Kick, punch, it's all in the timing in fighting-RPG hybrid Absolver

Playing Absolver from Sloclap, you can't help but notice the similarities to Dark Souls.  Punishing melee fights dominated by stamina management, seamless multiplayer matchmaking where both friend and foe are connected to your world, the yellow glow of a helpful item lying on the ground.

Even the opening of my demo, where I broke out of a small shack to confront a small group of mindless fighters, is reminiscent of rising from the grave and fending off the dried husks of the Undead Asylum.

But Absolver is much more than a simple case of "Dark Souls but…" Gameplay hinges on Sloclap's unique approach to combat - a customizable combo system centered on just two attack buttons and four stances. It's an approach as satisfying as any fighting game, and I found myself taken aback by its depth.

You acquire attacks in Absolver like you acquire weapons in other RPGs. Defeat an enemy and he might drop not a knife, but a knife-hand strike. Each maneuver has ratings for basics like speed and damage, but also secondary effects like guard break or absorption. Your "combat deck" is where you'll manage these, picking and customizing your combos to produce the desired effects.

Let's say that you want to produce a combo designed to be as fast as possible. You'd go into your combat deck and select your speediest attacks, assigning them slots in your combo chain. Simple, right? That's when you notice the four stances you can switch between.

The stances, like your character's attacks, are deceptively simple. They're not called anything fancy, and are oriented based on the way you face your opponent. Two with your chest toward your foe, two with your chest turned out. Each stance has its own combo you can customize, allowing you to swap between styles of combat. You could, for example, set up one stance to be your fast-paced strikes, and another that's your heavy-hitting strikes.

The clincher is that these stances don't exist separate from one another. At the end of a stance's combo, you'll switch to a new stance. This means that an experienced player can string together endless combos, effortlessly flowing and chaining from one stance to the next. Notice that your opponent is blocking a lot? Switch or chain into a combo that has a guard-breaking attack. Got someone who likes to unleash majorly damaging blows that absorb your strikes? Get yourself into a combo with the interrupt ability.

Lest you think you can just brute force your way through fights, a mechanic akin to Gears of War's active reload system keeps your mind focused on proper timing. Each strike begins to fill a bar, which is punctuated by a small area highlighted in white. Fail to throw your next punch or kick within that area, and you'll slow down, leaving yourself open to counter-attack. Hit the button in time with the filling bar however, and you'll be a fast and furious fighting machine.

Add onto this substantial combat system the ability to parry, feint, use items, player customization and equipment, and set in all in a stylized open world, and you've got an idea of what Absolver is going to be: a serious contender in the ring, fighting for your attention.

Sam Prell

Sam is a former News Editor here at GamesRadar. His expert words have appeared on many of the web's well-known gaming sites, including Joystiq, Penny Arcade, Destructoid, and G4 Media, among others. Sam has a serious soft spot for MOBAs, MMOs, and emo music. Forever a farm boy, forever a '90s kid.