a mistake!) Since you’re probably involved in doing your perfect attacks, you likely won’t react to opponents blocking. Because attacks are barely reactable, fighting human players is actually a fairly similar experience to fighting AI. It’s a bit like For Honor, except a bit faster, which makes all the difference in making the combat work, because you can’t nullify attacks purely on reaction unless you block, and you don’t want to block if you can help it.

Killing enemies heals you and builds up towards granting you a shard, which allows you to use special abilities, that can be learned or equipped. You start off with just heal, and gain a shockwave ability that stuns enemies within an area around you and a temporary sword that has its own moveset, but a limited durability. It seems you can only hold 1 shard at a time. The healing ability heals slowly, but the healing speeds up if you deal damage, so getting into combat will augment your ability to heal, but only if you’re successful at combat. So you can take the nice safe healing, or fight enemies and potentially open yourself up to getting hit.

Some attacks switch stances, can bind any attack to any position in a string, alternate attacks seem to be slower and more powerful in the default binds, but I’m not sure if they have to be that way or if there’s a special property of alternate attacks that normal strings don’t have. I think it’s possible to feint cancel attacks by switching stances, I saw an enemy do something that looked like that. Some attacks track left or track right, some attacks hit high or low, meaning windfall can jump or duck them. Some attacks have you duck while performing them or other hitbox business. Some attacks are guardbreaking, beating standard blocks outright, but I only saw this on alternate attacks, that are fairly slow. I think they’re accompanied by a red visual effect too.

There’s 4 stances on your character, each stance has a 3 move string and an alternate move. You can set anything you want to any of these 4 moves, similar to god hand, it’s smarter to set up strings of fast moves and a utility alternate move, however I’m pretty sure moves in a string don’t have any special advantage for being placed inside the string rather than the alternate and vice versa. Some moves will switch your stance, and you can switch your stance manually. The input for stance dance is kind of awkward though, being RT + right stick. Something like Nioh is slightly less awkward, allowing you to press RB then a face button to transition between stances, which is both a digital button press, so it’s more precise, as well as being faster since you don’t need to move your thumb off the face buttons. So in a given stance, you only have 2 moves you can use at any given time. You have 4 stances, so you can use 8 moves at any given time, assuming you’re quick at the stance change input, which is holding RT then pressing a direction on the right stick. That means that realistically at any point in a fight, you can only choose between 2 attacks at a time: The next string attack for that stance or the stance’s alternate attack. And those 2 attacks you have immediate access to can shift, but it’s still only 2 attacks at a time. If this is true, then I can see that seriously dragging the game down.

The other thing is, it’s really hard to keep track of what move I’m currently using for my given stances and that might just be me being new at the game. It’s hard to remember what all 16 of my moves do, hard to remember which ones switch stances and to which stance they shift and given that you can customize these things, that’s even crazier. I can see that also dragging the game down, that there’s like, a couple hundred moves and everyone you run into will have 16 of these couple hundred moves randomly assigned. So you might run into the same problem as smash 4 custom moves, where you could run into an opponent with a few options set out of a ridiculous range of options and need to re-learn the matchup for each individual enemy you fight.

Overall, I think the game is sort of like a mix of Dark Souls and Tekken with a bit of 3rd strike. There’s pressure but no combos, there’s stamina management, a mix of defensive options but no throw, except for reactable guard breaking attacks.

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