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Flintlock the Siege of Dawn’s medley of systems doesn’t miss a beat

Flintlock the Siege of Dawn may be a black powder fantasy Soulslike, but the PlayStation and Xbox game’s influences stretch far beyond time, place, and genre.

Flintlock the Siege of Dawn preview GDC: an adorable purple fox god next to a woman wearing gold, skeletal armor

Nor Vanek has quite the unenviable task. You see, in Flintlock: the Siege of Dawn, the door to the underworld has been cracked open, inviting a deluge of ethereal entities – none of them particularly friendly – back into the world of the living. Nor and her fellow Coalition army comrades initially appear to be pretty doomed, especially when the gods themselves decide to vacay in the lands of Kian. Armed only with slow-loading flintlock weaponry and good old-fashioned steel, surviving the scourge on Xbox and PlayStation seems like a futile impossibility. At least, that’s what I thought before getting a closer look at Flintlock during a hands-off session at GDC.

Fortunately, Nor is the subject of flintlock fantasy – a genre that gives a magical twist to the age of black powder (the Napoleonic era specifically, in this instance). This manifests in the form of chimeral sidekick Enki, an adorable yet formidable god who for some unknown reason has taken a liking to the Soulslike game’s protagonist. Together, the pair must become greater than the sum of their parts, taking down the gods and rescuing humanity from its undead usurpers.

Though Flintlock is every part a Soulslike, from its bonfire-like Lodestones to its punishing boss encounters, Ashen developer A44 is on a journey to produce a far more approachable take on the genre this time around that, interestingly, incorporates more rhythmic combat reminiscent of God of War – one of the best games in the action-adventure space. I was initially concerned that developer A44 was perhaps being too ambitious. From what I’d seen beforehand, this project was a real melting pot of influences well beyond ‘Napoleonic flintlock Souslike.’ While my hour-long sneak peek confirmed this, I was left very impressed by its cohesiveness.

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If Flintlock the Siege of Dawn’s rhythmic combat can be condensed into a single genre, it’s jazz. At least, that’s what creative director Simon Dasan reckons. A deathly dance where “anything can happen at any point,” Flintlock’s myriad systems offer up a level of creativity that’s seldom seen in the Soulslike space. “I feel like in a lot of Souls games, in this dance between you and the enemy, it’s always the enemy that’s leading the dance,” he continues. “What we wanted to do was put you more in the lead.”

To add those jazzy, syncopated beats throughout, A44 has been generous with its system inclusions. For example, there’s poise and parrying that Sekiro fans will immediately recognize, as well as companion-based combat reminiscent of God of War’s Atreus. You’re also capable of unleashing powerful super moves known as ‘Witherings’ – these contribute to Flintlock’s style points-based currency system that rewards you with more buck for your bang. It’s giving me whiplash (not the Miles Teller kind), but like the Miles Teller kind, this furious frenzy of note-playing somehow coalesces seamlessly as you navigate each encounter.

One of Flintlock’s core tenets is hypermobility, which materializes through its unique, gunpowder-based verticality. By sacrificing a small amount of your gunpowder, Nor can activate a second jump. Don’t worry about running dry of it though (unless you get trigger-happy with your rifles and pistols), as clobbering enemies with melee attacks will gradually refill your reserves. This neatly leads me onto the delicate balance A44 is looking to strike between the game’s three combat pillars: gunpowder, magic, and melee.

Considering Flintlock’s Napoleonic fantasy, it’s easy to assume that ‘get gun, fire gun, kill god’ is about as sophisticated as it gets: “Every single thing that we wanted to do feeds into this idea of either gods vs guns or gods and guns,” Dasan tells me. However, judging by the ferocity of Flintlock’s enemies, you’ll be dead pretty quickly by simply relying on the slow-reloading rifles that populated the early nineteenth century – even if they are highly effective god-slaying tools. The good news is Nor has a couple of other routes she can explore to help her fare better against the divine.

