The combat in Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn feels a bit floaty, but at least its café staff have ten hands

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How do you like your coffee? For those who answer: “served by a barista with ten arms wearing a mask adorned with intense scarlet lipstick”, you are in luck. The multi-limbed coffee shop owner of Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn is, indeed, a reassuring sight, since they are the ones who sell the player fashionable jackets and trousers to wear while you axe enemy heads to bloody fragments. In this soon-to-sally-forth soulslike from the makers of Ashen, the creature design is a highlight. Whether it’s a good souls ’em up remains to be seen. I’ve only played a couple of hours in the Steam Next Fest demo. But I want to make clear that, among the reservations I’ve collected on my murder jaunt, nothing will diminish the espresso-pumping hand-haver of the game’s first café.

All this is to say that Flintlock is set in a strange world at war with the gods. As the explosives-happy sapper Nor, you may have accidentally unleashed a bunch of angry deities into the countryside and cities that surround a muddy battlefield you’ve been stuck in. The job, then, is clean-up.

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Amid the cinematic scene-setting and swift character-culling of the opening, you’ll be introduced to all the running and sliding and triple-jumping that will later help to navigate open, multi-route mountain towns and city streets. There is so much mobility and platformy navigation that it often feels like an action adventure with Bloodborne combat and soulsy infrastructure, as opposed to sharing the gloomy groundedness of Fromsoft’s dead and dying worlds. Sekiro is probably the closest comparison, really. It too likes to allow the player to clamber around on the roofs and ledges above enemies before committing to a fight.

As for those fights, imagine the gun-parrying of Bloodborne combined with the posture meter charging of Sekiro’s one-armed swordster. Here you watch out for signposted unblockable attacks, which require you to shoot your way out of them. The catch being you only have a few shots before you have to recharge by getting some ordinary hits in. All the while a magical purple “curse” meter will help you crack the hard shell off armoured knights and monsters. To build up that meter, you direct your small god foxpal, Enki, to slorp through your enemy’s body, or suspend them in a paralytic purple haze. Once the meter is full, the enemy slows to a standstill, and you can give your sluggified foe a big dirty megawhack.


The player slices an enemy to death.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Kepler Interactive

The axe-hacking and pistol shootin’ looks stylish and fierce, but so far it also feels to me less clean, less sure-footed than, say, Bloodborne or any of the other major Souls. The developer’s previous game Ashen, for all its qualities, also had this feeling to it at times: a wavering imprecision that’s hard to pin down. Maybe I find it hard to read the enemy animations. Maybe I’m used to a longer window to “cancel” a regular attack into another attack or parry. Whatever it is, it threw me off during the demo.

But it’s early days. You can’t get a true feel for a souls ’em up’s combat in such a short time. Plus I find a soulsathon’s margin for jank is more forgivable the more even-handed it is. And Flintlock, despite having some hard-hitting enemies, is not merciless on its normal difficulty (it has a story mode and hard difficulty too). I’m still annoyed when hurt by enemy sword thrusts that seem to go right past me. But I’d be more irritated if it meant certain death, as opposed to a hefty scratch.

Enki himself is another sweetly designed beast. He’s like a miniaturised Trico from The Last Guardian, with fennec fox ears sensitive to loud noises (he complains when you set off a charge of black powder at one point, poor wee fella). But he can do some damage in fights. Aside from the slorping curse build-up, he can automatically taunt and distract enemies when you’re outnumbered, and can infrequently unleash a huge area effect blast. There’s a whole skill tree devoted to his tricks, but I didn’t get to see anything else beyond the basics.

There are other subtleties that build up to make an interesting soulsy ramble. The currency of experience points you collect – the notsouls of this game – is simply called “reputation”. You gain reputation with each kill, but on top of that each successful strike against an enemy will slap on a bonus multiplier. That means every axe crack and shot you take, you’ll see a number on your screen ticking up. 4% extra reputation. 10% extra reputation. 20% extra reputation. Amazing. Until you get whacked. At that point, the multiplier is cancelled, your pride is bruised, and you only cash in the basic, low number of notsouls.


Nor and her companions rest by a fire.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Kepler Interactive

Getting the most experience from fights therefore requires never getting hit and dispatching your enemy as swiftly and cleanly as you can. Our hero Nor even remarks on this at one point, saying, yes, she’s a killer, but it’s always better to kill someone fast, with as little pain as possible. If you do fluff a fight, experience will still trickle in, but the dropped multiplier is a good “I’m missing out” incentive to drive your desire towards a perfect fight. Of course, if you eat dirt, usual souls rules apply. You lose everything, and have to get back to your point of death to reclaim your literally rubbished reputation.

There’s more to it. Grenades to toss. Materials to gather. Long muskets to fire. Ancestors to honour. Plus a generous shortcut philosophy that looks promising (but will be hard-pressed to beat the delectable level design of The Surge 2). But I’ll let you explore all that in the demo yourself, if you want. Weirdly, I’m left feeling its action adventure stylings more than the souls ones. It reminds me of Plague Tale series, in the sense that this too feels like a smaller studio aiming for blockbuster production levels.

Sometimes they seem to hit that mark, as in the gorgeous animation of Enki’s foxy flight. Other times they miss it, as in the jarring transition that occurs after one boss fight (I was just in a burning village, now the village is immediately alive and populated). Or in the fact that your musket seems to shoot a full half-metre off the crosshair. This is an early build, so glitches are expected. But it’s worth saying I have seen a few more progress-halting bugs than I’d like for a game that is coming out, gulp, next month.

Then again, I’ve seen enough freaky creature design and handy shortcuts to keep me intrigued. Plus I have serious good will stored up from Ashen, enough to give Flintlock’s gun-toting air-dashing the benefit of a fuller playthrough. I’ll sip some coffee as I wait.

 

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