One of the most interesting fighting games I've ever played is in development by a somewhat unlikely group: ex-Ubisoft developers who've spent the last several years making realistic, militaristic shooting games like Ghost Recon.
Absolver is the visually-striking game published by Devolver and developed by Sloclap for PC and consoles, due next year. It's mechanically intriguing: The game combines twitch- and timing-based attacks and defenses like other fighters, but it implements a “combat deck” system that is customizable.
Each “card” in the deck (you earn more cards in the campaign mode) is a different move, and fighters have four different stances, which affects which moves are available. Switching between these stances happens in real time and is quite fluid even at this stage in development, and players can also draw a weapon, which has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on your opponent.
So thanks to the combat deck, fighting in Absolver isn’t just about reflexes and repeating combos, it’s also about being smart when building your deck, which adds a cerebral component to the game. And with stance-switching, players can adapt constantly according to the various situations at hand.
“We started with the core concept and had three taglines: ‘combat is a dance,’ ‘movement is your weapon,’ and ‘make a move,’” said Sloclap creative director Pierre Tarno. “That whole thing about ‘make a move,’ we wanted combat that was fluid, dynamic, one where you could build your own choreography.
“Our lead game designer Jordan [Layani], he thought about this concept and came up with that system, which is pretty brilliant. What I like about it is that it exposes to the player how attacks are selected. They can fool around, experiment with it and really build their playstyle in the deck.”
A fighting game that has deck building means that each player can have countless movesets. This can cause balance issues, particularly in player-vs-player modes (the E3 demo showed a seamless mix is PvP and cooperative multiplayer), and Tarno and his team are aware of this, with much more playtesting planned.
It’s a promising start for the first game from this new studio, which is made up mostly of former triple-A Ubisoft developers. “We were kind of tired of making realistic shooters in real world settings," Tarno explained. "We’re all fans and practice martial arts, and love martial arts movies. We wanted to do something that revolved around physical combat, and have it in a fantasy setting. … Basically we wanted to get creative and have more responsibility on a project.”