Flintlock Siege of Dawn preview GDC: Nor and Enki enter a coffee shop, and approach its host

Firstly, there’s a fine selection of melee weapons and armor – all Napoleonic in theme – that Nor can beef herself up with. Collecting specific defensive pieces within a set yields a bonus passive, which offers yet another string to your combat bow. Heading into coffee shops – ornate outhouses reminiscent of Turkish bazaars – will not only allow you to upgrade your gear but also customize it by purchasing one of the various colorways available from vendors.

Secondly, and more importantly, Nor can call upon Enki to assist her in battle by applying his curse-based magic to entangle opponents, strip away their armor, and much more – I’ve already made the God of War Atreus comparison, but Final Fantasy 16 Torgal enjoyers will also feel at home with the predominantly fox-like deity duoing with you on the field of battle.

Each constituent part of Flintlock’s combat triangle has a unique skill tree you can build into, elevating the potential of companion, gunpowder, and steel respectively. Though the safety of Enki’s debuffs may be tantalizing for many, others may be more interested in becoming a “walking juggernaut” – Dasan’s words, not mine – by taking the path of steel.

Flintlock the Siege of Dawn preview GDC: Nor taking aim at a mini-boss

As digital content producer Shiv Andrews beautifully demonstrated while playing through the demo, the cadenced interspersal of gunfire, axe swing, and magical mascot make quick work of all manner of enemies – be they skeletal goon, brainwashed soldier, or ravenous zombie. Shielded enemies take a little more persuasion to return to the ether, but working together with Enki to quickly prime (stagger) them is the most effective method. When it comes to bosses, however, you’ll have to be on your toes.

At one point, Nor sizes up against the goddess Rammuha, whose fiery visage is made all the more intimidating by the three rapidly revolving swordarms that would’ve made her an excellent sushi chef in another life. Here, Andrews showcases how much he hates the idea of becoming sashimi, expertly parrying all three arms in quick succession. As a reward for his mastery Rammuha’s prime bar is filled substantially – soon a chunk of her armor will be hacked away, but only if the dev stays on the offensive. Unfortunately, he takes one hit too many and dies, respawning just outside the boss area – approachability, baby.

Though paring away a protective layer presents an opportunity to unleash a powerful Withering, dealing considerable damage in the process, it’s ultimately down to you, the player, if you actually follow through or not. All the systems fold neatly into one another to improve approachability, but the agency to engage with them remains with you. If you’re finding the game too easy, forgoing the use of Witherings, leaving gear unupgraded, or even refusing to allocate skill points can all provide sufficient challenge to your journey.

Flintlock the Siege of Dawn preview GDC: Nor and Enki walking along a cobbled street

It’s not only Flintlock’s combat that harnesses an eclectic mixture of influences. Though its fantasy is built upon the aesthetics of Napoleonic France, its environmental roots lie nearly 12,000 miles (and 200 years) away in A44’s native New Zealand. Between this, the Turkish bazaars, and the designs of the gods themselves which partly draw from the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, it’s impossible to call Flintlock’s black powder fantasy Eurocentric.

Flintlock, then, can be considered a love letter to everything that makes A44 tick. It’s an unbound smorgasbord of creative stimuli woven together and presented with aplomb. It’s as much or as little as you want it to be – a full breakfast buffet or a slice of French toast. Whether you take its litany of systems or leave them, how approachable the game is comes down to you. Though a concrete release date has yet to be fixed, I can’t wait to try it out for myself when it releases on PS5 and Xbox (and joins the list of Game Pass games) later this year.

Be sure to check back over the weekend to learn more about Enki, and how Flintlock’s fluffiest god became a guiding light for its development. Additionally, we’ll be taking a deeper dive into the game’s aesthetic roots (Tolkien fans, this one’s for you). For more of The Loadout’s GDC coverage, peep our Dune Awakening preview, as well as how Exoborne plans to stand out in a sea of extraction shooters.