Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn First Impressions

Playing a new soulslike is always a strange experience. None of them ever reach the heights of FromSoft’s masterpieces, yet comparisons to games like Elden Ring feel fundamentally unfair. The copycat titles that end up the most satisfying to play tend to be the ones that actually come up with a new concept, or else manage to successfully focus on just a handful of the key elements of FromSoft’s formula.

Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn appears to be attempting both avenues, and from the 90 minutes I spent with it, it has a chance to be successful in that attempt. A new IP from the creators of Ashen (another Soulslike, naturally), Flintlock has you take on the role of Nor Vanek, an elite sapper fighting a war against an army of the Dead. Nor seeks to defeat the Gods Below that have unleashed the Dead, and naturally you’ll have to fight a bunch of mobs and kill a bunch of big scary bosses to accomplish that.

flintlock siege of dawn big scary boss
Just your everyday mask-wearing dragon crow mecha god

The game is described by the devs as a “Souls-lite”: a “unique take on the souls-like genre, but more accessible and agile”. And indeed, it does offer some fresh takes on the formula, in both how you attack enemies, and how you move around said enemies.

Weapons in Flintlock come in three categories: melee weapons, flintlock pistols, and secondary ranged weapons like rifles or flamethrowers. You can use all three at any given time, with combos chaining cleanly if you fire your pistol in between melee attacks. You can only store three pistol shots at once, but every four melee attacks restores a black powder charge for your pistol. The secondary ranged weapons have a dynamic timing-based reload that rewards perfect reloads, and offer you a way to soften up tough enemies before engaging them in melee — or you can just use your rifle to explode the red barrels near enemies.

flintlock the siege of dawn combat shot counterattack

You’re further incentivized to mix up your attacks — and movements — by the way the game’s currency, Reputation, is earned. Every unique attack and movement ability you use while in combat increases your Reputation multiplier, significantly increasing how much Reputation you gain for defeating enemies. At any point, you can choose to bank the Reputation you’ve earned — doing so will apply your current multiplier, store your Reputation, and set your multiplier to zero. If you get hit, your multiplier will go to zero and the Reputation will be banked with no bonus. It’s a clever system that encourages you to be creative in combat, and it’s a fun risk-reward mechanic as well.

flintlock siege of dawn skill tree
Reputation can be spent on unique cosmetic gear, upgrades, and new skills

You’ll want to use those unique movement abilities in combat, as the enemies in Flintlock are fast and dangerous (I died a lot while playing on the hardest difficulty). Fortunately, you have a double jump and a double dash, which can be used not only to avoid enemy attacks, but to navigate the environment — the game features a fair amount of platforming to reach enemies or traverse levels. Movement felt smooth and responsive, although the combat system did take some getting used to — your commits to attacks, and button mashing leads to a quick death.

A final twist to the combat comes courtesy of your companion Enki, a cute lil’ God who can Curse your enemies, making them vulnerable to a critical strike once you fill up their curse meter via melee strikes and Enki’s attacks. Enki can also charge up a powerful Withering attack. Enki can be equipped with different stones that inflict status effects when he Curses foes, allowing you to customize how he damages enemies.

flintlock siege of dawn inventory

It felt like ability overload when I first started playing, and I was sure I’d forget half the buttons. But, once I got the hang of it, weaving Enki’s attacks between firing the pistol and slashing mobs started to feel smooth and satisfying, especially I was using multiple dashes and jumps to avoid damage. The relative lack of stun-lock vs enemies made fighting multiple foes challenging, but it feels that you’re meant to dodge damage rather than win through pure aggression.

When you aren’t actively fighting, you’ll be able to explore Flintlocks open world, where in addition to the main quest, you’ll be able to find secrets, fight powerful enemies, and do side quests. I didn’t get a chance to explore much off the beaten path in the preview, but it does mean that if you get stuck on a tough part of the main story, you can take a break and do other things, which is always a nice option. While exploring, you’ll come across towns overran by The Dead — defeating the boss in the town will turn it into a Hamlet where you can find NPCs and get rewarded for your good deed.

flintlock siege of dawn host of coffeeshop
Freeing a hamlet also earns you a charge of your heal, and a chance to meet one of the awesomely weird lookin’ Hosts

While combat feels tight and crisp, there are other aspects of the game that feel a bit less-than-stellar. Characters have a serious case of Bethesda uncanny valley face, for one, and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty bored of liberating settlements and collecting upgrade materials in an open world. The preview wasn’t nearly long enough for me to engage properly with the open world, however, so I hesitate to judge the game too harshly for its Ubisoft-adjacent choices just yet.

flintlock siege of dawn character faces

That said, for folks who wrap up with Shadows of the Erdtree and need more souls-y stuff, Flintlock’s strengths — unique combat and character design — look set to more than outweigh its flaws when it releases this summer, 2024.

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Unabashed FromSoftware fanboy still learning to take his time with games (and everything else, really). The time he doesn't spend on games is spent on music, books, or occasionally going outside.

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