With you right here I’m a falconeer ~ let’s fly!
Although I must admit upfront that I am not normally drawn to flight simulators, everything about The Falconeer initially felt… different. There’s mysterious lore, a fascinating spin on narrative-crafting, and, of course, falcons. I thought maybe this would be the one to reel me into the genre typically overrun by WWI/WWII fighters or highly technical commercial flight simulators. In the very least, I thought it would be an entertaining way to pass a few hours.
Developed by solo indie dev Tomas Sala and published by Wired Productions, The Falconeer is described on its Steam page as “an open-world air combat game, featuring frenetic aerial dogfights and deep exploration of the mysterious open-world of The Great Ursee.” With an introductory price of $26.99 (regular price $29.99), The Falconeer is half the price of a standard AAA game while still bringing plenty of beauty and action to the table. And with a Mostly Positive rating on Steam with 53 reviews at the time of this writing, The Falconeer is already shaping up to be an enjoyable experience.
The Falconeer takes place in a lore-dense world called The Great Ursee. Five factions divide the people (and falcons) of the small islands scattered across enormously vast seas — the Imperium, the Freebooters, the Mancers, the Civilians, and Rogue Pirates. Reconciliation is not an option; where there’s an opportunity to hit one faction, another will take it. It’s a free-for-all in these stormy waters, where generations of inhabitants have known no peace, only air combat. It’s up to the falconeers to maintain the peace they often break.
Controls are… complicated. The Falconeer’s Steam page indicates it’s best to use a controller — it’s even optimized for a flightstick — and it’s best to take that advice. It did not feel good using a mouse and keyboard at all, so I found a controller mandatory. With that being said, even the controller option wasn’t wholly intuitive — controls will take a little time to get used to, especially if flight sims aren’t your forte. It isn’t so much as the control scheme is bad, but rather that there isn’t a lot of feedback that tells you you’re doing the thing. For example, dashing doesn’t really look or feel like dashing, as it doesn’t even really look like you’re going faster and the lines that indicate you supposedly are just kind of faintly show up. Don’t get me wrong, when flying high, the flying felt good, but there were some issues I hope can be ironed out in a few updates.
When it comes to The Falconeer’s aesthetics, I think they speak for themselves. The visuals are striking, making it easy to get lost flying around the Great Ursee for long stretches at a time. The falconeers need the electricity generated from lightning storms, so it’s a dark and moody place due to said storms constantly brewing. Despite the darker tones, The Falconeer is a vibrant world full of places to explore in between long stretches of sea between. The music can best be described as intriguing — I can’t quite place it, but there’s something to the sound of this game that made me want to check out the next island or just peek over the horizon. If I had to place weight on it, I’d say the aesthetics are the best part of The Falconeer.
Perhaps the most unique thing about The Falconeer is the narrative, as it explores the perspectives of the different factions to further the story. One chapter will have you defending a particular ship, while another mission will have you bombing it. While this does mean that you’re sometimes playing overlapping missions just to see the other side’s point of view, this choice offers insight that is generally not afforded in storytelling. I thought this was a fantastic decision considering how underutilized the concept is…
…but in practice, I felt like there wasn’t enough to differentiate the missions from each other. I get that it’s a flight sim/air combat game, but mission diversity was slim and dogfighting was clunky. In between fights, most of the game was flying between islands across vast distances that were arbitrarily great with no other purpose except to make the space feel bigger than it was. This is more common in space games where distance between worlds is almost unwieldly (I’m looking at you, No Man’s Sky), and I don’t think making the world bigger made the world better.
Additionally, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of the characters. They made a lot of backstory for the pilots that you could choose from, but because you don’t even really interact with them, they were largely forgettable. It would have been nice to see something better anchor the human side of the story aside from friends and foe speaking to you a la Star Fox. The Falconeer promised a lot in its details, but after about 30 minutes of gameplay, I feel like I had seen all there was to see. Those details didn’t totally pan out to mean much, and the lore-dense world started feeling a little bit emptier. Still, I have to hand it to the developer — when I was flying high, it felt great; everything else was decent enough.
The Falconeer took some risks and tried something new, but when it came to core gameplay, it pulled elements from both flight and exploration genres that were simultaneously beloved yet bland. There’s substance to The Falconeer, and while there’s really something special here, it’s in the details instead of the big picture. For fans of air combat games, The Falconeer represents a breath of fresh air, and, quite frankly, it is pretty cool to be one with the falcon; for those simply curious, check out some YouTube videos before taking wing.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: XBox Series X|S, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Wired Productions; Developer: Tomas Sala; Players: 1; Released: November 10, 2020; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of The Falconeer given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.