The Falconeer is an open-world air combat game by solo developer and artist Tomas Sala. The Falconeer recently joined Xbox Game Pass on February 4th, so it’s about time we jumped in and did a review! While air combat hasn’t particularly captured my attention since Star Fox 64, I was drawn to The Falconeer particularly by the art style. I came for the beauty, but stayed for the blistering pace and ruthless aggression that came with the dog fights.
The Falconeer Story Review
The Falconeer takes place in an oceanic society called The Great Ursee. Within this society, there are factions that have fractured the power structure among its inhabitants. You take control of a Falconeer within one of these factions, vying for more power for your people, and less for everyone else. I did appreciate that your character isn’t the traditional hero without flaws, and instead you play as a character who is willing to do whatever it takes to survive in this cutthroat world.
There is a ton of lore to experience that bolsters the story’s depth, although it didn’t quite grab me. Tomas Sala has created a universe with plenty to explore, though. Eventually, I began plowing through dialogue and avoiding shrines (which are locations with flavor text and description of some event or land mark). The lady that rambles on about philosophical life lessons after you die was condescending and became annoying pretty quickly. I never want to hear her voice again.
If you are on your way to fight some baddies, prepare yourself for thrilling combat that doesn’t get stale. Once you have targeted an enemy, the wonderful soundtrack swells to accompany the moment. The face of your enemy pops up in the corner accompanied by some smack talk from the poor fool. This only added more motivation to send them spiraling in a ball of flames towards the sea.
Flying is truly a treat. Movement is smooth and the animations are so detailed. I could feel the G forces pulling at me as I dive bombed at enemies, or as I was being sucked through a slip stream. I could hear voices from a distant past egging me on to perform a Barrel Roll in order to avoid enemy fire. When flying through a lightening storm in order to replenish my special weapon, I was exhilarated every time. When the game is hitting its high points, its a gaming experience that will stand out for a very long time.
Camera Leaves a lot to be Desired
Hitting your enemies can be difficult depending on your choice of weapon, as it should be in an aerial combat game. However, the camera controls are frustrating. If you are locked onto an enemy and they fly out of your sight, the camera will follow but your vehicle will continue in the direction you were originally going. This can cause frustration and a bit of nausea trying to manage both the camera and the bird.
Another frustrating aspect of the game is the lack of checkpoints in missions. There were numerous missions that required flying a few minutes to a fight and then a few minutes to another fight. However, if you fail at any point in the mission, you have to start completely over. Maybe I’m spoiled by modern games, but this frustrated me greatly. In order to avoid wasting more time repeating quests, I decided to grind side-quests. Unfortunately, these side quests are stale. Side quests include delivery quests, discovery tasks, and the worst mission type of all: escort missions. The worst part about these quests is that you barely gain any experience points from completing them. I don’t mind grinding in games, but at least make it worth my time!
Returning to the game after getting frustrated, I decided I would do some side missions and explore other island’s shops. To shop at certain islands, you need to buy a permit. To buy a permit you need money. In order to get money, you need to do missions. In order to do missions, you need a permit. I appreciate the attempt at creating some deep economic system within this world, but eventually it just becomes a hassle. Especially when the game hits it’s difficulty spike.
As much struggle as I had with the game at times, the visuals made up for those shortcomings. There were times that I was flying into a sunset and thought it more stunning than a lot of sunsets I’ve seen in real life. I’m only half exaggerating. The way the light refracted off the water and fog created some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in a video game. The water physics resemble the way the tides ebb and flow in real life.
The UI is very minimal, with just a few bars for health, stamina, etc, and a mini-map which is welcome. There is also a button you can press that takes away the UI entirely. This option is very pleasant when you simply just want to take in the surroundings. There is also a photo mode that you can enter to adjust the camera for that perfect shot. I don’t typically use photo modes, but I found myself using it a lot whilst playing The Falconeer for this review. The menus, however, are convoluted and difficult to navigate early on. I appreciate the fact that there is innovation in many areas of this game, but when it comes to menus simpler is better.
The soundtrack is something that cannot go without mention. The music in the game perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere, even in the menus. There is an exhilarating crescendo when the action is getting hot and heavy, whilst it remains suspenseful when you are out of combat. The voice acting for the most part is believable and natural, but there are a few characters that have really poor voice acting. There is also a huge contrast in volume level between characters. Some of them are nearly whispering, but are followed up by someone talking like a person that has had a few too many drinks. It can be jarring at times.
The Falconeer Review Verdict
The Falconeer is a great game, but flawed by a few quality of life issues. With a bit more polish and some creative variation in mission design, I could see myself returning often. If I could get less travel and escort quests, and more dog fights, I could see this becoming a staple game in my library. Regardless, I would definitely recommend checking this out if you have Xbox Game Pass. You can also buy The Falconeer on the Xbox Store for $29.99.
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