Flight combat games have come in various forms throughout the years though generally players find themselves inside the cockpit of a World War era plane, a modern day jet, or something similar with only a few exceptions breaking the mold a bit. The Falconeer looks to break that mold even further by not only taking and placing players atop of a giant falcon that they will be controlling and fighting on but also allowing them to fly around an open world setting. Developed with only a single man behind the screen, is The Falconeer from Tomas Sala worth diving into?
The Great Ursee is a world where the majority of the surface is covered in ocean and humanity has taken to living on small islands, perilous peaks that tower over the seas, and strange unique ruins from a bygone age that have survived to this day in an effort to stay alive. Despite the world being mostly ocean, humanity is at war with one another more than ever and the factions of the Northern Imperium, Mancers, Civilians, and Freebooter Rebellion group all continue to battle against one another with each side believing they are in the right.
The Falconeer takes an interesting but inherently flawed approach to storytelling as players will be able to experience the narrative of the game through each of the different factions depending on the chapter that they are playing. This allows for some unique experiences and the ability to see things from more than one perspective, especially when the game itself is so filled with lore and unique areas that players will be eager to fly through simply to witness the land itself, but both the overall delivery and lack of variety hurt the narrative in the end. While replaying missions from different points of view would make for an interesting experience normally, the general lack of differences outside of maybe aiming for different targets make them feel more like a slog, especially since the lack of overall mission diversity is quite terrible.
To make matters worse, while players will find that the game features quite a bit of backstory for the pilots they have chosen to play as and hear about various plot points as they fly through areas, not only are these characters given no real development or interaction of any kind but the almost droning tone lacking any kind of emotion that most of the narration is delivered in makes it difficult to even try to feel engaged in the story at times, especially between missions when the longer flights between objectives can begin to drag despite the game’s presentation and flight mechanics.
The most unique factor in The Falconeer is the fact that players are controlling a giant bird rather than any other mode of transportation and flying atop this creature makes for some interesting dogfights and is easily one of the best parts of the game as the bird’s players fly on control amazingly well. The flying mechanics are fairly simple to understand as players will generally control their falcon the same they would any other airplane only with much tighter controls and the need to rise and dive to gain energy that can then be used to either boost and fly faster or perform evasive maneuvers to avoid incoming fire from enemies. The enemies themselves come in a few different forms, generally being other falcon riders but also other flying creatures and even war blimps that can dish out plenty of damage.
Players must make use of a long range weapon to deal damage to their opponents and knock them out of the sky with their primary weapon only being able to be recharged by flying through thunderstorms, allowing lightning to recharge the player’s batteries all while trying to avoid incoming fire and potentially overcharging your equipment. In some cases players can even dive into the water and pick up mines that can be used to deal massive amounts of damage if timed properly. This can make for some glorious feeling battles that feature booming thunder as players try to charge their weapons while dodging incoming fire only to swoop around and take down the enemy that has been on their tail.
The player’s falcon will slowly regenerate health over time but players will need to be ready for some rather difficult aerial fights at times in a combat system that can feel more than a little inconsistent at times. Dogfights can vary wildly from having a single opponent feel like a massive undertaking to being able to wipe out an entire wave of foes with there being little obvious distinction to the opponent’s strength outside of the sudden difficulty spike leading to players needing to either hope they get lucky, grind to power up their falcon, or simply lower the difficulty level. There is also a certain lack of impact to many of the initial weapons players start out with, making the starting battles feel more than a little underwhelming especially if players never bother upgrading their gear.
This is made worse by the fact that, as mentioned before, most missions generally play out the same way with players flying to a location to partake in a dogfight or escorting an incredibly slow moving ship while occasionally fighting enemies with there being only a little special variation here and there and usually these only happen at the climax of a chapter. Other than that players can take part in various side-quests that can be completed for in-game currency that can be used to purchase new weapons for the falcon or “Mutagens” that can boost the player’s falcon’s various stats though this can take quite some time and while flying around in The Falconeer is one of the best parts of the game, there are only so many times most players will want to fly the same pathway in an effort to buff up their falcon.
Visuals & Audio
One element that The Falconeer really shines at is creating a great sense of beauty in its fantasy world. Players will often spend quite some time flying from location to location for story missions, or simply free-roaming around if they so choose, and there is a unique beauty to this ocean world and the unique areas that players will explore that make up the map. The falcons themselves animate beautifully while flying through the air alllowing for some great looking dogfighting moments, especially during a storm. The same cannot be said about the human NPC models that are relegated to small windows as these character models are rather simple in nature and although players can have their appearance randomized, it doesn’t really do much in the end.
The soundtrack features a solid set of background music and sound effects that fit in great with this ocean world but unfortunately the voice work can be downright dreadful most of the time. As mentioned before most of the dialogue is presented in such a manner that players will be eagerly awaiting the skip option simply to avoid it during some longer flights even if it means missing out on some potential lore.
Placing players aboard the back of a giant falcon and setting them loose in an open world setting was a risk but this one has mostly paid off for the solo developer Tomas Sala as he has created a unique dogfighting game that has a number of interesting combat and flying mechanics all set in a world that is gorgeously designed. Unfortunately The Falconeer‘s lack of mission variety and structuring as well as a story that seems interesting and filled with potential only to come off as bland and unmemorable in the end due to presentation leaves this unique air combat game one that doesn’t quite nail the landing but does a solid job all the same.
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