Elden Ring has a majesty that no other game can match. Its world is densely packed with a thousand awaiting discoveries, its combat system is layered, and its lore takes a dozen YouTube scholars to document. But every now and then, I can’t help but wonder what Elden Ring would be if it were less subject to FromSoftware’s own rules. What if it had the cinematic spectacle that drives Sony’s blockbuster? A story-rich narrative with God of War gorgeous, power-enhancing combat? The answer seems likely to be in Flintlock: Siege of Dawn.
At Gamescom 2022, I sat down with a couple of developers from A44, the New Zealand developer behind Ashen, to watch them play Flintlock for about 30 minutes. They explain that their new Soulslike RPG, set in an ancient fantasy world of magic and black powder guns, aims to be somewhere between Elden Ring and God of War, taking the challenges and discoveries of the former and pairing it with narrative-centric The combination of the latter is rendered glossy.
This approach is evident in the demo’s boss fight, where the protagonist Nor Vanek confronts the majestic God of Knowledge, a tall spirit encased in golden plate armor of triangular armor. As the Soulslike genre demands, the boss has an inflated health bar, deals massive damage via telegram attacks, and gets even more terrifying in the second phase. The initial steps to overcoming it all follow the Dark Souls playbook; a well-timed dodge roll is followed by a couple of aggressive axe attacks, followed by a patient wait for an attack that can be parried. But it’s in the block that Flintlock’s Ares influence begins to show. Nor did God fall to his knees, and the camera flew close to perfectly capture the brutal blow to the side of its head.
The demo is full of these moments. Neither can swing kicks, send enemies flying, or knock enemies to the ground before firing a pistol in their face. The camera swoops around the action, triggering bursts of slow motion that really emphasize the spectacle. It may use the FromSoft ruleset, but Flintlock’s combat looks more flashy – even more fantastical – than any Souls game.
But it’s not just glossy animations and cool camera angles. There’s also no set of abilities that make her more dynamic than the Soul character, including acrobatic jumping attacks and the ability to quickly switch between her gun and axe. She is also accompanied by Enki, a fox-like creature that, among other skills, freezes enemies in mid-air and absorbs their health. Think of him as a bit like Atreus, the god of war, only infinitely old and capable of channeling dark magic.
Since I haven’t played flintlock yet, it’s impossible for me to know right now if this combination of challenge and film will result in a tight, responsive combat system. But the signs are good, A44 clearly believes in his combat prowess so much that he even has a Devil May Cry-like Stylish Rank system. Points are awarded for every attack, skill, and combination performed by Nor and Enki, which can accumulate into the thousands over time. This score, which is your reputation, doubles as a currency that can be used to buy new weapons and items on the black market. However, just like in the real world, reputation can be lost. Dying will drop your score to zero, locking you out of black market inventory. Thankfully, it can be recovered if you pick it up from where you died.
Flintlock: Dawn Siege – Gamescom 2022 Screenshots
Don’t mistake reputation for soul, though. Character progression has nothing to do with this temporary score; instead, Nor and Enki evolve by using XP points that stay with you permanently when earned. XP is used to unlock upgrades in what A44 describes as a “deliberately overwhelming” skill tree, with far more options than might be unlocked in a single playthrough. Further progress comes from victory; each defeated boss rewards you with its special ability, so each major kill significantly expands your arsenal. Separating death and drop mechanics from character development is a huge departure from FromSoft’s formula, and is likely to be one of Flintlock’s key weapons in bringing soul-like combat and the joy of the world to a wider audience.
Outside of the heat of battle, Flintlock’s demo showcased a similar rethinking of Soulslike principles. Also doesn’t navigate the open world on foot, but can also jump high, 3D platformer style, use grenade blasts to reach ledges and hidden objects, or with specific unlocks, allow Enki to teleport her to great distances.
However, that’s exactly how the A44 treats the world and its population, and this could really mark a new world for Soulslike. During the demo, Nor and Enki encounter a village occupied by the undead (the old gods have opened the gates to the underworld, hence the big zombie and god problem with Flintlock), which sparks the “Hamlet Liberation” event. Defeating the small bosses who live here will see the original community return to their home, a change that won’t be reset by resting at a campfire checkpoint. These villagers can then offer new quests; I watched Nor introduce himself to a strange set of limbs (the character designs can be very prominent), asking her to help satisfy his coffee obsession. It all goes to show that progression doesn’t just come from the evolution of your character build and position on the main story path. The world around you and the communities you meet are also progressing. It’s a more traditional RPG rather than Soulslike approach I’d expect.
As the demo went on, Game Director Derek Bradley kept telling me about other things in the game that he couldn’t show right now. The open world has many optional dungeons and bosses, some of which are tied to side questlines or endgame objectives. You might stumble across all sorts of serendipitous stories, from a man robbed on the side of the road to a death-obsessed cult. There are some special items to find, including one that will resurrect you as undead after you die. Over time, you recruit a team of engineers who can use explosives to open access to shortcuts and secret areas. There’s a story mode that rescales the difficulty to something more accessible to people when they need it. Every new feature he mentioned reshaped my expectations and increased my excitement. When I left the date, I was convinced that the flintlock was the best thing I’d ever seen at Gamescom.
My lively discussion of the flintlock persuaded my colleague, IGN’s executive news editor Joe Skrebels, to make a last-minute appointment to see it.There, Bradley tells him that Elden Ring has taken Soulslikes in a new direction, and he wants Flintlock to take it to the next level fartherIt’s clear that the A44 has serious, moon-fighting ambitions. Now, without having played with flintlock, I can’t confidently say how close this modestly sized studio is to these lofty goals. Bradley points out that his 60-person team doesn’t have the massive budget of Sony Santa Monica, and while that’s evident in Flintlock’s less-than-AAA visuals, I hope the funding doesn’t affect its ability to boldly rethink Soulslike can be anything. Because, most importantly, I think what sets Flintlock apart is not its cinematic approach, but its understanding that the FromSoftware formula is not a set of rules that can be replicated, but a framework that can be built.
FPS games were largely considered Doom clones, until games like GoldenEye and Half-Life reconsidered first-person shooters as possible. Flintlock, if it’s all it promises, is likely to be part of the vanguard of making Soulslikes more than just a copy of Dark Souls.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK news and features editor.