I suppose the most direct analogue to Absolver would be the Dark Souls series. I haven’t played enough of either games to make that connection myself, but at a cursory glance they seem to share a lot of the same mechanics. This is troubling for me because I’ve never been a fan of the Dark Souls games, mostly because I’m not up to their challenge. Also because I’m not a sadist.
Before I dive into why these kinds of games never worked for me, I should explain what Absolver is. Absolver is a martial arts based, action-rpg that is built around the idea of stance-based combat and customizing your combos. It all sounds really exciting from a distance, but the thing I wasn’t prepared for was the level of difficulty within.
I’m sure for a seasoned Dark Souls fan Absolver presents a unique, yet surmountable challenge. But from the early stages I found myself bashing my head against encounters until the enemy randomization and placement became a little more forgiving.
A typical scenario would be me breezing through 3 or 4 enemies only to come up against Bruce Lee wearing a mask. No matter how many times I’d counter or dodge, Bruce would counter my counters and dodge my dodges and ultimately kick me into oblivion. Then I’d reload, only to find Bruce Lee had trained his buddies at the entrance of the level, and get obliterated again. A few more times of this and finally Bruce and his disciples had left, leaving me in the clear and able to stroll through the level.
That’s where my biggest qualm with Absolver is. I never felt like I was actually learning anything or getting any better. Every time I cleared an encounter or beat a boss, it felt less like I had used an arsenal of skills and more like I had gotten lucky.
But this isn’t an Absolver or Dark Souls issue, this is a “me” issue. I’m not good at these games and as I get older I have less and less patience for them. I’m powering through Absolver as much as I can, but I know I’m going to hit a wall and eventually stop. I want to like this game so much, but I can’t. If I could feel a little more like a badass and less like I hit big at a casino this would be a different conversation.
This also feeds into the lack of difficulty consistency in Absolver. There's nothing rewarding about handily defeating a boss, only to be dissolved by the nameless enemy waiting around the corner.
But then again, I only speak for myself. The fact that Dark Souls is a successful franchise that spawned it’s own genre is a testament to the fact that people want these kinds of games. Players have mastered them in ways that seem superhuman to me, and I know there will be people who dominate Absolver in a similar fashion.
This isn’t to say Absolver is a perfect game that I just suck. The game has a lot of rough edges in terms of optimization and especially control issues. I’ve been using an Xbox One controller, and I can’t help but think that the right analog stick has far too many functions attached to it. For instance, we have basic camera control when out of combat, but once you tap the right bumper, you’re locked on to an enemy thus changing the function entirely. Once locked on, the right stick is your dodge or parry depending on what class you pick. But wait, there’s another enemy, hold the right bumper and move the right stick to target them. Oh no, you’re in the wrong stance, hold the right trigger and move the stick to change it, all the while dodging attacks and making sure you don’t fall into a pit or a pool of water.
It’s a lot to deal with all at once. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but these things all compound and make a game that requires a ton of precision feel less precise. That combined with the difficulty inconsistencies make me enjoy Absolver less and less. It’s a damn shame too, because it presents itself so well in terms of world design and art style.
But ultimately, this isn’t an indictment of the game, but of myself. Games like this just aren’t for me and have become increasingly more impenetrable as I’ve gotten older. Maybe my patience has worn out, maybe I just don’t have the time to practice, but I know that I’ll never “git good,” and I’m totally fine with that.