Air combat games don’t come along very often, so when I saw Tomas Sala’s The Falconeer, I was mildly curious. Fighting on top of giant falcons in the open skies seemed really appealing, especially with new consoles to do it on. Launching in conjunction with the Xbox Series S and Series X, this title offers something very unique. Despite that, while the overall concept feels fresh and original, there are some things holding it back.
The Falconeer puts players in the role of a falcon rider that they’ll choose a simple origin for. This mostly just determines their appearance, though in the grand scheme of things, it won’t matter due to choosing a new rider at the start of each chapter. As for the story, players will work with several different factions along the open ocean that is The Great Ursee. These factions don’t really get along and are at constant odds, sometimes even breaking peace treaties. Their ideals put them at opposite sides, and that means that war tends to break out. The story is fairly deep, though it unfortunately doesn’t garner any real interest.
The Great Ursee is a really cool world to explore, reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s Great Sea. All the various locations feel almost like they came from a tabletop game, each with the history to back them up. While there are plenty of islands, underwater caverns and shrines to discover, the world ultimately feels repetitive. It’s a vast open area, but most elements look fairly similar. If it weren’t for the different times of used in the game, things would always look the same. Unfortunately, the majority of the game is dark and dreary, and the objects start to blend together. The extra use of fog doesn’t help either.
Visually, The Falconeer uses a simplistic style for most of the models and textures. Boats and warships look like they’re made out of Legos while rock formations show a bit more detail. The ocean waves almost clash with these assets, as it acts far more realistically and looks a lot more impressive. As for the character models, you’ll usually only see their heads, but they’re also pretty simplistic. The only character that really shows any semblance of detail is the falcon you ride. As you soar through the skies, your falcon realistically will react to wind changes, collision, and more. It also helps that all this happens at a smooth frame rate of up to 120fps. Overall, the game boasts some impressive feats, but it’s held back by the simple visuals.
When it comes to the gameplay, that’s where this title truly takes to the skies. Getting into dogfights is pretty accessible and easy with The Falconeer. You’ll equip your falcon with various items, including mutagens that improve things like speed and recovery, as well as different weapon types that increase your effectiveness in combat. As you defeat enemies and complete quests, you’ll earn Splinters, which works as the currency for the game. Using Splinters, you can buy better weaponry, passive chants and badges, and even different ammo types. Speaking of ammo, you’ll have to fly into lightning clouds to replenish it, which is an interesting mechanic.
Fighting opponents will vary from battle to battle. Sometimes you’ll fight against other falconeers (among other winged mounts), and other times you’ll seek to destroy boats and warships. You’ll even get some giant boss battles form time to time, which spices things up quite a bit. As you fly, you can lock on to enemies and try to line up your shots to get a steady stream of attacks going. You’ll also have to dodge and maneuver your way through the skies to avoid a watery grave. It should be known that this game isn’t easy, and it’s not afraid to pull out the cheap deaths. Even on the lowest difficulty, you’ll often find yourself at Death’s door. Unfortunately, the penalty for losing your feathery friend is the loss of Splinters, which makes purchasing upgrades that much more difficult.
Practice makes perfect in The Falconeer, and while it definitely took me a bit, I eventually got the hang of it. The game tends to reward you for skill, and gives better bonuses when completing missions effectively. You’ll also earn a lot of money for simply going a long time without dying. I will admit though, there were many frustrating deaths in the game, some of which were not clearly explained. Even so, there’s something about the beauty of flying above this widespread ocean in tranquility. Of course, when a combat scenario interrupts it, things get pretty dicey, but it’s still pretty peaceful most of the time. If you rather travel quickly, the game often offers a pretty convenient shortcut by holding down a button.
Where the game mostly drags is in the repetition of missions. Some missions will have you delivering items (or picking up items) and trying to protect them from harm. This isn’t very easy, as I’m pretty sure I’ve dropped the item every single time. Even so, at least the story missions are pretty lenient and allow you to pick up the item again. Unfortunately, the side missions are less forgiving and make it a mission failure. As for other mission types, sometimes you’ll defend an area from incoming foes, go on patrol, or everyone’s favorite: the escort mission. Yes, The Falconeer is full of escort missions where you’ll have to lead slow boats to a destination. All of this while keeping them safe from harm, though they can protect themselves to an extent too. I’m also fairly certain friendly fire is on.
While the missions tend to get repetitive, the good news is that they aren’t very long. The bad news is that if you do happen to die, you have to start the mission over from the beginning. To make it worse, you have to return to where you got the mission and select it again. Some quality of life improvements like a “restart mission” button would go a long way here. There’s a few other UI elements that could use some improvement, but at that point, it becomes nitpicking. Probably one of the biggest issues I had was the lack of knowing your progress through a chapter. There’s little indication until you get a mission that the dialogue specifies is the “final” one of the chapter.
Finally, there comes the audio department for the game. The game is fully voiced, though the majority of the voices don’t really feel convincing. Only a small handful of the voices are good, and sadly, I honestly couldn’t tell you who they were because the characters overall aren’t very interesting. As for the music, the game brings in Benedict Nichols, who was also the composer for Before We Leave. His score works well for the most part, but I’m still not sure if he placed falcon shrieks in some of the songs. The sound design doesn’t make it clear if that’s the in-game audio or if it’s actually a part of some of the background music. Either way, the sound for the game is decent for the most part, even if the voice work doesn’t sell it.
Ultimately, The Falconeer is an interesting use of a few hours. The gameplay is mostly strong thanks to the engaging combat, albeit a challenging and frustrating experience. It’s just unfortunate that the game is full of repetitive tasks that suck the fun out of the game. The somewhat repetitive visuals also don’t help, though for a few hours, it’s not the end of the world. If you’re looking for a new air combat game, you might like The Falconeer. If an interesting yet hollow world and dull characters push you away, then you might want to skip this one.
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