Absolver: 2017's most under appreciated fighting game, and the untold story of dedication that is saving it.
By knoxt 11 Comments
To open, until December 11th, 2017 Absolver is $15 at 50% off on Steam and PS4.
The year's most under-appreciated and overlooked fighting game, Absolver, and the hopeful relationship between developer and community- and how that has brought the players back, and the new players in.
Absolver is a weird game. It's a fighting game that is set within an open world, with bosses, collectibles, and simultaneously is a hyper-complex online pvp focused deck building experimentation exercise of trial and error. This entry is not about that aspect, but the untold story of a developer's passion and dedication, to the players who return it to them with as much heart-felt support as I have ever seen toward indie games at large.
Absolver, while a supremely executed concept with only For Honor as a comparable point of context, had one of the most tragic launches having to do with server instability, a confused audience expecting so much from the 'open world action rpg' aspect, walking away or running angrily to the steam store to leave a negative review, murdering the player count from 16k to a daily average to around 200 in under a month. This weekend, things changed dramatically, and it's worth the long read that follows for what Bungie failed to do with Destiny 2, EA with Battlefront, and so many other less-than-great business practices in video games- and what Sloclap did do in contrast with only around 20 people dedicated to a vision to share and an innovation/point to make in the fighting-games arena.
So, that's a nice general, but it boils down to how a Sloclap, as a developer, has spoken to it's community, and how they have listened, very very closely to the community. Even when a lot of that community, like the reviews on steam might indicate (dude these are some of the most savage and ill informed reviews I've ever seen in my life)- missed the point of the game entirely or even tried to understand it.
But lets not go there. Sloclap's heartfelt and mysteriously transparent communication with it's community, chatting about updates, holding contests and then rebuilding it for use in-game, being communicative, and in return, fans who broke the barrier to the brilliance that is the combat deck and all moves unlocked, as well as in awe sort of watching the devs surprise drop content/feature bombs that most players who quit are completely unaware of. Their latest patch which introduced... a bunch... still has yet to get a trailer- that's on slowclap again for poor advertising- which is maybe the saddest part of this story that kind of continues beyond the scope of this writeup, and gives way for a possibility that this revival might 'fail' and that the community will actually eventually 'die'. The offset to that gloom and doom is aformentioned feature bombs and communication to player demand.
They fundamentally listen. They respond and don't bullshit. That's huge, it's not something companies really do well all the time, and then, also make good on promises made, but also go overboard and surprise you with four or five things they didn't list on the upcoming patch notes. They do that to keep everything fresh, as Absolver is obviously as much about fashion as it is about fighting. That's just how it is. And it's great. Cosmetics aside, however they keep the same momentum with their 7 programmer staff and run betas for changes which is becoming more common-place but it's the community feed back that decides between beta-patches by majority-rules, plus some of slowclaps flexability with absolver's timing based combat, make for a moving target that I imagine if the money is there is pretty fun to shoot at. And the players get that, the ones like me anyway. I get having a game that in a lot of ways like PUBG, you ask why has nobody REALLY done this yet- also, it's amazingly good, and, that team is so tiny, AND they don't do the expected wallet gouging at an easy thirty bucks, and every content or expansion will be free, another promise made by Sloclap, and by their track record I have to believe that, as do most fans still playing/chatting daily.
that builds communities that return the dedication and support back to the developers that make more than good on what they fix, and over-deliver on content for free. That doesn't sound like a big deal but for the odds that Absolver has faced. And you can go read all of them on their devblog, or steam, wherever, because they own it and say, yo, we're not just sorry, we're gonna dedicate our lives to show you how cool this thing can be. Every day. Players who were hooked from the start, well, sure, they might play, but that kind of attitude out of a gaming company making a game you like, you don't just stick around for that but you celebrate it and cheer it on.
The part where this story gets interesting and I feel the bomb crew/cast could have found at least hours of discussion especially given the heavy focus on loot crates, end-game shortages (battlefront, destiny 2), is that even post launch, Absolver's four person development team continued to make good on promises to fix, to add content and modes, and go above and beyond the promises to a degree that is nothing short of heroic and historic for independent game developer dedication to their community. October offered a set of new gear, november added an entirely reworked reward system to PVP, but because of the server state at launch, and the misunderstanding around the game's story mode being the core to what is essentially a fighting game, all filtering into the steam reviews, - no amount of effort seemed to stop the dogpile of negativity, and the game would have moments of rebound, but would taper down once again to the hardcore and dedicated. "Dead game" was all too common a label thrown at Absolver. Still, however Sloclap refused to break their promise and dedication to their community.
In the face of a player count that at times would go as low as 88 concurrent players, from September's launch of 16k, they persisted, and I among others I now have become close to over the official and private discord channels- have enjoyed a game that continues to grow, and finally, as of last Thursday, has seen a giant spike in concurrent players. The latest update with a 3v3 mode and so much gear content, an entirely new in-game currency for customizing gear, a matchmaking and UI overhaul, community-driven rebalancing, and offering the game at 50% off this weekend ***ending dec. 11th- has spiked the player base back up to over a thousand concurrently playing, and the reviews on steam have gone from 'mixed', from the 6000 reviews made close to launch, to now 'mostly positive' because of the dedication and insane efforts made by Sloclap, generously offered at half the already low cost of $30.
This is in no small way due to the community on discord, the official channel or otherwise. This is a third chapter that I think is unique to Absolver's ongoing story of success or demise. As the game was largely either misunderstood as a 'dark souls with kung fu', or as a fighting game with too little reward for winning, there were players like myself who stuck with it, the hook of the deck building and the joy of winning for winning's sake, getting better and learning every style, every move, etc kept me playing. That is largely the story behind the small but dedicated hardcore players I converse strategies with daily on discord or steam. Now, with this weekend's development, sale, new systems and game mode, people are coming back, or coming in fresh, but the understanding of the game as a PVP focused game from word of mouth since september, and the robust reward system implimented post launch has people writing the most positive reviews in contrast to some of the worst at launch.
That doesn't cover half the complexity of Absolver's ongoing saga, from developer heroism, and dedication to a dedicated community, the community in turn doing literally everything in their power to seize windows of opportunity to help the company in turn, from twitter posts, buying multiple gift copies for friends, and a concentrated effort to both review and explain the unique and innovative nature of Absolver on steam.
I write all of this because as GB has so much on it's plate to review, it is something that should be discussed in the larger picture for independent developers and their dedication rewarded with a community that returns the favor on good faith and promises kept- something that in the rightfully pessimistic atmosphere regarding post-launch support and communication between developer and playerbase, is a story of relative success in the overall atmosphere for video game developers, and hardcore community being open, vocal, and helping each other. In my mind, it's the best underdog story that does deserve acknowledgement.
To close this long post, I have logged over 600 hours and play literally every day, and have never gotten bored or felt as though I've mastered any aspect of the game- if I do, I help the community, or give my input to the chat where the developers are ever-present. I won't expect everyone to like the game, but for any who were warned to stay away from Absolver because of problems at launch, for half off until Dec. 11th, this game is worth your $15, and the four-person development teams efforts are nothing short of unprecedented in my entire lifetime of following videogames, and that is something worth supporting alone.