The Falconeer is an excellent aerial combat game with one small flaw
The sky is the limit
With next-gen AAA games launching one after the other for the Xbox Series X/S and the PlayStation 5, it can be hard to keep track of all the great titles coming through, especially those that aren't from big-bucks studios like The Falconeer.
Developed by Tomas Sala, the guy behind the infamous Moonpath to Elsweyr mod for Skyrim and published by Wired Productions, this gorgeous open-world aerial combat game is a real gem, and it's easy to miss if you aren't explicitly looking for it. Nevertheless, in case you did glance over it before by accident, grab a chair and get comfy - here's why we think it deserves a spot on our playlist for November.
A bird's eye view
At first launch, The Falconeer might not seem overly impressive or revolutionary with regards to gameplay, but in the era of modern video gaming, with techs like ray-tracing and 8K resolution gaming floating around, the initial impression and aesthetics are arguably the most integral part in attracting players and keeping them immersed.
Case in point, the game's art style, which is reminiscent of Telltale's The Walking Dead except with a fantasy twist was what really drew me in at the beginning, and suffice to say it was also one of the key things that kept me glued to my screen as I explored the game's overworld. The audio is a real killer too - the soundtrack is filled with deep, rumbling chants and the occasional sound of bagpipes, which blends perfectly with the Norse undertones evident within the game's local cultures.
But first things first - let's see what we've got to work with. Now, The Great Ursee is a vast ocean dotted with settlements that holds many things of mesmerising beauty, but it also hides immense danger. The latter often presents itself in the form of pirate attacks and raids from the skies, and riding upon their trusty avian partners, the Falconeers swoop into battle against these pirates, combining dogfighting strategies with graceful acrobatic maneuovres and precise marksmanship to defeat their opponents.
With the textbook definitions out of the way, let's get into the actual talk. As implied, players take control of a Falconeer and a variety of different Falcons to engage in missions either in service of "The Empire" or as a mercenary. Like most RPG class systems, every Falconeer has a different background and base skill allocation, and the same goes for their mounts - it's up to players how they want to blend these two aspects to fit their preferred playstyle as they go along. Top that off with your standard RPG-style levelling and skill enhancement systems, which you can grind out to improve your character's proficiencies, and this is actually a bite-sized game with a lot to offer beneath its average-looking facade.
Moving into the combat, the controls are actually pretty smooth and straightforward (I used a keyboard and mouse for the most part), though I would still recommend using a controller, as the former makes it easier to execute midair barrel rolls and turnabouts. I quite liked the different mechanics and limitations the developer blended into the aerial combat aspect as well. For example, you don't reload your weapons after a certain delay like in most other games.
Rather, when you run out of energy for your weapons, most of the time you'll have to search for a thunderstorm, and flying through it charges your weapons back up. However, it's not without cost, as staying too long within the storm will cause your weapons to overheat, and you'll have to cool them by diving down towards the sea. Then there's also the fact that your dashes and barrel rolls are capped by an "energy meter" of sorts, which means you can't just spam evasive rolls and sea dives to cheese out a mission.
Speaking of dives, some missions will have you bombarding naval fortifications and other targets instead of firing down upon them from the skies, which means you'll have to dive into the sea momentarily to pick up an explosive and drop it onto the target from above. This sounds simple on paper, but the timing of when to drop the projectile can be tricky since your Falcon is moving as you release it, and I had to try quite a few times just to get past this tutorial segment!
However, amidst all the praises, the one thing that I felt had room for improvement here was in terms of the combat sound effects, specifically those from your weapons. More specifically, they could do with a little more "oomph" - most of the lasers and firearms in the game don't sound very satisfying to fire, and it kind of takes away from the adrenaline rush of a fierce dogfight. Imagine hearing nothing but a meagre "pssh" after landing a successful laser hit on a nimble opponent - so much for the effort, huh?
Chilling out and looking around
But what else is there to do in The Great Ursee apart from fighting pirates and performing aerial parkour with a weaponised bird? Lots, actually. As the name implies, there's lots to see in the world, and part of the game's charm is that it gives you free rein to explore the overworld if you'd like to take a break from missions and bounties. Many aerial combat games don't let you take to the skies except during missions, so The Falconeer really stands out by providing players with this "freedom".
In fact, there are numerous landmarks and settlements within the game for you to discover and explore on your own, not to mention the numerous ad-hoc missions you can take on. You can do it all while feeling the digital winds brush against your face as you dive and swoop across the expanses, and having a dynamic day-night cycle, as well as spontaneous weather changes, make it an immensely liberating experience, to say the least.
Returning to base
All in all, The Falconeer is a real beauty in almost all of its aspects, and even the one which it doesn't score that well in, which is its combat sound effects isn't all that significant. From exciting dogfights to tranquil exploration trips and character leveling, the world of The Great Ursee certainly has a lot for aerial combat lovers to fall in love with and then some. Its aesthetics and audio pairings are near-flawless as well, and its developer really deserves a full pat on the back for this downright dazzling gem of a game.