The Falconeer is something that I had my eye on for some time—not just because I like aerial combat-based games, but because Tomas Sala is the sole developer for the game. This is definitely an artist’s passion project; you don’t commit to such an endeavour if you don’t really want to make it happen. This isn’t to say teams of developers don’t love their projects equally; it takes a lot of work to develop a game of any calibre even with scores of developers working towards a single goal. This doesn’t, of course, ensure that a game will be good, but after playing The Falconeer, I can easily say that Tomas Sala firmly stands in the ranks of other incredible solo developers like Thomas Happ and Eric Barone.
The world of The Falconeer draws you in right away. The opening cutscene sets the tone for the mysterious atmosphere that is present throughout its four chapters, each of which are different perspectives of the same event. The game looks gorgeous and, for anyone lucky enough to grab an Xbox Series X, this is a must-play if you want to be impressed by sheer visual quality alone. This is a game where any lovers of photo mode will spend quite a bit of their time capturing some of the beautiful sunsets and landscapes. Personally, the animation style isn’t my favourite, but I can’t deny that this is some of the best rendering I’ve seen.
However, The Falconeer is not just an exploration game within a stunning world—there’s combat, a lot of it. Battles are intense and there’s a certain kind of majestic power fantasy you feel when piloting a giant warbird. It can be extremely exhilarating to swerve behind an enemy to take them down and equally hilarious to hear them curse you as they fall to their doom. Though you will hear some of the same lines repeated, there is enough character in each of them to make it feel a little unique each time. There’s also a good variety in the types of enemies you will fight—from other warbirds to giant bugs, flying stingrays, naval ships, aerial warships, and even dragons. It all works to make the combat as much of a spectacle as just flying around can be.
While there’s a lot to love about The Falconeer, there are a few aspects which can make it difficult to enjoy at times. Though combat can be fun and exhilarating, it only fully opens up after you’ve purchased a weapon upgrade. There are some difficulty spikes throughout the four chapters, and one is right at the beginning. Once you do that, however, you will have a much more enjoyable time in each combat encounter.
If you are struggling before you’ve purchased an upgrade, or even after, frustration can set in very easily because there are no checkpoints within missions themselves. This means you have to replay the entire mission over again, including what will eventually feel like a long and slow flight to get back into the action. Having to slow down and fly for too long after being in the heat of battle messes up the pacing, and if you were able to start from the most recent checkpoint, it would keep you more engaged. This is made worse when some missions start with you escorting ships to where the battle takes place, making the first part of the mission feel more boring than it should and, unfortunately, souring the moments of respite between the intensity.
It also feels like a missed opportunity that the combat is only limited to flying around and shooting down enemies. The number of times I collided with opposing warbirds or other creatures made me wish that there was some kind of melee attack my falcon could perform, perhaps when I’ve lowered my enemies’ health enough for a finishing move. And although the flying itself is fun, it is not as tight as I’d like, something that becomes extremely noticeable when navigating the different cities. I was constantly hitting invisible walls in-between structures that had more than enough space for me to clear, which felt like such a poor limit to put on flying.
In the grand scheme of things, however, these grievances are pretty minor. While I might not have all the freedom and variety that can be found in many other aerial combat games, The Falconeer makes up for that by being extremely unique in its overall presentation of story, characters, and world-building. Most importantly, they don’t stop the game from being fun, which is key above all else. Altogether, its elements make for a must-play launch title for the Xbox Series X, as well as any Xbox or PC players.
- Fun and intense combat
- Stunning visuals
- Intriguing storytelling and good voice acting
- Calming and majestic flying
- Not much variety in combat
- No checkpoints
- Flying isn’t as tight as it could be