Publisher Devolver Digital hosted their own mini showcase for indies, both games they publish and those they don't in a Los Angeles parking lot across from E3 this year, and among the games that were shown was Sloclap's Absolver, an online multiplayer game that tasks players with taking to the battlefield and fighting each other in melee combat, much like titles such as For Honor.
Absolver places you in the shoes of what's called a 'prospect', and you have to prove yourself before joining the elite group called the Absolvers. Story isn't overly important here, as it doesn't have a campaign as such, but we were told by creative director Pierre Tarno that there will be a narrative presence in the game that will unfold itself as you play co-op.
Two Gamereactor fighters were given a guided tour of the game by Tarno himself, who ran us through exactly how to fight, which is the core of the game after all. The combat has four stances available, these being front left, front right, back left, and back right, depending on your position in relation to your opponent, and each stance has different attacks available to them.
Another important thing about Absolver is that button mashing isn't a ticket to success, as deliberate attacks are much more effective. Tarno told us that Dark Souls was a big inspiration for the game, and a big part of this is the stamina management, which you'll drain pretty quickly if you just smash the attack button like it's going out of fashion. Making sure you have enough stamina to attack and, just as importantly, retreat, is therefore vital.
This is encouraged by a feature that allows you to perform more powerful attacks if you hit attack again at just the right time, indicated by your fighter flashing yellow, which unleashes a far more powerful follow up attack on your foe. There's also the option to feint an attack as well if you want to try and trick your opponent too, and we found using different strategies in combination with one another works very well, as does dodging, for obvious reasons.
On top of this different characters have different abilities as well, and again timings are really important. One character, for instance, can parry attacks if they direct their parries at the right time, while another can absorb damage from attacks and gain health back if they counter quickly, so there's every reason to take some time before choosing a character. You wouldn't want to be rushing into combat with a character you can't make the most use of, after all.
Of course, this is all well and good on paper, but how does it handle? Well, we tried it against one another during our time with the game, and it seems to work fine, but we found there wasn't a huge amount of variety, despite it seeming otherwise. There are two attacks, one with square and one with triangle, and although stances can be switched up, and special abilities deployed (one of which summons a weapon), these two attack types still feel a bit constrained.
We should mention, though, that all these attacks can be customised and switched out for personalised chains, as the menus allow you to pick and choose different attacks to link them together. If you don't know an attack yet, you can always learn it from fighting an opponent that uses it, and there seems to be a lot of different styles to learn as well. We were given a teaser of this when Tarno showed us the drunken boxing style, producing totally different attacks than the default ones we started off with.
It's not only strangers and friends you can beat up though, as you can play in co-op against AI enemies too, producing a sort of free-for-all as you have to explore the world, activate checkpoints, and take on multiple opponents at once. This brings its own challenge with it, and means you have to adapt your tactics to cover your backside at all times, and ensure you don't get flanked.
The interaction wheel you use to activate co-op takes a bit of getting used to, but for the most part it's easy to go in and out of co-op or duels. All you have to do is select either of these options from the wheel (which also contains emotes) and then activate it, and you can cancel out just as easily, so there doesn't have to be much waiting in between PvP and PvE combat.
So as a whole Absolver contains some promising elements, such as the ability to combine and customise attacks to your liking, and we're sure that people will love the melee combat in the game, but we'd like a bit more variety in it. We hope the co-op is meaningful and gives players a lot to do as well, because we don't think the combat is enough to keep people hooked on the PvP side of things. Absolver launches later this month on PC and PS4.