Game name: The Falconeer
Release date: November 10, 2020
Available on: Steam
Genre: Open world air combat RPG
Developer: Tomas Sala
Publisher: Wired Productions
The Falconeer caught my eye a while ago, thanks to a tantalizing trailer featuring the voice talents of Mikee Goodman (you might recognize him as part of the extremely talented cast that brought Disco Elysium to life last year) and a setting that reminded me of a Jack Vance novel I read as a youth. If that wasn’t enough, I’m a big fan of air combat titles, and here I had something that looked unique and promised an entirely new world to play in. What’s not to like? Join me as I share what I think of Tomas Sala‘s gorgeous new title.
We play as as warbird pilots in the literal sense of the word. Sitting on the saddle of majestic flying creatures, the player will fly through storms, dive into the dark waters of the Ursee (the game is set in a world that’s covered in water) and fight against other falconeers and an array of fantastic-looking vehicles, both airborne and sea-based. The story is intriguing, but sadly delivered in a way that can be a big turn off for many players (there are frequent lore dumps, helping us get the lay of the land, but at the same time becoming quite tiresome after a few hours). The game is divided in chapters that’ll let us play as different characters, with their own places to call home and unique vision of the world and its warring factions. I personally felt that this idea was neatly handled, as it lets players see certain things from different perspectives, and gives a more complete look at this unique world.
Gameplay-wise, The Falconeer excels at both giving us the illusion of being a warbird pilot, and the moment to moment dogfights. Our falcon moves with the grace of a living creature, and while it doesn’t exactly obey our commands instantly (there’s a feeling that the bird is processing our orders and finding the best possible way to complete them) this helps a lot when it comes to selling the idea that we are indeed the pilot of a big falcon and not just a reskinned fighter plane. This doesn’t mean that we can’t execute classic dogfighting maneuvers though, as careful management of our energy will even let us pull off barrel rolls and gravity defying dives.
Speaking of energy, we should always keep an eye on the meter that tells us how much room to play around with steep ascension moves, sharp boosts and barrel rolls we have, because, once again, we aren’t exactly piloting a fighter jet here, and our bird needs to get some air under its wings in order to be able to put on an air show during each fight. Diving will refill our energy meter, while climbing, accelerating or dodging will consume it. Every fight becomes a carefully orchestrated dance where the player must try to gauge the perfect altitude so they have enough leeway to maneuver without losing too much energy and becoming a sitting duck, and after a while this becomes second nature.
While we are on the subject of juggling different things while in combat, I’d also like to take a quick detour and talk about our weaponry. Remember when I mentioned flying through storms? Well, that’s something we’ll be doing a lot in The Falconeer, since the electricity-based weapons recharge with the bolts of energy that jump from cloud to cloud during storms. Our pilot must be careful though, as the possibility of overloading the accumulators is very real, and that would lead to undesirable consequences. This adds a new level of tension to dogfights, as we’ll have to keep an eye on our ammo levels while at the same time ensuring that dogfights that take place inside of storm clouds don’t take too long, or we’ll have to dive for the ocean to cool down, and that means losing airspeed when we get back into the fight. It’s all a careful balancing act and I love the idea wholeheartedly. Sadly, since we are talking about balancing, I have to say that certain missions are a lot more difficult than others, with no prior warning that a difficulty spike is in the horizon. This can lead to frustrating cycles, since there are no mid-mission checkpoints and failing means restarting. I hope that this will be addressed in future patches, though I can also understand why it happens (this is a game mostly made by one person, after all).
When we aren’t duking it out in the skies of the Ursee, we’ll be carrying cargo, exploring, going on patrols, or completing different time trials that shake up the pace of the game in interesting ways. Sadly, the (beautiful) open world is more of a backdrop to the action than anything else, and you can’t really interact with it in any meaningful way outside of completing mission objectives or discovering landmarks.
Completing missions will give us experience, and getting enough of it will trigger a rank up, increasing our warbird’s stats and giving us an edge in battle. If that’s too slow for you, then there’s also the option to purchase mutagens that can be used to customize your falcon. Be warned though, that injecting these things into the majestic animal will cause physical changes, and trigger a soul shattering cry that made me feel like I was an utterly horrific person for doing so.
Moving on to the tech side of things, The Falconeer is an incredible achievement. The game looks gorgeous, and sports an art style that kept drawing me back into the Ursee even after finishing the campaign. If that wasn’t enough, the soundtrack is exquisite, and the voice acting, while not exactly award-worthy, fits the universe like a glove. I had no performance issues, and on a Ryzen 5 3600, 32GB, 2070 Super, I could hold 120fps at 1440p even during the most demanding scenes.
Overall, The Falconeer is a very competent flight combat title set in a gorgeous and mysterious world that is a joy to explore, even if it’s a bit empty. The difficulty spikes that pop up from time to time can sour the experience a little, but for a one-man team, this game is a monumental achievement and I can’t wait to see what Tomas Sala tackles next.
8/10 – Very good.