Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn is developer A44 Games' sophomore effort, following 2018 soulslike Ashen. Though Flintlock isn't a sequel to Ashen, the upcoming open-world action RPG seems to build upon Ashen's focus on cooperation and community. Flintlock's combat is faster, its character models are more detailed, and its world looks a whole lot bigger, but at its core, the game similarly explores the concept of attaining great power through strong relationships. It's a narrative theme that made for an interesting soulslike in Ashen, and I hope the same can be said for Flintlock.
Flintlock takes place in a fantasy world where mankind is nearly extinct and engaging in a last-ditch effort to defeat the gods, who have gone to war against humanity with an army of the undead. Humanity's best bet is the coalition army, a group that uses gunpowder to even the fight against the gods' magic. You play as Nor Vanek, a member of the coalition army, who has a personal vendetta against the gods. She's joined by Enki, a strange creature with his own issues with the gods, who augments Nor's abilities with magic.
A44 chose this kind of setting for Flintlock--where magic and firearms coexist as equally powerful tools within a fantasy world--due to its rarity in games. "It is a big genre within books, but it's never been taken to film too much, or especially to games," Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn game director Hayden Asplet said during a preview of the game. "So we wanted to dive into that. It's an exciting thing to explore. To me, I love flintlock pistols. I think they're just so interesting, because of how effective, but also ineffective they are. You get one shot and then that's it, and trying to reload the thing is a pain."
A44 Games art director Robert Bruce added: "It's definitely a relatively untapped subgenre of fantasy. I think before this project, I didn't really know much about it. ...Shadow and Bone is probably a good example of the world and setting and tone of Flintlock's fantasy genre."
Flintlock's world is divided into three zones that you can explore. One looks to be mostly desert, while another is cavernous ruins. The one that we saw the most during the gameplay preview is a more civilized area, where Nor finds the city of Sibyl--it's here, in an ancient archive, where Nor encounters the God of Knowledge. It speaks to Nor in a language that A44 (with the help of a linguist) made specifically for Flintlock. It looks like Nor will have to do quite a bit of exploring before she's able to reach this location, however.
Flintlock's open-world exploration builds upon my favorite part of Ashen--Vagrant's Rest, a hub area you'd regularly return to. In Ashen, as you met new characters, you could invite them to live in your camp. And if you helped them with their problems, they'd contribute back to the community, helping you pave roads, build houses, and set up shops. By the end of the game, your makeshift camp would become a bustling town. In Flintlock, the hub is made into a part of Nor's journey as a traveling caravan. Like Vagrant's Rest, it will expand and grow as you meet important characters and help them with their problems. But part of its evolution is tied to its movement, allowing it to change depending on where it's set up, not just who calls it home.
"[The caravan] is a gathering point for characters who join you in the world, and for the player to craft new items or upgrade existing ones," Asplet said. "This space evolves as you progress through the game. And the caravan also is a moving hub that provides a resting point in many cases throughout your journey."
Nor can also directly affect the world beyond her hub area. During the gameplay preview, we saw how her efforts to clear out a group of buildings inhabited by the undead allowed farmers and citizens to repopulate the area, transforming a once dangerous place into a little town. The preview didn't showcase how this might impact the world beyond coloring the player's perception of it, but it does look like a nice narrative-themed reward to combat. With how challenging Flintlock looks, it's cool to see that your effort will result in tangible change across the world.
Regarding combat, Flintlock seems to lean more towards a Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice experience as opposed to a more traditional soulslike, having an armor system that seems to work a lot like Sekiro's posture. When Nor damages enemies or parries their attacks, it fills a yellow bar that's above the enemy's red health bar. Completely filling this yellow armor bar allows Nor to deliver a devastating attack to her opponent--this kills normal enemies outright, and weakens minibosses and bosses, oftentimes pushing these stronger foes into their second phase.
As the yellow armor meter depletes over time, it's in your best interest to regularly press the offensive to ensure it never fully empties, which is easier to do if you regularly parry or dodge attacks as opposed to blocking. Finishing off foes with Nor's axe refills her limited supply of bullets while executing them with her flintlock firearms replenishes her own armor, which can be broken by certain enemy attacks that are forewarned with a red aura.
"One of the biggest things we learned with Ashen is just that to create really good soulslike combat, you really need combat to follow a rhythm," Asplet said. "And so all of the combat, and every single animation, is based on a sense of having rhythm and really strict timing for everything. And that's what makes the combat feel so satisfying. With Flintlock, we just push that to the nth degree, making the animations, and incorporating a lot more of the camera, and then expanding the amount of abilities and exciting things you could explore and discover."
Nor's axe and flintlock pistol seem to be her go-to in combat, but the gameplay preview revealed she has other weapons at her disposal as well. She can use a flintlock rifle to deal high damage from long-range, for example, or a hand mortar to unleash devastating area-of-effect explosions. The gunpowder for her firearms can even be used as a weapon, as it can extend the height of her jumps or provide an explosive smokescreen while dodging.
Much like Ashen, you'll always have a friend fighting beside you--in this case, Enki. However, this time, you directly control your partner. "This time we didn't want [the companion] to be purely AI-driven," Asplet said. "So you have a lot more control over your AI companion. It's less frustrating than those experiences with Ashen."
Like God of War's Atreus, Enki aids Nor on the outskirts of the battlefield, messing with foes and verbally warning her of attacks you might not see coming. You can direct Enki too, asking him to distract enemies, buff your attacks with magic, or help you move more quickly through the world with some slight teleportation. Nor can be directed to stun an enemy or boss as well, momentarily preventing their armor meter from resetting and erasing your progress, giving you a window to reload or drink a potion.
Asplet mentioned that God of War served as inspiration for Nor and Enki's relationship, both in terms of story and combat. "At a certain point, we wanted to incorporate similar ideas, and also to push the narrative forward and develop this awesome relationship between two characters that the player can experience and go along with throughout the entire journey," he said.
Bruce likened the two to a buddy cop situation, adding, "Enki and Nor have a strong bond, like a companionship. They have the same goal, maybe different motivations, but we want to explore their relationship and their different personalities."
I wish I'd been able to see a bit more of Nor and Enki's dynamic play out during the preview, but A44 seems to still be keeping most of Flintlock's story under wraps for now. I like what I've seen of Flintlock so far, especially since A44 is continuing to place emphasis on collaboration when it comes to both combat and building a community. Time will tell if the Sekiro- and God of War-looking combat is as satisfying to play as it looks, but, for now, I'm at least excited.
Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn is scheduled to launch for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, and PC in early 2023.
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