As fighting games go, Absolver by Sloclap, published by Devolver Digital, is actually incredibly intuitive. With a high skill ceiling, incredibly versatile customization, and some satisfying combinations to land – it’s hard not to get pulled in. However, if you don’t have a spare twenty plus hours to spend learning the mechanics perfectly, it’s hard to get that pull. Absolver: Downfall is the free expansion to the base game that adds in a new PvE (player versus enemy) mode, tons of gear, fresh moves, and despite all this: it’s still just okay.
Down into the Mines
Absolver: Downfall focuses on pushing between one to three players through a series of procedural generated rooms, with specific goals to complete in each. The ominous ‘clear the room’ headline will appear whenever you walk into one (or ‘ring the bell’ & ‘protect the statues’), and to progress you’ll need to do just that.
In order to unlock the later levels of Downfall, you first must collect Gleam: a substance that doesn’t actually appear in-game, and is definitely unique, and completely different to Essence and Fragments. The more Gleam you amass, the higher your PvE level is, which grants access to the Adalian Temple and then The Fold. This hoarding of Gleam also means the player can buy new abilities or aesthetic clothes, from the in-game shop at checkpoints.
As a concept a PvE cooperative hoard mode sounds great in a fighting game. And while Downfall does allow Absolver to flex for a little while, it then begins to push all the old issues to the forefront again. Like the main game, it’s far too short lived to remain truly memorable. Getting to max Gleam level (10), will take somewhere between four to six hours, depending on stable connections and skill of the party. Additionally, the grind becomes very tedious around the four-hour mark because enemies are rarely different from the last twenty you laid waste to.
With little variety in the room layouts, enemies and combat decks, it makes even less sense why cooperating players are still able to attack, and kill, one another in this mode. Absolver is a 1v1 PvP experience with a focus on martial arts, but why then add a PvE mode that still allows players to harm each other for possibly massive penalties. Each death in Downfall grants a flat twenty-five percent loss in total Gleam carried, which is huge when death via gravity stun is a personal favorite of some players.
Alone In the Mines
Naturally it’s quite the wait to find a party of three for Downfall, so heading in on your own is often a better alternative. The balancing for one player over three is actually well done in many places, and so long as you’ve got some experience with the game beforehand, (as well as a semi-decent combat deck), and some determination you’ll likely get through it. However there are many places where randomized enemy placement can be 1v4, and extremely tough to get through as ganking is still alive and well in Absolver.
Everything goes swimmingly, that is, until you reach the bosses of each area. The further you go in Downfall, the longer the levels are. But as you progress, and select more areas, each boss from the end of an area is actually removed so that you don’t need to fight them – which is a strange bypass.
On your own, these bosses are insanely tough. The first one especially so, because the character model is a near foot taller than you so not only does he have more reach: he hits like a truck. While every hit is telegraphed, some are simply impossible to dodge because of the range and frequency at which he throws them out.
The second and third are no better. Both use swords for the majority of the fight, and it becomes increasingly frustrating to land hits as they nip about the arena while taking chunks out of your health and stamina. Armed with only three lives on your own, Downfall for one seems incredibly unbalanced at times with its difficulty.
Day’s Grind for Loot
Admittedly, the most interesting things added to Absolver by the Downfall expansion are the abilities unlocked by Gleam, and the Faejin fighting style – inspired by the teachings of Bruce Lee. Having a high Gleam level means you gain access to buying new masks, which do look incredibly stylish. But Gleam itself isn’t the substance which you use to buy these items: it’s still Fragments. Fragments are sometimes, rarely, found in chests within the Downfall mode, and can be gained from salvaging (destroying) gear in your inventory.
At best this seems counterproductive. If items are added with a new unlock-able currency next to them, why not give players Gleam directly and let themselves be rewarded for going through multiple runs. Instead it creates a disparity where the game is trying to push the combat trials, since winning and leveling in those modes grants crystals and Rift Disks used to gain more items.
Like everything connected to Downfall, Faejin is unlocked for the player with Gleam levels [six], and it’s a little strange to use effectively. It combines aggression bonuses from the Khalt style, the speed of attack from Windfall and the parry animations (in certain stances) from Forsaken. As a jack of all trades, it struggles to define itself, and because of the unlock wall at level six, many players will never even see, or use it.
Mining For Lore & Music
One of the few things that Downfall really nails is the exposition. Throughout much of the walking segments from room-to-room, you’re been talked at by a creature calling itself Iktar. Who explains why you’re here, and what on earth is going on. Despite Absolver’s love for punching things, the story is one of its most interesting elements. While the base game says things in passing, and the player picks up bits and pieces of narrative as they go, Downfall unloads history like a waterfall. Even if much of it goes over your head, it makes a change for the better compared to the main story which can be glossed over entirely if a player is just there to punch things.
Along the same vein, you’ve got the music for Downfall. Which is as boring as some of the challenges contained therein. The music rarely rises above a calm battle focus, which doesn’t feel like enough sometimes. Against regular enemies the music isn’t a huge deal, because you’ll cut them down in no time. But the sheer lack of ambiance and riveting boss music is a serious flaw that becomes larger the more you look at it.
Leaving the Mines for Good
Absolver: Downfall is a great way to draw old players back to the community, and even better attempt to draw in newer Prospects. Unfortunately after adding the framework of something truly brilliant, the game doesn’t do much with itself after that. You’re not given any incentive to keep on playing after you reach Gleam level six, and that’s pushing it for the people who dislike random fights against mob enemies or grinding.
- Fun cooperative PvE experience
- New abilities and armor are snazzy
- The lore exposition between rooms
- No new, memorable music for fights
- Faejin is awkward to use unless you’re a pro
- Becomes boring after a few hours of grinding
Downfall sadly becomes more like a chore after a few runs, as you realize that the rooms and map aren’t random, only the objectives inside them. Its release adds so much to a game that offers a lot to a select audience, but to everyone else it’s just another four-to-six hours of occasionally fun punching.