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New Soulslike Flintlock the Siege of Dawn is a cultural mosaic

From the alpine environs of New Zealand's South Island to the statues of ancient Mesopotamia, Flintlock the Siege of Dawn has sampled the world on PS5 and Xbox.

Flintlock the Siege of Dawns visuals: a host in a coffee shop, next to Nor wearing Napoleonic attire

Flintlock the Siege of Dawn may have opted against shifting production from Unreal Engine 4 to UE5, but our GDC hands-off with A44’s latest convinced us that the old dog still has plenty of bite in it – at least graphically. Sporting a vibrant art style far removed from its Soulslike cousins, inspired largely by the New Zealand-based studio’s backyard, Flintlock is certainly a looker on PlayStation and Xbox. Of course, it would’ve been rude of us not to ask more about the game’s visual stimuli, so we did.

As we note in our Flintlock the Siege of Dawn preview, the new Soulslike game is grounded in ‘flintlock fantasy’ – the magic-ification of the black powder era, this time based on Napoleonic France. However, throughout my brief time with the A44 team, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t only the French garments donned by protagonist Nor Vanek that contributed to Flintlock’s aesthetic. Be it the studio’s reimagining of New Zealand’s glaciers, Turkish-themed bazaars, and statues depicting gods that wouldn’t have looked out of place in ancient Mesopotamia, there’s a lot going on both geographically and historically.

When it comes to piecing Flintlock’s diverse world together, then, it’s clear that its developer has made every effort to carefully pick and choose cultural elements that fit its vision – it’s not a sprawling open-world game with plenty of space for full regional recreations, after all. For example, as Flintlock is an “underrepresented style and subcategory of fantasy” – an observation made by art director Marie-Charlotte Derne – so too are the stunning alpine vistas of New Zealand (at least, outside of that little-known franchise that concerns itself with Hobbits.)

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“We intentionally strayed away from the more classic representation of [Nordic] alpine environments,” Derne tells The Loadout. “Because we’re a New Zealand studio, there’s an opportunity to bring something new – our identity.” Inspired by the country’s South Island, Flintlock’s frigid biome – one of three major regions in the game – is filled with local geology, fauna, and flora. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and the game’s photo mode will be used liberally by many, I’m sure.

While I didn’t get to see all three diverse biomes during the showcase, the second houses a classic fishing hamlet, complete with pōhutukawa (Christmas trees) and Moa birds. “Our game starts in a very human-centric setting,” Derne explains, “and as you progress you see an evolution that hybrids those two themes of humans and gods, magic and gunpowder that eventually culminates into a more magic-invaded area.”

As we venture further out of town, huge crystals begin to come into view. At first, there are a few, until gradually the local geology is infested with them. As previously mentioned, Flintlock has certainly whacked the saturation up compared to many of its genre mates, but it’s a welcomed switch up from the bleak environs we’re used to traipsing through over and over again between failed boss attempts.

“The intention was for us to propose something that we think brings the genre further,” Derne says, “to have something that might look and feel a bit different from the usual games in it. This is also an opportunity for us to play with those ranges – of color and brightness.” Pointing out a formation of the magical rocks that have crept up into the lands of Kian, Derne has us focus on the stark contrast between “something dark and ominous” – the crystals – and the desert biome Nor and god-turned-sidekick Enki are sifting through. It’s magical realism, crystallized.

Flintlock the Siege of Dawn visuals: Nor and Enki approach a large statue in a canyon

Naturally, there’s no point in crafting a world that demands your attention if you’re going to spend the whole time in the new PS5 game and new Xbox game blasting baddies with Nor’s lethal trinity of gunpowder, magic, and steel. A44, Derne stresses, has accounted for this.

“It’s important to mention that, yes, the game is about rhythm and pacing during combat, but it’s also about pacing between encounters. We don’t want you to be full-on all the time, so we’re also creating these pockets of contemplation and space for the player to regroup, think, and then go into the next encounter refreshed” – a saving grace for any disheveled Soulslike enjoyer that would appreciate a moment without being gazumped by the gods – the game’s main antagonistic force.

Speaking of, A44 has also looked further afield from France at the turn of the 19th Century when it comes to its deities. “We’ve taken our references for the gods from all over the place,” creative director Simon Dasan tells us. Influenced partly by the ancient primordial visages that governed Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as elements of horror, the studio and its concept artists have let their imaginations run wild. As we noted in our full preview, Flintlock the Siege of Dawn is a melting pot of inspirations across the board, and A44’s once again taken great care when forging its visuals.

For more of our coverage from GDC 2024, check out how Exoborne can recreate Helldivers 2’s lightning in a bottle. Additionally, peep the reason why you shouldn’t expect a Wuthering Waves PS5 release date anytime soon. For more on the best PS5 games and best Xbox games, read up on the new Persona 6 leak that gives weight to a certain paint bucket tease.