My first experience with Absolver was a familiar feeling for people who play fighting games. I queued up in the matchmaking system and found myself accidentally matched against one of the best players in the game.
Having only played a couple of hours at this point and only really entered into the matchmaking to see how the wait times were, I accepted my defeat on the spot to be honest. I expected he would throw me around for a game, unmatch, then try and find someone a little more challenging on the next go around. So we played our match.
And then we played another match. And another after that. Every single time I was destroyed just like I thought I would be, and everytime we got right back up and kept going. For some reason this player, someone insanely more skilled at this game than me, was actually taking the time to play me. Not only that either, they were not going easy per se, but I could tell that they weren’t just trying to get some easy wins. They were slow in spots, giving me openings on purpose. Not too much to be obvious, but enough for me to capitalize if I watched hard enough.
This exchange continued for over an hour, until I decided I should probably end it on account of my brain leaking out my ears. For someone so new to the game, seeing the unique aspects of this game brought to the forefront, as well as things I would not have even thought possible given the seemingly straightforward systems, it all was just a little too much for me to take in.
What did stick with me however, was the feeling of community I was left with after our match. Top players almost never spend time with random new players in fighting games since they are always on the lookout for that next good win, but the fact that my opponent was willing to keep rematching me for so long told me I might be in for something different this time around. And boy was I right.
Developed by Indie game studio Sloclap and released in 2017 for both PC and PS4 with a later re-release on Xbox in early 2019, Absolver is a 3-D fighting game that also incorporates RPG elements as well as a card game-esque Combat Deck system which allows for players to collect martial arts moves from an interconnected overworld or from other players and then slot them into a customizable moveset for their fighter.
Including the four different combat styles, what most games would equate with classes and which drastically affect how a player approaches their defence, the amount of customization afforded by the game allows for insane levels of personalization in playstyle.
These things together built up a small but extremely dedicated fan base which over the course of years continued to push the package on what the game would let them do.
Unfortunately today however, Absolver is in a state of ruin. Bleeding players daily, left on life support by a developer who has already moved on and does not intend on looking back, and bereft of many of the individuals who acted as its engine pushing it forward, the game is a shell of its former glory. As someone who truly loved this game, I felt it necessary to go through how something like this happened, and discuss the true ups and downs of a game that while undeniably flawed, deserved better.
The Dark Souls of Fighting Games?
If I had to pick a singular reason for why Absolver flopped, it would be that people honestly didn’t really know what the game was supposed to be. That wasn’t their fault either, the game itself didn’t know what it wanted to be.
It had an Overworld where the character could go around fighting NPC mobs, RPG style elements with stats you spec into after levelling, and equipment that dropped from mobs and bosses that affected your defensive stats. So was it an RPG? Not really, as most of these aspects were poorly implemented. The Overworld, while beautiful, was small with sparse enemies and arguable level design. The stats that you could spec into didn’t change your character in any perceivable way either, and neither did the equipment.
This would suggest the focus was on the fighting game aspect then, but poor execution in balancing the game as well as the advertising of the game being misleading and focused mostly on the RPG elements hurts that argument. To the point that the game even earned the nickname, now reviled by the community, “The Dark Souls of Fighting Games”.
Sloclap tried desperately to appeal to both of these different aspects of their game, to both of the different audiences that wanted the game to succeed, and was torn down the middle for it. This, on top of the fact it was a small studio would lead to ping ponging patches, where one month one audience was catered to at the cost of the other, leading to players getting fed up and leaving. Back and forth it went, until only the most dedicated players remained.
School is Back in Session.
That isn’t to say that all of the ideas Sloclap tried were half-baked or poorly implemented however. One of the most successful aspects of the game was what it called its “School” system. Players, after reaching a certain level, were able to essentially showcase the moveset of their character on a page by creating a school and becoming a teacher.
Other players were then able to join that teacher’s school, gaining instant access to that person’s moveset even if they did not have the moves unlocked themselves. This allowed newer players to get first hand experience using well-designed movesets before they attempted to make their own.
More importantly however, it created incentive to build community and reach out to other players. In a genre such as fighting games where opponents see others as merely an obstacle and which fosters pretty genuinely hostile online interaction, this singular system shifted that dynamic for Absolver.
Instead of being fierce, Absolver players were uplifting to one another. Just like my first experience with the game, it was normal for top players to just essentially adopt newer players and bring them up to speed instead of hoarding their wealth of knowledge. Competition was commonplace, and do not get me wrong every community has their villains, but at the end of the day it was a culture where instead of pursuing the next big win or the most amount of wins, players wanted to bring everyone up to the top level so that every fight could be just as important as the last.
This at its core is why there is still an audience for the game, despite the fact that the game has been static for nearly two years now. Because of the people who were touched by the kindness of others, and because of the people who still today do their best to teach others how to play this game that they love. It is something that I have never experienced before the same way, and do not think I will any time soon. It is something worth preserving.
Unfortunately however, it seems only a matter of time until the schools of Absolver shut their doors for good. Players continue to leave the game, slowly becoming outnumbered by players who have grown jaded and bitter until they themselves decide they have had enough. Despite this, community leaders such as Glock9th or Morklympious, have no intention of giving up. Unfettered by the declining player count they continue to generate content and host events. Even the hard work of the most dedicated can only do so much to stop the inevitable though.
What I do know is this though. The collection of mentors and students left, those that bleed for a game that for all intents and purposes has left them behind, will continue to lift each other up and grow together in a display of sportsmanship and community that is truly worth fighting for.
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