Take to the sky on feathered wings
Genre: Action, Simulator, RPG
Developer: Tomas Sala
Publisher: Wired Productions
Release date: 10 Nov, 2020
Who has not at some point in their life fantasized about taking to the sky on some form of majestic creature? The Falconeer lets you do just that, it lets you soar through the air on a mighty falcon, and face off in aerial combat against others.
In the Falconeer you’re a falcon rider, flying over The Great Ursee, performing missions for the different factions that are trying to attain dominance over it, and exploring its many different locations. While the game is not as open as the store page for it might make it seem, it is stunningly beautiful at times, and just exploring to find new locations can in itself be quite rewarding in a game like this.
Story & Setting
The Ursee is a vast ocean dotted by small islands. People have settled the larger of these islands, and built cities and outposts and between them there’s just the open sea. Humans have, as humans tend to do, formed groups ruled by different individuals. Several great houses, ruled by an empress, have their own holdings, and occasionally come into conflict with each other. To the south the Mancer order, who’s technology is beyond that of the great houses of the Empire hold on to their own ground.
Traversing the Ursee is dangerous. Pirates raids are not uncommon and so there’s always a demand for protection from merchants and captains of transport ships. Pirates is not the only thing you’ll find if you travel the Ursee though, there are remnants of the people who used to live there scattered all over, large bird statues, temples and so on that are far older than living memory.
It’s hard to talk about the actual story without giving anything critical away though. One of the games weaknesses is how long it takes for the story to truly get going, as in the early parts you’ll do a lot of jobs for the great houses, which lays the groundwork for the story and introduces the world, but don’t really progress it much, but mentioning events that take place later in the game might make it possible to piece together things you’re not meant to be able to piece together early on. You’ll be hunting pirates in the first part and trying to better your house’s position in the world and that’s it, there’s some conflict with other major players but nothing you’ll need to really worry about yourself. In fact, for the first quarter or so of the story, you’re pretty much an observer. Sure, you get to do a bit of fighting, but the story happens around you, not to you or in a way that makes it feel like you can influence it. It does get significantly better though, and the story in the last third is quite interesting, it’s just a shame that it takes so long to get to this point.
The falconeer is a stunningly good looking game. Not from a technical point, but from an artistic one. Everything in it has a somewhat low-poly aesthetic with good use of colours that really make the visuals stand out from most other games. The screenshots should tell you if the visuals are something you would like.
Most of the inhabited islands have their own unique look, with somewhat exaggerated architecture and unrealistic, but good looking, rock formations. The same is also true for the games ships and creatures, many of them don’t look entirely realistic, but they have distinct looks to them. Different groups have different crafts and creatures that they use to traverse the Ursee, from the organic beings of the privateers to the mighty warships of the empire, but they still fit in and no faction feels out of place.
Voice acting is more of a sore spot for The Falconeer. It’s not so bad that you’ll find voice clips of this on youtube compilations of “worst voice acting in games”, but some of the voice actors are trying a bit too hard, and distorting their voices a bit too much, which makes them come off as unnatural or a bit forced sounding.
The music fares better though. It, like the visuals, is rather unique and helps give the game a feel unlike any other. Many of the calmer tracks sound like something you would expect from cultures descending from the nomadic people of Asia, like the Mongols. It fits the game surprisingly well. Not all tracks are like these, there are some more conventional tracks, but they somehow don’t feel out of place.
The Falconeer is an arcadey air-combat where you ride around on a giant bird. It’s both surprisingly conventional and novel at the same time. Unlike what you might first expect, this is not a kind of jousting game, like DragonStrike, instead you’ve got a gun mounted on the back of your falcon, and that’s your primary way of attacking enemies.
Enemies range from other falcon riders, to people riding on dragon-like creatures, to mighty warships and some even larger things. Anything big usually has several parts that you can destroy individually, like rigging and gun turrets, though smaller enemies will just have a single health bar and once that goes down to 0 the enemy will crash into the sea. Combat is fast and deadly, and both your and the enemy’s health bars can go down quickly. And while the gun is your primary weapon, you can pick up sea mines and drop them on enemy ships and emplacements.
Fights early in the game are small in scope, it will be you and maybe a friendly falconeer going up against a couple of other enemies and maybe a small ship, but the engagements go up in size considerably as the game progresses, and towards the alter parts of the game it’s not uncommon to see several large ships and a dozen smaller creatures on each side. This is where the game really shines.
Pretty much all missions end up with at least one fight, but fighting is not the only thing you’ll be doing. You’ll also be traversing the world, flying between objectives and meeting up with people. The beauty of the game world really helps here, as it could easily end up feeling tedious otherwise. But this part is not handled perfectly. If you die you’ll have to restart the mission, which is not too bad as missions are short, but you’ll also always respawn at the last place you landed. This is usually not a problem, but there are a few missions that has you land someplace near the end, before taking off again to do one last fight, and if you die during this final fight you’ll end up respawning at the place you landed during the mission. So you have to fly back to the place where you took the mission, and this is a bit annoying, particularly if you die more than once in the final battle of the mission.
There are a few too many missions that just boil down to “Go here, fight this, fly back home”, particularly in the early game. They feel like padding and don’t add much to the game. There’s a bit of story to each mission, but as mentioned earlier, the story takes a while to get going, and these missions are part of the problem.
Other than doing main missions you can also do side-quests, races and explore the world. The side quests are randomly generated and usually not very exciting, but they can be a good way to get some more resources. There are also different locations that you can discover that give you more information about the world that you can discover, but the open world aspect of The Falconeer is not on the same level as many other open world games. You won’t find a plethora of different hand-crafted side-quests and far too often exploration does feel like a waste of time, as the rewards for exploring are minor at best.
As mentioned earlier, you play as several different characters in The Falconeer, so you’ll get to see the conflict from more than one side. This has less of an impact on gameplay than you would expect. Money, experience and most equipment will carry over when you switch to a new character. It can seemingly be a bit weird that you switch to someone brand new, and for some reason he or she is exactly as good at flying a falcon, and has the exact same weapon, as the last person, but from a gameplay point of view it makes sense. If you would have to start from scratch every time you got a new character then doing sidequests would feel like a waste of time, and something you would only ever do if you got stuck and needed to grind for some resources.
There’s also a slight repetition problem in The Falconeer. The game does not change much over the course of its 10h campaign. The battles get bigger and more interesting, and the story also gets more interesting, but the way you play it is pretty much the same during the first hour as the last.
Mouse and keyboard users beware, the game does not work very well with that setup. It recommends that you use a joystick or a gamepad, and for good reason, those two control options work noticeably better than mouse and keyboard in this game. The developer has sad that he’s working on better mouse support, but at the time of writing it’s still not been implemented.
The Falconeer is a game that oozes style. It’s one of the best looking games I’ve played in a long time and it’s backed up by a great soundtrack. It is let down by some repetitive mission design and a story that takes a bit too long to get going.
Despite these flaws, I still had a great time with The Falconeer. Flying around on a giant bird felt great, even if the game does not go quite as far with that concept as I would have hoped, and the fact that the game looks and sounds as good as it does really does not hurt either. This is one of those games where while there’s a bunch of rough edges, the strengths of the game more than make up for them. It’s not a flawless masterpiece, but what The Falconeer does well, it does really well.