Dark Souls-Inspired Absolver Meshes Customizable Combat With Exploration
“We were working on Ghost Recon and Watch Dogs [at Ubisoft] when we decided that making realistic open-world shooters was fun, but less fun than online melee-action games,” developer Sloclap’s Pierre Tarno told me at E3 2016. The studio’s resulting project, Absolver, lends freedom to combat in a way few other games attempt to do. It’s a multiplayer, 3D beat-em-up, in which you have control over not just where you go or who you fight but actually how you fight–stances, combos, attacks, etc.
When I demoed Absolver at E3 2016, the control I had over how I fought was the most impressive part of the game. You personalize your character by customizing their combat patterns, not just their weapons or clothes. Absolver’s appeal hinges on conveying the tense, exciting flow of highly skilled fighting, and you have control over that combat through a system of attack slots and stance choices. When I played, I wanted to focus on a front-right fighting stance (there’s also front-left, back-left, and back-right), and my selection opened up a stance-specific set of attacks. Choosing an initial light strike then opens options for another light strike or a heavy strike to flow into; after that, there’s another choice. I built a string of three light attacks that, if I performed it correctly, blended into a brutal and quick combo.
The combo system doesn’t end there: after performing the string of attacks, I was left in a different stance than I began in, and from that stance I could start a different, stance-specific combo that I set up. It’s a deep and complex system that required far more than the short demo to fully comprehend, but I nonetheless recognized its promise. I was playing in the same game as one of the developers, and he demonstrated the combat system’s power by ruthlessly killing me with one combo after another landed in quick succession.
But you aren’t totally defenseless when faced with an experienced player. Absolver’s combat also relies heavily on timing, and if you can disrupt that, then you can potentially launch a counterattack. I was able to get a few hits in on the developer by utilizing (albeit poorly) parries and dodges. Parrying an attack stuns your enemy for a split second, granting you a window to strike back; dodging out of the way might throw off the enemy’s timing just enough to disrupt their combo.
I found myself relying on the dodge as my primary defense. It is more of a quick sidestep, very similar to Bloodborne’s, and I actually quickly fell into my familiar Bloodborne gameplay patterns when facing AI-controlled enemies. Coincidentally, Tarno told me that the Dark Souls games directly inspired the game. “The way we thought about building the world and level design–[the Souls games are] supreme lessons in level design,” he told me. “And [Absolver has] that combat where you get into your timing, and every hit matters and you shouldn’t just be doing things [chaotically].”
Absolver is meant to be a more multiplayer-focused game in a less fantastical world than Dark Souls, but even here elements of the series are woven in. Players are matched together seamlessly, and at any moment you might be playing with up to five other people while you roam through the levels, which are open and large but ultimately linear, similar to Souls games.
Some of the most fun I had, though, came not from battling the enemy creatures but from just engaging in friendly sparring with Tarno. There will be discrete competitive multiplayer modes in the final game, but you can also just start fighting for fun with the other players whenever and wherever. This is how new players are meant to learn the game–“Typically, if we’re friends, we can spar so that I’m your mentor,” Tarno explained. “We’re going to spar so I can teach you the attacks I have.”
It was very challenging to get the hang of the combo system, but being able to practice on someone else in a friendly environment felt like a sort of no-risk training ground. As a result, before you decide you want to enter into the duels and deathmatches of competitive multiplayer, you can make sure you know at least the basics of the controls.
And there is so much of Absolver to learn. The demo I got to play was but a small glimpse of a game that will, when it’s finished, have a large world to explore, a story to discover, and a handful of multiplayer modes to compete in. It’s ambitious and intriguing, but a lot of the game is still unknown. I’m looking forward to learning more about it when it launches on PC and consoles sometime next year.