Review – The Falconeer (Xbox Series X)
It’s actually refreshing to see an indie game being in the spot light for a major new gen hardware release. I personally think it was a great idea since it got additional attention being at launch, as well as being able to leverage the new hardware. The Falconeer was made by a single person, Tomas Solas, which is impressive. However, this is one of the few exclusives Microsoft has for the Xbox Series X|S launch which adds some pressure. Does The Falconeer live up to its important role as a launch exclusive? Or are these falcon’s wings clipped?
When I first saw The Falconeer it reminded me of Panzer Dragoon, in a good way. Controlling massive flying creatures while also dog fighting and dodging dragon’s fire is more like the arcade aerial games I’ve enjoyed in the past. I’ve never been a huge fan of games like Ace Combat, but aerial combat games in a fantasy theme are much more intriguing. Unlike Panzer Dragoon, however, The Falconeer is an open world game. Unfortunately, I think this may have actually hurt the end result.
Some of the most interesting things in The Falconeer come from its world. The story, lore, and even the visual design all hit harder than the combat or its missions. Not to say the combat is bad, but it isn’t what drove me to continue hopping back in. However, the story does take a little bit to start moving. While the story takes a few main missions to get going, the visuals kept my eyes glued to the TV.
Now, The Falconeer isn’t going to blow you away visually in any way. Hell, it doesn’t even use a single texture for any models in the game and the characters look like PlayStation 1 polygonal muppets. However, the overall art direction and the design of the world and the flying creatures are very striking. It also helps that the lighting is so colorful and with good HDR this game pops. I was frequenting the the photomode more than I do in some AAA titles. There is something about the contrast of the simplistic polygonal art on the detailed designs and great lighting that had me hooked.
The first few hours it’s a joy to take in the sights as the sun rises and sets creating all sorts of different hues of color across the sea. While this does wear out eventually, luckily by that time the story really started to grab me. The Falconeer takes you through a prologue, four main chapters, and then an epilogue. All of these are from a different perspective from one of the main factions that inhabit The Great Ursee, which helps keep things interesting. They each have their own place and world view and it was interesting to learn each faction from within.
This also means that the story can have a bit of a disjointed feeling to it since each chapter you’ll need to select a new character. However, it doesn’t mean your overall experience level resets or certain things you’ve unlocked are locked again. Without getting into spoilers, the story is told by a Seachantress that is trying to heal the Empress. While she is near death, the Seachantress is letting her play out the memories of the key people that led to her demise. This is why you keep your experience level and certain items between characters.
The main story did a great job and keeping me invested. The lore and history of these factions and the world itself is very intriguing, but outside of this the content is lacking. Side missions boil down to fetch quests, protecting vessels, and going to large battles. Once the act of flying from point A to point B gets boring, the side quests also become a chore. Unfortunately, the scaling of the difficulty often made me feel like I needed grind so I can purchase upgrades for my falcon.
There also seems to be a bit of a balance issue with the economy. Side quests net you anywhere from 300 to 1600 splinters depending on difficulty, and weapon upgrades are upwards of 20k. You’ll also need to buy Mutagens to upgrade your falcons stats and those are also thousands depending on the quality level. Overall, I feel like there could have been better balancing to keep me from grinding the more boring content. This would have created a more seamless experience to stay invested in the story. It felt like Tomas may have been worried about game length and added in these standard open world fetch quests and a bloated economy to increase playtime.
Outside of the main and side quests there are also races you can complete to unlock the opportunity to purchase a new falcon. I wish I would have focused on these sooner because the new falcons base stats are much higher. Of course, this does mean you have to save enough to purchase them in each chapter. The rest of the content is more about exploring and finding shrines that unlock more history of the Ursee.
As I mentioned before, the combat and general gameplay isn’t what kept me hooked. The combat isn’t bad, but there is some balancing problems and some annoyances with the movement. The enemies have a crazy amount of power and often times can out maneuver you. They also can have multiple weapons, as well as way more numbers. The maneuvering is what annoyed me the most. I would be taking turns to try and stay on their asses, but they would basically 180° and we would end up clashing in the air. This slows you down and you’re left open for the horde to light you up.
There is a decent amount of variety with the enemies from multiples of aerial and surface types. But this means you’ll need to be on your toes and focus on certain types first. Surface enemies can be dealt with faster by swooping down and picking up a bomb out of the sea and dropping it on them. However, I recommend taking out the lighter infantry first as they can quickly swarm you. When big fights are going well, it can be an intense situation and there is definitely fun to be had here. Especially when something crazy pops up from the story missions like a massive crab with a city on its back.
Before and during fights you’ll need to make sure you’re stocked up on ammo. Your falcon can carry six canisters on their back that can be refilled multiple ways. You can purchase them, or acquire them in the world through storms or ammo drops. There are three different kinds of ammo types: Lightning, Fire, and Acid. Each ammo type works better for certain enemies, and only the acid ammo type can’t be collected from a storm. Lightning storms can happen at anytime and anywhere. Normal storms will refill your canisters with lighting, while a storm near a volcano will give you fire. Staying inside of a storm too long can overcharge your canisters and blow them up, forcing you to purchase a new one.
During these large battles the sound design can be noticeably hit or miss. Normal scripted dialogue is actually pretty well done with the voice acting. However, the random combat chatter can become grating. Some of dialogue is delivered weakly and some in particular have made me laugh. Unfortunately, the combat chatter can also be repeated too often. Sound effects I think are the weakest part of the overall sound design. The weapons don’t have a satisfying sound to them and you’re constantly firing. The music is fine, but there isn’t anything that stands out unfortunately. Big rising battle music would work well with the over the top battles found here, but nothing impressed me on this front.
There were also a handful of glitches that I ran into that didn’t crash or ruin the game, but were still aggravating. Missions wouldn’t proceed, escort missions where the NPC would not be at the location, random times where I’d fail due to friendly fire with no friendlies around. Luckily it wouldn’t set me far back and I’d only need to restart the current mission. But when this happens towards the end of a mission and you’ve slowly been flying across the sea, having to redo all that flying can make you want to quit.
The Falconeer is an intriguing game with a great world, story, lore, and general theme. The visuals are simple, but clean and striking in design and lighting. There are some great ideas here that would have benefited from a more streamlined experience. Less time grinding, which lead to more frustrations with glitches or other issues, would have been the better option even if it meant a leaner run time. There is an enjoyable aerial combat game here with a unique story and setting, but the grind and monotonous mission structures hamper it.
The Falconeer has a unique art style that can be both lacking and beautiful at the same time. It uses no textures for anything in the world and the human characters look like PSOne Final Fantasy models, but the lighting, world details, and designs had me frequenting the photo mode.
For the most part the act of flying and aerial dog fighting works well. There are moments in large battles that things become hectic and engaging. However, hit detection issues, economy balancing issues, and times where your falcon will bounce off objects and spin around if things get too close cause frustrations.
Sound design is a bit of a mixed bag with the general voice acting being pretty good barring a few awkwardly delivered lines. The biggest issue is the lack of variety in music, combat chatter, and general sound effects.
What kept me going in The Falconeer was the story and mysteries that The Great Ursee held. For the most part the mission structures are repetitive and monotonous outside of a few unique main missions. The progression requires a lot of grinding due to the inflated cost of items. This title would have benefited being a tighter more focused experience.
Final Verdict: 6.5
The Falconeer is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X.
A copy of The Falconeer was provided by the publisher.