STAFF REVIEW of Falconeer, The (Xbox One)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021.
by Josh Morgan

Falconeer, The Box art The Falconeer is an open world air combat game made by the developer Tomas Sala. It’s remarkable that a game this pretty and enjoyable was made with one person at the helm. During its 10+ hour campaign you will jump on the back of a huge falcon and engage in dogfights with other falcons, warships from the ocean surface and huge airships that block out the moon at night. There are a lot of secrets to uncover in the world of The Great Ursee, so let's dive in and see what it’s all about.

The story of The Falconeer tells of a conflict between factions of The Great Ursee, which is a vast ocean that connects many different islands and locations to explore. Each chapter of the story is told from the perspective of the faction you have pledged and each of these warring factions have a different class of Warbird and pilot to use. The different islands of The Great Ursee are spread out pretty far, giving you plenty of time to take in the beauty of the world. Rolling waves, beautiful glowing orange sunrises and sunsets, and swirling blue and green skies at night that look a lot like the Aurora Borealis. With such a great distance between locations, it tends to make traversal a tad boring after you have made the trek a few times. Luckily, there is usually a “skip to location” or fast travel option when completing missions, or just exploring the open world. But sometimes after an intense battle, it’s nice to be able to peacefully fly to the final location objective to finish the mission.

You progress through the story by accepting missions while your Warbird is perched at the faction base. There are no cutscenes, and you are given mission directions from the faction leader as they walk you through the objectives. Usually, the mission consists of taking some supplies to an ally, or protecting some sort of ship containing precious cargo as it slowly meanders to an island. In either case, air pirates will always attack, and it’s up to you and your wingmen to protect the objective. Complete the mission and you earn some favor with that faction and some currency to spend on upgrades.

Unfortunately, I found the upgrades to be way too expensive and I barely upgraded my birds because of it. If you fail the mission, you must start over, which is a real bummer because, like I mentioned before, the islands are far apart and a good chunk of each mission is flying from location to location. It’s a real kick to the nuts to spend nearly 10 minutes flying around, escorting a slow-moving ship, only to die or fail during the last encounter and having to start it all over. A few of the many times this happened, I simply just shut off my Xbox and played something else before taking to the skies again later on.

When you are not flying across an open ocean, you’re dogfighting (or is it birdfighting?) with other warbirds and that is where the game really becomes challenging. At first, I really struggled with the controls, but after a few failed attempts and restarts it began to click and I was able to shoot down a few warbirds or destroy a few ships while my AI wingman mopped up everything else. You can use the D-Pad to issue orders to your wingman, either have them focus on enemy warbirds, or focus fire on the slow-moving air and water ships. The ships deal out a lot of damage, so I found success in having my wingman focus fire on those while I took care of the warbirds. Once my wingman was done with the ships, I’d have him shift focus to the rest of the warbirds and give me some support in the air.

Focusing on the nearest warbird can be a bit of a struggle. You can easily cycle through the various targets, but more often than I would like, it mostly would snap the lock on camera to an enemy far away instead of the enemy closest to me. This almost always resulted in me taking a bunch of damage from an enemy before I was able to outmaneuver them and then turn my guns on them. You can hover in place, barrel roll, boost, slow down and dive, and those are pretty easy to pull off one at a time, but in the harder dog fights I struggled to pull off these in combination to successfully evade my enemy’s shots. I failed a lot of missions at first, but practice makes perfect and once I started to get the controls down, I was able to beat those missions and move forward. It is a challenge that I wasn’t expecting but greatly appreciated.

Every move you perform drains a bit of your stamina meter. Your bird gets tired from all of the dogfighting maneuvers I mentioned above, so refilling this meter is essential if you want to succeed in your mission and live to fly another day. To refill this meter is simple; you dive. Even when flying at a constant elevation, your warbirds wings are flapping, but when you dive towards the ocean your bird can finally rest its wings. This adds a whole other element of strategy because you can only go so far down before you hit the ocean surface. This also exposes you to a few more problems you must deal with in combat. If you get closer to the ocean surface you now have to deal with any possible ships that have very heavy firepower, and it also gives the higher ground to any warbirds circling above you. It also creates an additional problem; to ascend back up to dogfighting altitude you are going to have to expel some energy from your stamina meter. It becomes an interesting and challenging seesaw of balance where if you spam maneuvers, you’ll quickly drain stamina and you’ll either get out maneuvered (because your Warbid is tired) or you’ll have to switch to a more defensive tact and head to the ocean to refill the meter which presents its own risks. If you are more conservative with your stamina meter and do not maneuver enough, your health meter will quickly drain from the enemies shooting the easy target. It’s done very well, and I welcomed the additional challenge of piloting a living creature rather than a spaceship with unlimited fuel.

I spoke a bit above about the colorful palette of the world of The Great Ursee and how you can easily be distracted by the visuals that the ocean and sky can bring. But my words, and even videos online will not do this game justice when describing how absolutely beautiful this game is. I played it using a 4K TV with the Xbox Series X and it played at a flawless 60 frames per second, I never once experienced a hitch or a hiccup. I do not have a 120hz television or monitor to test how that runs, but I have looked up other reviews and framerate tests and it seems to perform just as well in that mode if your TV is capable. It really is something you need to experience in order to appreciate. Music changes depending on your actions as well. This isn’t new to gaming, but when the action ramps up, you’ll hear the heavy bass of beating drums and deep chanting, but when you are flying high and peaceful, you’ll hear the beauty of some wind chimes and instruments. All the enemies, vendors, and allies that you encounter are fully voiced. Some of the accents are over the top, and the dialog is a bit standard, but when you consider that this was made by a very small team it is understandable.

The Falconeer has some smaller issues, but those are easily overlooked when you take into account this was made by one person. The story is pretty interesting even though the missions aren’t, and the voice acting can be a little annoying at times. But exploring The Great Ursee for new locations, dogfighting with challenging opponents and discovering that thin line of balance between offense and defense is all very rewarding. I was expecting the game to be beautiful, but I wasn’t expecting the combat to be so challenging and deep. It was a wonderful surprise.

**The Falconeer was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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