The Falconeer has launched at an exceptionally busy time. This game, developed by one man, has spread its wings at the same time as two brand new consoles and all the showy triple-A titles that come with them. It’s brave not to compromise in the face of so many blockbuster releases, especially with such a specific concept – does The Falconeer have the wings to soar above them?
This is an aerial combat game with a difference. There are no planes or haggard geo-political conflicts to retread again. No, The Falconeer is set in a steampunk-esque fantasy realm where brave soldiers do battle atop giant warbirds, diving in and out of battle, firing storm-powered guns, sending each other to the depths of the ocean for cash and glory.
For a game that looks so clean and colourful – imagine Wind Waker going through a steampunk phase – the overall setting is pretty bleak. The Great Ursee is dominated by conflict and misery. Pirates roam the skies on their own warbirds, harrying soldiers and civilians alike. You’ll spend as much time soaking up the gorgeous yet desolate sights as you will shooting enemies out of the sky; contemplating the vast emptiness. The world is a scary place, but it’s not hostile – it just is, a force of nature that moves regardless of your presence in it.
The dogfights – birdfights? – take some getting used to, as someone who hasn’t played aerial combat games before, but was captivated by The Falconeer’s unique setting. Your bird is in perpetual motion, and often I found myself uselessly circling my target, unable to shoot because I couldn’t get into the right position. It can hinder the glorious feeling of soaring through storms and churning seas, along with some harsh difficulty spikes that stop your progress entirely. Beyond a basic, dry tutorial, there’s no hand-holding – you’ll have to explore and learn about the world yourself for opportunities to boost your offensive power.
As respectable as that is, The Falconeer would probably benefit from a little more structure in that regard. I feel like it’s torn at times, the open world exploration and story at odds with each other, calling you out into the great unknown only to slap your hand away when you get too close. If a few menus were trimmed, a few elements stripped back and streamlined, it would be much easier for the game to get its talons in.
This is the vision of one man, and that vision is evident in every bit of the game, good and bad. There’s a focus to the worldbuilding comparable to a good novel that reveals important details about the narrative organically through dialogue, and though it can be somewhat wordy, it provides important context for The Falconeer’s big, enigmatic expanse of ocean. The gameplay beyond all of these extra details is superb, though. The delicate balance of fury and serenity swinging wildly as you dive and roll away from enemy strikes, the skies alight with exploding blimps and burning birds, wheeling around to face the pirate on your tail so you can unload lightning into his face.
While the giant eagles are a fantastic stylistic choice, it would have been great to see this further reflected in the gameplay. You can dive into the ocean to pick up floating mines with your bird’s talons, but that seemed to be the extent of it. A little more raw viscera – swooping down on enemy riders and tearing them from their mounts, mid-air duels of beak and claw – would have really added an extra layer to the aerial combat, setting The Falconeer even further apart. From what I’ve seen, the developer is still working on updates, so the foundation he’s laid could reach greater heights.
The Falconeer overall thoughts
It’s a big, brave game that represents a remarkable achievement for Tomas Sala, who has crafted something wonderful. It should be considered a near essential purchase for fans of aerial combat, even transcending that genre by virtue of its incredible world. Some people may find the combat’s learning curve steep and the story inaccessible. They may wish for a few more ways to fight their foes, or just a little more guidance along the way. Persisting through the minor gripes brings you to a world ripe with danger, opportunity, and rich fantasy landscapes to explore.