Don’t call it a God of War killer, but Flintlock feels like a classic summer blockbuster

Swashbuckling third-person action-RPG Flintlock: The Siege Of Dawn is, amongst other things, a gentle homage to New Zealand, developer A44 Games’s country of origin. You do have to look for it, mind you. The game’s art direction at large is an elegant hodgepodge of inspirations that deserves to be unpicked carefully after release.

Main character Nor Vanek – who is on a mission to massacre various escaped underworld gods – is kind of a Napoleonic superhero. Rakishly attired in braided frock coats and knee-high boots, she can use sparking “blackpowder” pistols both to inflict damage and to double-jump or dodge while performing snappily choreographed, one-handed sword and axe combos, straight out of God of War. As regards locations, there are pale medieval citadels with stained-glass windows, coffee shops run by eerie, many-armed “Hosts” that glean from the ambience of Turkish bazaars, and certain other fantastical areas and characters – including Nor’s spectral fox sidekick Enki – that are influenced by ancient Mesopotamian mythology.

Flintlock the Siege of Dawn | Extended Gameplay Overview

But there are also more personal flashes of the studio’s own stomping grounds, especially in the vegetation and geology: pōhutukawa “Christmas trees” with rusty red flowers, and a view of a mountain range that, as art director Marie-Charlotte Derne told me during a one-hour hands-off preview showing at GDC, is based on New Zealand’s South Island. “We intentionally strayed away from the more classic and I would say, expected representation of mountains, which is the Nordic influence usually,” she said. “Instead, we decided to pull from the nature of our country. So we extracted the sense of New Zealand’s geology, fauna and flora and sprinkled elements of this throughout the game to create a unique identity.”

Again, this is a mixture of references that deserves a longer analysis from somebody with more insight than I’m able to provide – what exactly happens when you take the military trappings and equipment of Napoleonic France and apply them to a fairytale interpretation of a former European colony, with locations inspired by Turkey and ancient Mesopotamia? More superficially, Flintlock’s assertiveness about its own cultural origins suits a game that reminds me of the more accomplished “double-A” blockbusters of yesteryear. Out in Q3 2024, this is a lavish epic created by a team of just 65, which I reckon could give juggernauts like Sony Santa Monica a run for their money.

You see that above all in the combat, which is aggressive and florid where the developer’s previous, very good Ashen was grim and understated and precarious. It’s all held together by resourcing systems and fighting game mechanics that feed into each other persuasively. Nor’s blackpowder weapons have a fixed number of charges, which you can replenish by doing four hits with your chopper, theoretically ensuring a healthy alternation of melee and musketry. You’ve also got Witherings, aka sorcerous special moves, which again fill up over the course of a brawl.

A woman in armour beholding a strange creature with purple light in a shady interior

An armed woman exploring a sandy canyon with her ghost fox pal

Image credit: Kepler Interactive

Your foxy friend Enki, meanwhile, can curse enemies by streaking through them to fill an enemy’s “priming” bar. Once this bar is full, you can tear away shields and armour pieces – a toe-curling close-up animation with respectable Kratos energy – in order to deal greater damage with subsequent attacks. This seems handy against regular Joes like living statues, zombielikes and soldiers enslaved by the gods, but it’s extremely handy against the game’s bosses – phase-based creations with a slight minigame element. During the demo, Nor went toe-to-toe with Rammuha, a goddess made up of spinning, flame-filled armour with three swordarms. Placed around a third of the way through the game, she’s something of a concluding masterclass in defence – parry each swordarm in succession and you’ll fill up her priming bar super-quick, allowing you to pare away her defences and seemingly, initiate a “berserk” state change.

The renegade gods – who escape from the Great Below during the prologue – are found across the world map. Creative director Simon Dasan describes Flintlock’s landscape as “wide linear”, opening up when you enter a region to encompass optional side areas, secrets and challenges, then closing back down as you approach the next plot point. It’s structured principally around loadstones, this game’s equivalent for Dark Souls bonfires – fast travel and upgrade points which heal you while respawning your enemies. They’re more generously distributed than those of the Souls games, however: as Dasan explained, A44 doesn’t want you to spend too much time fighting your way back to the bossroom after respawning.

A woman walking down a forested sandy canyon towards a strange floating rock in the distance
Image credit: Kepler Interactive

The world is also dotted with NPC settlements. There are caravans run by Nor’s fellow Coalition Sappers, and hamlet hubs where you can flush out sidequests and trade Reputation earned through exploration and combat for cosmetics, after you’ve cleared the vicinity of mucky undead. Much of the game occurs in canyons and arenas, but there are vertiginous sections where you’ll aerial-dash between triangular “rifts”, some of which form paths to secrets and some of which simply allow you to enter a fight from above.

Going by the demo, the world does a good job of resembling a larger and dare I say, “living, breathing” society, while still being essentially a single, branching road towards the finale. Each peaceful location is awash with colourful textiles, little architectural intricacies and slice-of-life touches such as fishermen along the seashore. It’s a chance to settle back and banter a bit with Enki, a surprisingly dour soul who has an undiscovered relationship with the gods, which you can investigate by tracking down special shrines.

Enki is obviously redolent of Atreus in the recent God of Wars. Much like Kratos’s boy, he’ll gradually evolve from a means of softening foes up into a flexible offensive spellcaster – providing you pick those upgrades, anyway. Enki gets his own skilltree, with the others corresponding to your guns and melee implements. A44 gave me a sense of the variety between builds during the demo by switching to a section in which Nor has been outfitted for magic combat, summoning Enki to launch enemies and dollop them in slowmo.

An armed woman exploring a sandy canyon with her ghost fox pal
Image credit: Kepler Interactive

There also seem to be options aplenty in terms of gear, though this thankfully isn’t a process of relentless looting in search of marginally higher numbers. “We didn’t want to have armours that were just like +5 Defence,” said Dasan. “What we wanted was interesting mechanics and varied styles of play.” Standout god-bothering goodies include a pauldron that initiates slow mo when you precision dodge, and another that restores your blackpowder charges instead. There are also, ugh, “synergies” to discover by completing armour sets, such as a fancy teleport with wider i-frames than your regular dodge. And there are things like flamethrowers and grenades for those moments when you can’t be arsed theorycrafting and just want to make an absolute mess of the scenery. (I joke – I’m sure these ostensibly fire-and-forget tools have their right and proper place in the combat balancing.)

The intricacies of its cultural collage aside, there is little about Flintlock that feels outright novel: my preview notes are essentially a list of parts borrowed from other games. The same could be said of Ashen, however, a town-building Soulslike that harbours perhaps my favourite lightless dungeon in any Soulslike – and as the saying goes, Flintlock brings everything together with a style and confidence that is all its own. I came away from my demo intrigued by the choice of inspirations but more immediately, eager to book some holiday and settle down for a few evenings with a game that feels like a straightforward good time.

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