Absolver is a reminder that loot is better when it's a mystery

I have a mask in Absolver that’s shaped like a hand. The Hand of Marek is stupid—big on cut protection even though few use swords, and impractically heavy for my fighting style—but I wear it anyway because I’ve never seen anyone else wearing it (and because I enjoy My Hero Academia). It’s the only bit of game loot I’ve really cared about in a long time. I didn’t pay for it. It wasn’t announced as a pre-order bonus. It just appeared in my inventory after a fight.

Ah, the exotic ‘pre-order.’

The face hand is special because I didn’t know it existed before I found it. Part of that is playing Absolver at launch, but not all of it. New Overwatch skins are announced, previewed, given a release date—you’ll never surprise me with one. If you’re wearing PlayerUnknown’s Bandana in PUBG, I’ll assume you’re rich, because they’re for sale on the Steam Marketplace starting at $672. And if I see you wandering Destiny 2 with a Coldheart Exotic Trace Rifle come October, I’ll know you pre-ordered. Ah, the exotic ‘pre-order.’

All my Absolver mask really says about me is that I was lucky. Maybe lots of people have the Hand of Marek—I don’t know—but whatever the drop rate is, the RNG seems to have favored me. And I praise the sun for it.

Absolver’s particular random loot system could be a little more generous. I’ve seen people on Reddit report that nothing interesting has dropped for them even after reaching double my rank in the 1v1 trials. Pure RNG is always going to burn someone. But that flaw aside, the joy of Absolver’s loot is that I have no idea what’s out there, or if I'll ever get anything good after this stupid hand. Yeah, it’s all been cataloged on the wiki—which I’ve avoided—but if developer Sloclap sneaked a new mask in during an update and didn’t tell anyone, we wouldn’t know about it until it was discovered. And that’s possible because Absolver’s loot doesn’t come in boxes you pay for. For the biggest games, mystery is being replaced with marketing.

I have one cool mask and a bunch of belts I don't want. But that's what makes the mask cool.

The secret slap

The first time I was slapped I was so thrown off I practically surrendered the fight.

The secrecy in Absolver even extends to moves. If you haven’t seen me going on about it yet, Absolver is a brawler in which you can customize your fighting moveset and learn new attacks from NPCs and other players. The other week the community went wild for the Calbot Slap. The attack must be learned from one NPC who rarely spawns, and it’s the most useless move in the game: a standing slap that’s hard to land and does 15 damage (players have over a thousand HP). The first time I was slapped I was so thrown off I practically surrendered the fight. Later, PC Gamer Club member Apollo Trollo taught it to me.

Had the slap been a pre-order bonus, it wouldn’t have been funny or startling. It would’ve been a dick move to even use it. Yeah, we know you pre-ordered and got the slap. Good job. But because Absolver made it an Easter egg, taking a firm open hand to the cheek became a community in-joke. The other day I played someone who was obviously going to beat me, so when we got to the third round, I started slapping. It was the only move I threw, and being a good sport he even let me land a few. Brutally losing doesn’t feel nearly as bad after smacking your opponent’s cheek red first.

I've blacked out the name of the person I'm slapping here out of respect.

There’s nothing cool about pre-ordering, so no matter how badass any pre-order bonus gun looks, I’ll never enjoy having it as much as I enjoy my weird hand mask. And the slap, since I had to learn it from a friend.

It’s not even all that cool to own an item you earned by climbing up some known achievement ladder. In Absolver, for instance, every player who beats the barebones story earns a special cloak. And while it has decent stats, Apollo and I were joking about the cloak last week, and have determined that anyone who’s wearing it either just beat the game and is proud—endearing, but not cool—or is pretending they just beat the game to throw off opponents. (Which is sort of cool, to be fair.)

When everyone else is working toward the same thing, the loot that’s really special comes as a surprise.

I’m not about to challenge the entire idea of character progression, which is fun in Absolver, too. I like working toward stuff. But when everyone else is working toward the same thing, the loot that’s really special comes as a surprise—whether it’s in a secret location, or just won in the RNG lottery. 

As Tim recounted to me, when the mighty Gjallarhorn went up for sale in Destiny, those who had ‘earned’ it as a drop were mad that people could pay for it with in-game currency—even though those people earned that currency, too. Maybe it was a little irrational, but there’s a truth to it: loot is best when it’s special. Put it on the market and it's just another commodity. But make its drop rate a mystery and it's a story.

Absolver’s not the only game to treat its loot so preciously—and to be fair to games like Overwatch, Absolver’s loot isn’t just cosmetic, so it serves a different purpose. But along those lines, what a downer the marketplace was in Diablo 3 when it launched. It wasn’t fun knowing everything that was out there, and how much money I could pay to have it.

The best loot makes you feel like you have something other people don’t have, something that they might never have, something unique, even though it isn’t really. By being so opaque about it, Absolver makes the best stuff feel special. But if The Hand of Marek were 69 cents on the Steam Marketplace, or found in paid-for loot boxes, I wouldn’t give a crap about it.