Preview: Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn

10 Jun 2024

Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn is a game that immediately intrigues. If not for the gunpowder-and-magic stylings of its world, then certainly for the blend of two somewhat disparate gameplay genres. Ostensibly Flintlock reads as a Soulslike, but then you begin to take note of the protagonist’s high mobility, the number of tools at her disposal at any given time with a ranking system for player performance, and suddenly things are starting to look more like a character action game.

Flintlock is currently in development by A44 Games and planned for release on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S, from publisher Kepler Interactive. It’s set for release on July 18th, 2024, but I had the chance to play its beginning this past week and found myself not only really gelling with its gameplay, but its narrative and lore as well.

A self-described flintlock fantasy title, Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn takes place in a world where gods and magic are part and parcel with Napoleonic-era weaponry and technology, something that’s immediately illustrated by the premise of humanity being locked in a war with said deities and their armies of the undead.

The demo kicked off immediately in the middle of a warzone in this conflict from the perspective of Nor, a warrior who fights up close and personal with an axe in one hand and a pistol in the other. When an errant attack causes the battle to take a turn for the worse, Nor crosses paths with Enki, a fox creature who joins her in her quest to take down the gods for the sake of humanity with his own array of magical attacks.

These are doubtlessly stakes and concepts that will feel somewhat familiar when laid out as such. I started Flintlock’s demo with similar feelings, even, so imagine my surprise when I found myself getting sucked into the game’s world despite them. I particularly enjoyed the way Nor’s interactions with her cohorts and Enki would paint a picture of their past histories and prior events before we join up with her story.

The dialogue in this beginning portion was believable and thoughtfully acted out, with plenty of ambient dialogue to give the player something to listen to as they explore to flesh out the world, and the quality presentation and smooth animations in its cutscenes were icing on the cake.

Slick presentation can only get you so far, though. It’s the overall gameplay experience that decides whether a game will sink or swim, and Flintlock’s aforementioned fusion of Soulslike gameplay and character action games is one that felt more than seaworthy. There are plenty of elements that will be familiar to a Souls fan (parrying by firing an offhand pistol and well-timed blocks, combos that require thorough commitment and snappy decision making), but the player is afforded an impressive degree of mobility at all times. Without any resource cost or similar cooldown, you’re able to double jump, mid-air dodge, or both as a part of the same leap.

With a separate face button, the player commands Enki to attack the targeted enemy in tandem with their usual repertoire. When both are used at the same time, a meter above the enemy’s health bar will build. When it’s filled, Nor unleashes a devastating attack with an elaborate animation. For lesser enemies the player is able to choose at will whether they want to prioritize Nor or Enki’s attacks, but certain armored enemies need to be taken down with Enki first in order to open the enemy up for Nor. The variety kept things interesting as a player, but it also emphasized the bond between the characters in a way that kept them relevant outside of cutscenes.

As mentioned previously, the player is evaluated for their performance and the variety of their attacks at the end of each combat encounter. The evaluation hands out Reputation—the game’s primary currency—in much the same way that a character action game would, thus encouraging the player to experiment more with each facet of the combat system. If you’re not doling out damage, you’re parrying unblockable attacks, building up Enki’s gauge through his own, or casting crowd control abilities to make things safer for you, all the while avoiding damage to keep your Reputation multiplier rising until you’ve won. Flintlock was constantly asking me to keep an eye on my enemy’s attack patterns and respond accordingly with a suitable follow-up of my own. Things always felt busy and it was one of my favorite elements of the whole experience.

Earlier I mentioned how I felt pulled into Flintlock’s world and characters despite the brevity of this preview through cutscenes and character interactions, but the world and level design played a big part in the proceedings as well. The general gameplay loop saw Nor fighting her way through pathways and offshoots, reclaiming strongholds overtaken by armies of the undead. The first stretch of the demo was more of an on-rails introduction, but when the first full section of the game began, exploration really came to the fore as an equal part of the experience like the combat itself.

Nor’s mobility was a big part of what made learning the combat fun, but it also had the secondary benefit in the way it allows levels to open up. And not just with climbable level geometry and verticality, but horizontally with platforming challenges as well, preventing the player from settling into a loop of doing the same thing over and over again. Time outside of battles was further strengthened by attention to detail in the level design and the far-off vistas; I found myself consistently taking a moment to appreciate the distant set dressing, especially when these moments occurred off the beaten path of the main storyline.

Despite all this praise, there was a noticeable sore spot in the lack of proper bosses in this demo. When it came to the toughest enemies in Nor’s path, there weren’t very many variations aside from “armored guy with a big weapon.” Now make no mistake, I love me some fights with big guys in armor, but they made me anticipate a more complicated boss fight I could really sink my teeth into only for one to never appear. I can’t say whether or not large-scale bosses were absent from just this section or the title as a whole, but it was difficult to ignore their absence in a game of this style.

Playing through Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn’s demo was immediately engaging. Its unique setting and Souls-and-character-action-game-inspired combat system coalesced in a way that made it difficult to put the controller down. The available sections of the skill tree were limited in this vertical slice, but later abilities seemed to provide plenty of room for the combat to grow in depth in the full experience too.

Grafting this particular mix of gameplay mechanics onto an interesting world with a believable protagonist was a recipe for a great time. This early section of Flintlock left me highly impressed and eager to see what’s in store for Nor when the game launches on July 18th.

Preview beta access provided by Kepler Interactive for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Kepler Interactive.