With the new console generation, a lot of people are going to be looking for games to play. On the Xbox Series X|S that very much seems to be the case. One of the titles that stood out to me in the Series X|S launch window was The Falconeer. It looked like everything I would want in a game—a captivating art style, open world exploration, and aerial combat. It certainly delivers on some of these aspects, but the more time I spent with The Falconeer the less I enjoyed it.
The Falconeer is a third person open world adventure game. You play as several classes of falcon-riders who harness lightning to power their weaponry, while flying on the backs of gigantic warbirds. The world is well realized, and full of interesting else-worlds type lore. Is falcon punk a thing? Because that’s how I’d describe The Falconeer. There are also majestic and terrifying creatures to encounter as you fly over the mostly ocean landscape performing various tasks. It doesn’t take long to see beautiful and awesome sights—but it also doesn’t take long to become absolutely bored by the experience, if you’re not already put off by the flying.
It does not feel fun to fly or fight in The Falconeer–which is a problem, because that’s all you do. Mouse and keyboard controls are non-existent if you’re on PC, so you have to use a joystick or a gamepad. But even with a Xbox One controller, the flight felt just awful. It feels like your bird is front heavy, and hard to get used to even after adjusting sensitivity. Gliding in a straight line isn’t bad, but any careful maneuvers just feel horrible to pull off. I was hoping these falcons would be a bit more nimble out of the gate. The poor feeling flight made dogfights a bit of a chore, but it’s not just the flight that’s the problem there–it’s also the weak weapons. Shooting in The Falconeer is bland, and the combat is just not very fun. Aerial combat was one of the main things that drew me in to the game, and it’s probably the least fun aerial combat experience I’ve had in a while.
The Falconeer does have some interesting ideas. You re-arm weapons by flying through storm clouds, which is a badass concept. Flight isn’t as simple as pitch and yaw. Rolling and dashing is done by spending saved kinetic energy—something you get while the bird is diving, or otherwise in descent. That makes fast flying something to master. And you can almost forgive the poor feeling flight mechanics when you gaze upon The Falconeer’s gorgeous map.
The world of The Falconeer is stylized, and beautiful—full of lots of things to look at and secrets you can find if you look deep enough. There are ancient ruins scattered about, and a large scar in the middle of the map called “The Maw” which impossibly parts the ocean. Storms constantly rage, and the lightning in the different times of day drastically alter the landscape. Every scene could be a painting, or an art print. It’s just beautiful. I could spend hours flying around The Falconeer’s world. And I did. Aimlessly—because it took me a while to grasp The Falconeer’s way of teaching players how to play–or not teaching them.
I don’t mind when a game lets you discover its systems without excessive handholding. The Falconeer does this, but it’s less than successful. First of all, the UI is terrible. I didn’t even know you could land until I happened to see the prompt show up stealthily in the lower right corner. It’s even a light blue, which blends in perfectly with the sky or water—which, as it happens, is most of the scenery. The Falconeer doesn’t really teach you many of its systems. It gives you a brief introduction, and then pits you against some fake targets. Your training is ended by a real attack(that old trope) and you’re done with the prologue. After that, you can choose a number of chapters to play—each with their own missions, characters, story, etc. But there really isn’t enough information to get you started properly. The idea is to learn on your own, but there has to be something more compelling to connect me to the game beyond pretty graphics. And the story doesn’t cut it.
The Falconeer is held together by an overarching story, but it’s so enigmatic and told so cryptically—I have only the vaguest notions of what’s happening. Once a character dies, you have to start over and choose another, so I felt no connection to the different falconeers I was controlling, either.
I feel like I gave The Falconeer more time than I should have. I kept uncovering interesting things, and even new mission types, which drove me forward—but I was never having any fun. The concept of The Falconeer is great, but beyond the visuals, the execution was lacking.
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