The team at A44 Games is one that has always clearly had ideas and stories to share. Though their debut title Ashen was a love letter to the Soulsborne games through and through, it still managed to offer an experience that hinted at the team's own style through its art direction and world design. With their latest title Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn, however, the team's creativity is finally on full display, and based on what I saw during a hands-off preview event it could well spark a string of hits from the developer.
The preview event offered a detailed look at Flintlock's gameplay, with the title's many mechanics - particularly those around combat - put on full display. The title's game director Hayden Asplet and art director Robert Bruce led the preview, offering insight into the game's design and how different elements played into the larger product.
Things kicked off with an explanation of the game's story. It follows Nor, an explosives expert, and gunpowder magic wielder, in her quest to take on an undead scourge threatening the world. To end it, she'll need to take on hoards of the decaying monstrosities while also tracking down the Old Gods which need to be cast back into the Great Below. Everything is set against the backdrop of a Flintlock Fantasy setting, where gunpowder technology and magic are competing against each other as humanity pushes forward in its advancements.
The demo then starts in earnest with Nor standing in the Caravan, a hub area of sorts. While there, she can interact with allies and other NPCs or craft new upgrades and weapons in safety before heading out into the world. After speaking to one such ally, she then sets out on her current objective alongside Enki. A talking fox spirit, this creature aids Nor on her adventure by providing information on the world and offering ways of disrupting enemies in combat.
Just down the path from the Caravan, the world opens up into a mountainous area littered with jutting pillars of rock and stone. Traversing them requires plenty of jumping and climbing, which Nor can do via her gunpowder magic. After doing a normal jump, she can execute a double jump via a quick blast of ignited gunpowder, boosting her higher or altering the direction of her jump as the player sees fit. Learning how to use this properly would prove vital as well, as Asplet and Bruce showed that there were plenty of objects tucked into hard to reach places that yielded gold, rare items, and other loot when interacted with.
Asplet and Bruce then encountered their first enemy of the demo: An Undead waiting on a far-off pillar of stone to snipe at Nor with a crossbow. Fortunately, Nor is more than capable of dealing with enemies like this in a variety of ways, and Asplet and Bruce proved as much. They started by launching Enki at the enemy, disrupting its attack windups and shaving off chunks of its health besides. Nor then fired off a blast from a flintlock pistol, dealing the killing blow.
Shortly after, they encountered another enemy in a similar position. This time though, they positioned Nor on a higher platform via her Gunpowder magic, which allowed them to cross wide gaps and climb up to different parts of the environment with ease. They then leaped off of this high point, slowed her descent with a gunpowder burst, and sniped the enemy from behind for an instant kill.
Barely a few moments later, they encountered an ambush set up by melee-focused enemies. Nor was just as capable of taking on these foes, blending axe-based melee attacks with dodges and shorter-ranged flintlock weaponry to take her opponents down without suffering any damage herself. Enki was likewise added into the mix, providing disruptions and damage to the enemies for added variety.
That's really the best way to describe Flintlock's combat. Though it can appear simple on its face and draws clear inspirations from titles like the most recent God of War iterations, the more movement-heavy gameplay and the sheer amount of ways players can approach combat are impressive. This is thanks not only to the wealth of options for attacking enemies but to the fast-paced style it gains from Nor's traversal mechanics.
Likewise, the enemies and their designs are just as varied. In addition to their tactics, enemies each have their own aesthetic which ties nicely into the overall look and feel of the world. Some are bog-standard undead and look the part of a villager who met an untimely end, while others are horribly twisted monstrosities that were clearly dragged straight out of the Great Below alongside the Old Gods. They all lend themselves well to the fantasy aesthetic and helped to keep the combat from looking any less impressive than the gameplay mechanics set it up to be.
After dealing with these threats, Nor and Enki reached a campfire that Nor then lit. She was then able to rest, providing her with a checkpoint should she perish in battle a la similar Soulsborne respawn mechanics.
Following some more traversal and combat, Asplet and Bruce reached the destination of their current quest; village overrun by Undead and in desperate need of aid. They then revealed that not every quest is as simple as going to the marker and brute-forcing one's way through the obstacle. Sometimes, taking a more tactical approach or even coming back later with new tools is preferable. They proved as much by taking Nor toward a gate guarded by powerful armored Undead, who made quick work of her with heavy-hitting attacks.
They then switched gears and headed off toward a different objective. This one required them to go to a Coffee Shop and awaken a friendly creature that acts as its owner. Like the Caravan, these buildings are home to allies that allow Nor to rest. Unlike the Caravan though, these places also allow her to fast-travel around the world, warping to different zones with minimal time sinks. After choosing to warp toward their destination, they reappeared in another Coffee Shop, which opened up into a massive city built upon ancient stone ruins of a civilization long lost.
Again, the best way to describe this facet of the game is packed with variety. Though it may be more of a sandbox title with different zones as opposed to a seamless open world, Flintlock's setting it ripe with different locales and area aesthetics that make it feel alive. I was just as eager to see more of the mountainous area as I was the city built on ancient ruins, and the thought of what other areas might be featured had my imagination whirling.
After a bit more combat and exploration, the Flintlock demo wrapped up with a proper boss fight against the God of Knowledge. Decked out in heavy armor and capable of knocking Nor for a loop via massive sword swings or outlandishly powerful magic attacks, it required careful maneuvering and attack timing to take down.
The fight truly served as a culmination of everything shown of the combat up to that point. Seeing how quickly Asplet and Bruce had to move from attacking to dodging to maneuvering with gunpowder magic was truly a sight to behold. I could only imagine how crazy the combat would get in later segments, where utilizing Nor's gunpowder magic to jump, dodge, and position myself would be vital to taking down enemies before they smeared me across a wall.
Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by Flintlock by the end of the showcase. There was so much variety in so many aspects of the game, and it was clear that what weas shown only scratched the surface. at the same time though, I couldn't wait to see more of it, and knew that it would be an experience that would suck me in for the entirety of the story it wants to tell. This is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys extensive combat systems or a fully-developed fantasy world, and will likely only get better before its early 2023 launch.
TechRaptor previewed Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn in a hands-off capacity via a digital showcase hosted by Kepler Interactive. The game's full release is currently slated for early 2023.