The Falconeer Review

November 19, 2020
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Crash Landing

An open-world game revolving around aerial combat on the backs of giant falcons, The Falconeer first gives the impression of being fun and intriguingly original. Once you start playing, however, it’s anything but. While the game’s concept of dogfights with warbirds in a fantasy setting is unique, the lifeless world, boring gameplay and generic fantasy tropes are not.

The Great Ursee is the world you inhabit in The Falconeer. It’s one where the sea has taken over, leaving only pockets of settled islands among the expanse of grey-blue. There are numerous factions living in the Great Ursee, like the Imperium and the pirates, and each of the handful of chapters will see you completing missions for them on the back of your giant falcon. Being a falconeer means sitting on the back of your bird and controlling it, using the weapons mounted on it to dogfight as if you were an aeroplane. 

The missions are separated into two main styles — courier a package to its destination or fight some enemies. Setting off from a settlement at the start of a mission, you will then fly towards a marker on your map and complete one of the two aforementioned tasks, before flying home; rinse and repeat. When you get back to your home settlement, you land and can navigate menus to choose missions or shop at the store to upgrade your warbird with new weapons, stats and abilities. There is no way to describe this gameplay loop other than boring.

And there are multiple reasons the gameplay is so boring. See, in a game about flying and aerial combat, the flying and aerial combat is unengaging. The deficiencies in other areas could be overlooked if the core of the game — flying and dogfighting — was thrilling, but it’s not. Your bird has an energy meter; dive down to gain speed and energy, aim up and you gain altitude but lose energy. When you encounter enemies, you press a button to lock on, then hold the right trigger on a controller to fire your weapons. The problem is that you only have to aim near the enemy, rather than score a direct hit, for your shots to connect to their target. This means that there isn’t really any skill to the combat, and you end up flying in loops blapping away until your enemies are dead. There are also bombs that you can occasionally pluck from the sea to drop on ships or land targets, too, but it just requires a button press to release when you think the time is right.

Escorting ships and dogfighting

Most of your time outside of combat is spent flying around looking for things, or escorting ships. When the ship gets to its destination, you will, of course, be attacked in formulaic style. Then you might have to retrieve a package the ship has picked up from the water and courier it back to a settlement. The Falconeer has a handy “fly home” menu button, and when you have a long journey you can “hold A to fly ahead,” skipping long and boring stretches of gliding. But if a game has to build in a button to skip its key mechanic — flying a giant falcon — then it isn’t a good sign.

So now you have a good idea about the gameplay, let’s talk story and setting. Earlier we talked about the Great Ursee and its factions — unfortunately both are stale and stereotypical. Generic fantasy names fill the world, such as “the Maw,” while some are just plain bad, like “Saladmount”. And the naming of one particular house/faction “Borgia” doesn’t leave much to interpretation regarding their motives if you know even a little bit about history.  

The voice acting is bad, with stereotypical “folksy British” west-country vernacular or upper-class posh accents denoting a generic good common folk versus bad arrogant empire cliche that has been put into fantasy stories for decades. I am, of course, talking about the pirates and the Imperium, and I’m sure I don’t need to clarify which is which. This is all delivered through character portraits that pop up in the corner of your screen and talk to you a la Star Fox, except here they are undetailed and generic.

One of the island settlements of the Great Ursee

Another problem for The Falconeer is the disjointed and strange tutorial, or lack thereof. There is a sort of tutorial prologue, but it doesn’t teach you the important stuff, like what map icons mean. You have to dig into the manual or options to work some of these things out. It’s not that the game is complicated, it’s just poorly explained.

And that encapsulates the story experience, too. As we discussed, there are a handful of chapters in the story, each one seeing you create and play a new character in the Great Ursee (though, you keep and upgrade the same bird). There is an interlocking story that has something to do with an enigmatic shaman-esque individual, but like the game’s mechanics, none of this is explained in a satisfactory manner, and unfortunately it’s drab and convoluted. The story stitches together your actions as various characters, but you just won’t care or understand. This really could have been a clever plot device if the characters were not generic, the story was interesting and the gameplay mechanics were actually explained thoroughly.

Lock on and fire

I had high hopes going into The Falconeer, but I was ultimately let down. The story is hard to follow to the point that you lose interest, the combat is cookie-cutter boring, your warbird flies too slowly getting to and from waypoints, the missions are all largely the same, and the worldbuilding is generic fantasy. The Falconeer is not a terrible or broken game, it’s just boring and hard to recommend because it doesn’t spark any real fun or joy in the player. 

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A generic fantasy setting, confusing story and boring gameplay means The Falconeer fails to impress.
Jesse Gregoire

Starting with the Sega Mega Drive, I’ve been playing those video game things for what seems like an eternity. Anything with a good narrative is my passion, but you can also find me clicking the heads in FPS games, living a second life in a sim, or looking for those elusive objects in adventure games. I’m still trying to workout what happened in Metal Gear Solid.