I’m the last person who should be playing an aerial combat game and that’s due to my lack of patience and requisite attitude of preferring head to head combat with weapons. I only ever completed the original Panzer Dragoon for example, and it’s been ages since I’ve played Drakengard and flown around as the massive dragon Angelus. I’ve always also been jealous that the Fellowship of the Ring flew on the Great Eagles, but I learned to let that go. Now, with the Falconeer, I’ve found a middle ground that lets me soar as a massive falcon.
Developed by lone developer Tomas Sala, The Falconeerdelivers an enthralling experience on the Xbox Series X and welcomes new consoles with gorgeous graphics, a massive world, and an intriguing story full of political strife. There’s a one-two punch here for gamers looking to sink their teeth into a new title that’s got a lot going for it and a title that ushers in a new era of Xbox consoles. At its core, this is an air combat game that’s got some growing pains but offers a wonderful take on the genre by foregoing steel for flesh and some interesting choices for weaponry.
The Falconeer is set within the world called the Great Ursee, massive Warbirds patrol the skies. The world is blanketed in an unending sea, which includes hidden secrets throughout its depths. The story is told through several chapters, and through different perspectives, as you learn of the four factions with their own stories to tell. In The Falconeer, The Civilian Freehouses, Northern Imperium, The Mancer Order, and Freeboter Rebellion each have a role to play in the grander scheme. The Mancer Order, for example, uses technology to further their agenda, while the Freeboter Rebellion, consists of humans banished from the Imperium. Each chapter explores these factions in exciting ways.
Each chapter starts with you selecting your falcon, deciding their loadout and diving deep into the world of the Great Ursee. Most times, your main goal is to reach an area while surviving the onslaught of enemies before making your way back to base. As a protector of Dunkle, you’re also somewhere in the middle of a rock and a hard place – your base is situated between the Imperium and the Mancers, who control technology.
And while I adored the storytelling presented in The Falconeer, much of the dogfighting quickly become rote. So many encounters begin with your rider on the back of your warbird and then quickly devolve into mindless gameplay. Sure, you’re dodging enemies and barrel rolling throughout the skies, but the gameplay loop dries up rather quickly and continues to do the same things over the 15-hour campaign. While the mission variety varies from escort missions to delivery drops, the moment-to-moment gameplay is compounded by an unbalanced difficulty that is either a cakewalk or like walking through coals. Completing a mission is either because I cheesed my way through an encounter and got lucky or I spammed an attack and pushed through.
A big issue when you’re escorting slow ships and in general involves the fact The Falconeer has no checkpoints! If you die mid-mission, you’re going right back to the start and it’s likely going to frustrate you as much as it frustrated me. Some missions, I was on my fourth or fifth attempt and getting anxious to continue pressing forward, knowing full well what was ahead of me and this would lead to more failures. Of course, the one way to alleviate this is to set the game to easy and cheese your way through, and your warbird regenerates health much faster in this mode, but it also removes the tension.
This makes the shortcomings of The Falconeer all the more frustrating – all the world-building, the elements that bring together the Great Ursee are teeming with possibilities and yet, the gameplay fall shorts in several regards. There are many impressive things about this game but it also showcases many of the cracks that set this game apart from being great. An open-world game needs to find the right balance between the main story and side content and rather quickly I abandoned the side missions for the critical path because it was the only part of the game that grabbed my interest, there’s such a beautiful world within this game but going off the critical path yields few rewards.
The Falconeer is a one-man production that exceeds its political storytelling but spirals with its gameplay. What begins as an exciting scenario of aerial combat involving massive warbirds, quickly becomes a repetitive exercise. That said, you can tell this is a personal project for Tomas Sala, the developer who’s put all his energy into this game. The Falconeer is a gorgeous game on Xbox and it performs exceedingly well on Series X with a brilliant art direction and enticing an open world. I’m more excited about what Tomas plans on working on next because, for his first outing, he’s done a great job that’s hit few branches on the way up through the tree clearing.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]