It's rare to find a three-dimensional fighting game where weapons aren't a core part of the experience. This has always bummed me out because unarmed martial arts combat is every bit as interesting and fun to watch as swordplay. Absolver, a new fighting game experience on Xbox One, scratches that itch. And while the game's lackluster campaign experience and the small shared multiplayer world are disappointing, Absolver nevertheless stands out as one of the most unique and fun fighting games of this generation.
Mastering the martial arts
Focus, adapt, and overcome
Absolver is a great martial arts fighting game that, despite a lackluster campaign and small open world, offers a deep, enjoyable, and engaging experience.
Become an Absolver
The story behind Absolver is simple. You control a warrior in training, called a Prospect, who is attempting to prove their worth to the leaders of the Adal Empire and become an elite warrior known as an Absolver. To do this, you'll need to travel to and defeat three key boss enemies. That's about all the context there is to Absolver, and while I can appreciate minimalist storytelling, something this basic is disappointing. The world of Absolver is visually interesting, and it feels like the world has a story behind it. Sadly, though, a story is never formed.
As a result of this lack of story, the singleplayer experience is just three or four hours long. It's fun thanks to the game's excellent gameplay mechanics, but I wish the solo experience was longer and had more depth to it.
Create your own fighting style
Once you look past the bland story, Absolver's true brilliance shines through in its gameplay. The game is third person-focused and emphasizes movement, making it play out similar to Ubisoft's For Honor. However, what makes Absolver unique is that its moves and fighting styles are inspired by real-world martial arts, not by medieval swordplay strategies. In Absolver, your hands and feet are your weapons, not axes or spears.
Players have the ability to learn three different fighting styles: Forsaken, Khalt, and Windfall. Forsaken is balanced between offense and defense, Khalt is heavily defensive, and Windfall is centered around agility, dodging, and counterattacking. Regardless of what you choose, the next step is learning Absolver's stance mechanic. Whenever the player performs an attack, it will place them into a new stance. Depending on what moves you're using, this stance can smoothly lead to more strikes, and the cycle continues from there. This gives Absolver a fantastic flow, and it really feels like you're learning to master a martial art.
As you play through the campaign or explore the open world and fight enemies or other players, you can learn moves from them and then integrate them into your own movesets. This ability to mix and match moves into unique combos adds a really great touch of personality to your custom-built style. The process of actually getting those new moves takes a long time, but I think it's a justified grind because it encourages you to try and master a wide range of moves while you work towards unlocking the next ones. There are also armor and weapons in the world you can search for that improve your stats, though the latter break quickly in combat and can be used against you if your opponent is good at disarming.
The only real issue I have with Absolver's gameplay experience is the small open world. While it's visually beautiful and fun to traverse, especially when you come across other players and duel or team up with them, it just feels lacking and I wish there was more to explore.
Should you buy Absolver?
While the singleplayer experience is forgettable and the open world is small, the meat of Absolver lies within its deep gameplay and engaging combat. I recommend picking Absolver up if you're a fan of fighting games with nuanced mechanics. The martial arts theme is also fairly unique for this type of fighting game, so if you're simply looking to try something new, Absolver is a great choice.
- Fantastic gameplay mechanics.
- Deep customization.
- Unique stance system.
- Looks great.
- Poor singleplayer experience.
- Small open world.
Absolver is out now on Xbox One for $29.99. It's also available for members of Xbox Game Pass.