There are very few console air combat games, fewer still that throw out the idea of using a boring old plane and replace it with a giant bird, so to see The Falconeer appear as an Xbox Series X launch title sparked my interest.
There’s an odd story to go along with this odd mode of transport involving a forgotten race and the history embroiled in the politics of the land. Interestly, you never get to play as a single character all the way through but as different characters, experiencing the different factions and their place in the grand story first hand. It works well to give the game a unique feel beyond its bird-based missions, though it can also feel a little convoluted at the start before things become a bit clearer.
The world itself is set on The Ursee, a vast stretch of sea with floating islands that hang in the sky and small towns with harbours. You mode of transport for the whole game is a giant bird which you’ll need to learn to control and then use in combat. The gameplay is sometimes reminiscent of the classic Xbox game Crimson Skies, though your far more organic mode of transport makes the handling feel very different. Soaring over the sea is a wonderful experience, especially with some really nice art decisions that make the universe look so nice, particularly on the Series X. The soundtrack also helps with a really nice score that underlines the grandeur of it all. All of this is more impressive when you find that it’s the work of just one guy, Tomas Sala.
Then comes the combat. While flying is such a great experience, dogfights and bombing raids feel like they’re fighting against this by being very clunky and far from ideal. Diving to the sea to pick up bombs would be fine if it let you actually do it without precise attention to detail and having to double back on yourself in the heat of battle while aiming is a slow, treacle-like experience that turns the smooth sense of turning while flying on its head. Even so, dogfights can still be fun if you forgive the combat controls while escort missions are simply such a bore fest that my heart sank every time I was asked to do another one.
Ultimately, the interesting story, beautiful world and great flying mechanics convinced me to play on and did make the combat side of things more bearable. It would be nice to think this could be patched as the game feels like it really deserves to be a more complete package, but for now it’s still a good experience that shows what can be done by just one person.