Publisher: Wired Productions
Developer: Tomas Sala
Available on: Steam, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Played on Steam
Copy sent by publisher
The Falconeer is a fascinating prospect for a launch title. Normally you’re going to want a graphical powerhouse from a AAA studio to really push the power of your new machine and show off its capabilities to the public that are deciding to buy it or not.
The Xbox Series X is largely lacking in these powerhouse titles, and in fact one of the few titles that’s console exclusive to Microsoft’s machines is…an indie title. Made by one guy, named Tomas Sala. And this game is one of the titles being pushed for the Xbox launch. So the question is, does it soar over the other games launching with the new consoles, or does it crash and burn?
If you don’t know much about The Falconeer, it’s an aerial combat game where soldiers fight on the backs of giant falcons (hence why they’re falconeers). Imagine Panzer Dragoon but with more feathers and that might give you an idea. The game is set in a vast sea with islands of civilisation dotted about, and you fly about taking down bad guys and delivering packages around.
A Visual Treat
The game is a visual treat. It may not be a AAA powerhouse, but it does make up for it in some beautiful art direction. The way your bird swoops and dives is elegant and buttery smooth, while the weather changes across the sea blend seamlessly together and really show off the bold painterly art style.
It’s a shame that the visual style feels marred in the rest of the game, as my opinions of this title were not positive.
My first impressions were not great. The opening parts of the game do little to explain much about the world, as a shaman-type character talks in vague terms about memories of falcons and lost spirits in a way that feels entirely detached from the rest of the game. Then you’re thrown into a tutorial featuring a lot of talk about an empire and a conflict while the game continues to do little to involve the player in said conflict. It’s just a thing that’s happening around you and you’re almost expected to know everything about it already somehow.
The opening menus also immediately highlighted further problems. For instance, the voice acting never stops. Certain long paragraphs of text in the menu are voiced in full, and the voiceover restarts every time you highlight each option. This prompts a lot of moving through menus while voices constantly pipe up and interrupt themselves. It’s a persistent problem too, as character selections, chapter loadout selections, mission selections and, well, basically every menu in the entire game has this built in. It gets very frustrating to hear very quickly, and I’m baffled why this was considered a good idea.
It doesn’t help that the voice acting feels amateurish. The mission briefings are delivered by someone who can’t seem to decide on a consistent cadence, and is struggling to motivate themselves to be enthusiastic about what’s going on. This same mission briefing voice follows you through the tutorial, where even more problems present themselves.
You see, this tutorial does a poor job of explaining some key aspects of the game, and actively punishes you for not understanding these poor explanations.
Here is my experience of the tutorial. After being instructed on the basics of diving and shooting, I’m instructed on shooting down a series of balloons, and when I think I’m done, nothing happens. I fly around in circles trying to figure out what’s going on, only to find a solitary balloon at a much higher altitude than all the others, almost directly above your field of vision, with no indication it’s there.
I was then instructed on recharging and targeting, which was fine, and then had to toss mines onto a boat. This was an exercise in frustration, as the camera rarely gave a good angle to see where the boat was while I was dropping it, even while targeting it directly, and I ended up moving in closer, resulting in me blowing myself up when I finally hit the boat. Game over, time to reload. (For disclosure, a patch has since fixed this issue and you no longer take friendly fire from this)
And when I say reload, I mean the entire tutorial, where I have to slowly go over diving, shooting, targeting etc. all over again. I then chuck mines at the boat again for about five minutes as the physics engine seemed determined to send the mines everywhere but where I was aiming them.
I am then instructed to fly back to the main island, where I’m informed the empire is under attack, and the camera swoops helpfully over to an airship. Right, I think, that airship is my target, let’s take it down. I take it down…and I fail the mission again. What? So, it turns out, after a couple of tries, that airship is not the target, despite all the game’s signposting suggesting it was. It was the ship I was supposed to protect, and much smaller falcons swooping around the airship were the targets. Targets I couldn’t see at first because the game was so fixated on the airship.
Even when I figured this out, the mission would fail if a stray bullet of mine ended up near the airship. And every single time I would be booted back to the start where I would slowly have to re-learn everything all over again. And again. And again. It’s such a poor start that immediately soured me on the experience.
Once I got into the main game, things never really improved. Most of the game consists of flying between targets and shooting down some enemies when you get to the mission marker. Then you fly home. Rinse and repeat.
But poor communication continued to dog my every move. I went to deliver a package, got to the destination and then…had no idea what to do with the package. Elsewhere, being instructed to return home, which requires landing, but not being told how to land resulting in flying in circles for ages before realising I had to fly over a specific spot, holding A and hoping I don’t fly out of the landing zone in the process. And in between, flying through very pretty yet utterly boring vistas on the way to unsatisfying combat encounters.
Combat is messy, with little indication of whether or not you’re hitting your opponents while the targeting camera swoops around with all the precision of a balloon that’s losing air, but you have to use it or else you straight up can’t see where your opponents are. Some fights drag on with large health bars that add nothing but time to the encounter, during which you’ll likely run out of ammo and have to go fly into a nearby storm to get more while your opponent waits politely for you to return.
Saying all this makes me sad. I know how hard games can be to make, and I’m usually quick to praise a solo developer with ambitious goals. However, my time with The Falconeer was a miserable one. The entire game felt like an impressive flight tech demo that hastily remembered it needed to a game to go around it. Travelling is often dull, combat is messy and unsatisfying, and the game obfuscates itself at every turn.
It’s a real shame, because there’s potential in The Falconeer. The flight mechanics feel like the beginnings of something special, while the art style and weather tech look great. But as an all-encompassing experience, it’s not great. As a launch title for a major new system, it’s even less impressive (although, admittedly, I played it on PC, not a new Xbox).
In the end, The Falconeer is a disappointment that feels like it’s trying to fly before it’s even learned how to walk, and I sadly cannot recommend it.