You ever play or watch something so specifically niche that you’re absolutely confident it will be someone’s favourite thing ever? Even if it’s not especially good, there’s something about the presentation or aesthetic that definitely appeals to someone.
The Falconeer strikes me as falling into that category because there’s just something so… unique about it. A clash of genres, tone, and style that will no doubt be utterly adored by some margin of people whose Venn diagram perfectly syncs up with “Fantasy”, “Aerial Combat” and “Kevin Costner’s Waterworld”. Taking those disparate elements and wrapping them up into a game was no easy task, made all the more difficult by the fact that most of this game was developed by a single person. Yet as impressive a feat as that is, the core of The Falconeer is one that’s just not all that fun, settling into a repetitive loop with minimal context as to why you’re doing anything or why you should even care for the different factions living within the terrifyingly broad world of Great Ursee.
Let’s get this out of the way first: If you’re looking for a dogfighting game with any kind of context of both purpose or place you’ll need to look elsewhere. The Falconeer starts by dropping you into the thick of the action, explaining nothing as the prologue teaches you the basics of flight and combat.
You’re left to explore this strange, oceanic world populated by some settlements built on stilts to avoid the constantly crashing waves but beyond that, if you’re looking for any kind of explanation as to what’s going on, you’ll have to sit through minutes of painfully-acted monologues that describe the village history. It’s wild that The Falconeer manages to make its own lore so dull because when you’re actually out and about the world is so alien, so distinct from any other in a video game that I couldn’t help but just glide around and take it all in.
Yet when you see something interesting, like some massive sea creature skeleton turned into a place of worship, you’re met with a lengthy description that’s pulled out of a very bad fantasy novella from the 1990s. It’s a remarkable world that’s unfortunately squandered with some lackluster storytelling, which carries over into the game’s main narrative.
If you could even describe it as such. The Falconeer is divided up into several chapters but thinking back on it now, I can’t tell you what happened in each one because they’re all the same thing. There’s talk of Freebooters, pirates, and the Imperium, but in-between the gruff Cockney man and the less gruff Cockney woman telling me what to do, I stopped paying attention.
Actually, I don’t know if the woman was Cockney because at that point I just muted the game and put on a podcast. It’s less a problem with the game’s writing (which is passable at best) and more to do with the actual structure of the missions because they’re nearly all identical. You either fly off to a place, hit some checkpoints, and have a fight or you have to escort a ship.
The Falconeer didn’t get the memo and made what felt like half a game of escort missions. There are sidequests to find and complete if you venture off the beaten path and uncover some other settlements, but again, these vary between what felt like four or five interchangeable quests that took elements of the “story quests” and isolated them for some quick and dirty money. Repetition sets in fast and doesn’t really go anywhere from there.
Which is a shame because The Falconeer is actually a joy to play, pushed forward on the wings of a great premise. You’re the pilot of a massive bird and you shoot light bullets at enemy pilots. Like, that’s awesome.
Even better, it controls beautifully with your bird of prey mount feeling more responsive than the jet fighters so often seen in aerial combat games. The mechanics are simple yet tight, prompting players to really take advantage of the space they’re in during a fight. You have a re-fillable boost bar that can be topped up by diving towards the sea and rolls to the left and right, making combat feel exciting even if you’ve played this exact same encounter for the ninth time in an hour. This sense of off-the-cuff planning and execution is even seen in the game’s ammo system, which might sound tedious but in practice is really cool. If you’re running low on ammo, all you need to do is explore the immediate area for a thunderstorm to siphon off some electricity.
It prompts you to be aware of your surroundings during combat rather than just locking onto an enemy and lasering them down, although even this begins to falter when you start unlocking better upgrades for your gun. I do wish the actual weapons felt better to use as most of them just have no impact at all, coming across like you’re merely slingshotting blue (or red in some cases) pebbles at the enemy falconeers.
It’s a real pity that I didn’t enjoy The Falconeer more. Remember that niche categorisation thing I mentioned in the first paragraph? Yeah, I fall well into that group. I was primed to love this game but for every cool visual detail in the world there was a story quest that I just didn’t care about or a side-quest that was copy-pasted from the last foray.
It’s a game clearly built by a small team but, to stick with the game’s themes, if you’re too ambitious and fly to close to the sun, you might end up with a fun combat system visually distinct and an interesting world populated by boring politics, painfully repetitive gameplay and irritating voice acting.
Last Updated: November 27, 2020