Greetings from PAX! I’ll be looking at a few interesting new indie titles over the weekend, and wanted to highlight some of the ones I’m most excited about over the next few days. The first one I was able to spend considerable time with is Absolver, a curious new brawler developed by Sloclap and published by the indie superheroes at Devolver Digital.
I probably share the common gamer experience of approaching new titles in continuous attention to their references and inspirations. This is what makes Absolver so fascinating, in that the most immediate touchstones recall sophisticated cult-classic brawler Godhand but also the Souls series, especially in the game’s instanced areas with multiplayer opportunities, or its somewhat somber and mysterious tone. That being said, Absolver appears to be much less gloomier than Dark Souls, with a bright, sharply delineated environment of cliffs, crumbling villages, ruins, and seasides.
You play the role of a customizable, silent warrior known as a Prospect. Without diving too deep into the menus, you can punch, kick, block, dodge, and parry to your left and right. You have a stamina bar that decreases in response to each action, and refills after remaining inactive. You also wear a mask that seems unique to each player, and can choose between male and female genders, although no attributes are affected by this selection. As you level up, you can increase some base stats and adjust your skills and movesets.
Now then, once you start digging into the menus, you’ll probably have to stop and think for a while (I definitely did). That’s because each action and skill is customizable and swappable. Your character has four stances, each of which can either be elegantly linked to another with a combination of button presses or – and this is where it gets interesting – can be swapped within a combo. So you might have a punch, kick, and haymaker combo, but if you perform a roundhouse kick instead of a haymaker, it will switch you to another stance when it is completed. With each stance having its own editable series of attacks, you can use this system to perpetuate fluid combos for quite a while, only limited by your stamina.
If this is sounding complicated, we haven’t even introduced weapons and character skills, each of which have their own stance-specific move options. You can learn and add more moves to your repertoire by blocking attacks, and will soon collect a massive list of useful attacks to chain together. It’s a dizzying experience to crunch 25 minutes into, and I can only imagine the countless fervent discussions of optimized metas that will populate Absolver‘s forum pages upon release.
I was able to speak with lead designer Jordan Layani, though much of my conversation revolved around Absolver’s compelling complexity. While not a demerit to this game at all – in fact, I think its many systems will gel more reasonably after a number of hours of committed play at home – I think the experience is as far from “casual” as can be. This also means that Absolver is probably destined to possess the imaginations of tinkering players who enjoy mastering competitive systems, but there is still a seemingly robust campaign for those more focused on its single-player offerings.
BlackGirlNerds: So I just got to play Absolver with you for a bit, and this game, to me, requires a lot of assistance while playing for the first time. Usually, when I go to play a demo, I feel free to be left to my own devices, but I needed your help all the way through. Are you making a deliberately complicated game?
Jordan Layani: For a show like PAX, this game is a bit more complicated to demo for new players than when they’re at home and able to take their time. We have a lot of things to show to the players, as you saw, and it’s a little difficult to show that in a satisfying way in such a short span of time.
BGN: Were there specific games that you were thinking of when you designed this, in consideration of its systems, personality, etc? What are the games that Absolver might be seeking to evoke as references?
JL: Godhand, for one, in terms of the construction of your combos and moves. I feel that maybe the game has some references to things like Dark Souls as well; we have a lot of fun with that game at our company.
BGN: Playing Absolver is such an unusual experience, even just in regards to the basic movements of the characters themselves. I think the thing that would take me hours to really get down, aside from the combo timing, is that when you press punch, you’re not going to punch right away. When you kick, it’s going to take some more time than you might be used to. I feel like this is what colors the game the most for me: the pacing of the action is ponderous and feels different.
Right now, we were playing in a dynamic instance with multiple other players in the world. How many players will typically share your instanced version of an area?
JL: We don’t want too many people, because we think it will get really messy. Right now, we have three possible players allowable in an instanced area at a time, which feels good. We don’t want something where there’s just a messy brawl, with a lot of people. For the moment, three players feels the best, in terms of fighting with the AI mobs and others. We like 1V2 or 1V1 with one player waiting around, that seems to work.
BGN: Like a “fight club” in Dark Souls, with some players dueling while others wait.
JL: Yes. Also, we have another game-mode that features 3V3, which can be selected as its own instance, but it’s not set up for this demo here at PAX.
BGN: I wonder what the potential for “griefing” might be in a game like this. Which is to say, if players decide to team up to thwart another player’s progress.
JL: The best way we deal with that is, if you meet a stranger, and they kill you, you will be revived in a different instance than the one you were just sharing with them. Interestingly, the stranger can actually revive you, which might make you think “oh, maybe they’re not so bad.” But, of course, they might kill you again! Then you might want to choose a different instance after all.
BGN: So people have been playing this for a while, right?
JL: Yes, we had a closed Alpha which just recently ended.
BGN: So you’ve been able to implement a lot of feedback from people experimenting with it. With the Souls series, those devs listen very closely to their community, and this seems to be the case here as well.
When should we expect the game to come out? Are you naming release dates yet?
JL: Absolver should be coming out this summer. Thanks!
Absolver will be releasing concurrently on PS4 and PC in the Summer of 2017.
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Leonardo Faierman is the senior film editor at Black Girl Nerds. Born in Buenos Aires, raised in Queens, Bar Mitzvah'd at Young Israel, buried under student loans. He writes video game, music, film, and movie reviews, as well as poetry, comic books, bad dreams and good copy. He's 1/5th of the comics podcast #BlackComicsChat and 1/2 of horror film podcast The Scream Squad.