The end of the 2020 gaming year was just busy as all hell with all the big blockbuster names all enjoying the holiday season and post new generation console launches and I got to admit, I was lost in at least four different 100hr + games during Christmas. But one game certainly took me by surprise and was really one of the first games I got to test out my new Xbox Series S console with, a game that was almost buried by the bigger named titles but one that going into 2021 and the usual January absence of big releases and one that should make a nice entry into the new year if you missed it….you could say, The Falconeer is a great way to ‘fly’ into 2021 with!
Before I head into talking about the game it needs to be said that this entire game is the brainchild and hard work of just one person, not a big developer team with a massive budget but the sole work of just one person. That in itself is just a staggering fact to take into account even before you hit that start button. The Falconeer is truly ambitious and in many ways, it manages to give an experience that some AAA Games have failed to deliver but it also has some flaws and issues that show the problems when it is a very small team, or in this case just one person, trying to make a complete video game come to life.
At its core, The Falconeer is an open-world air combat game with a huge focus on the dog fighting style of aerial combat, which is a style of flying game I have loved for many generations from Star Fox to Wing Commander. I also arrived at playing The Falconeer are several joyful months of playing EA’s Star Wars Squadrons so it was actually rather nice to find another albeit indie attempt to keep the genre alive and kicking. It also offered a rare chance to see the very big difference that going from a big budget, big developer team produced game like Star Wars Squadrons to a much smaller scale single developer team with a much smaller budget with The Falconeer can be and yet there are times when The Falconeer manages to outdo what Squadrons accomplished and, in some areas, failed in the same ways.
I do have to begin by just applauding the visuals and art style of The Falconeer especially playing this on an Xbox Series S as well as an Xbox One X. Set in the world of The Great Ursee, a world that is mostly covered in water with four factions on islands making up the political war that is currently wreaking havoc in the world. You as the player, take the role of a protector of one of the factions, with other “chapters” having you fly on behalf of another faction for that chapter. You pilot on the back of a giant Warbird as you fly and explore the world taking on missions and the open world element and freedom is where the art style helps bring this world to life. Soaring high above the world or dive bombing and flying just above the water is a wonderful joy at times. From incredible storms to jaw dropping sunsets and sunrises, The Falconeer is a gloriously beautiful game that has a tremendous musical score. Being in this world, riding on the back of a giant bird of prey is at times very meditative and relaxing as it is exhilarating when you get into a good dogfight.
The world itself will reward the player for exploring every inch of it by revealing more and more of the lore and history of the world as you take on each of the four chapters which means working for one of the different factions. Going back to the fact that this is all the work of just one person, there is a hell of a lot going on in this world and the universe building with the lore and locations that makes it all the more impressive if you give yourself the time to really dive into it. The art style will certainly keep you wanting to experience more of the world and the flying mechanics ,which do take some getting used to at first, makes traversing the world a definite reward.
Missions can be taken which range from escort duty to courier style missions which will see you gather supplies or similar and tasked with delivering them safely. The variety allows players to tailor the experience they want to have in their gaming session and the Chapters which you would at first feel should work like a traditional story campaign in that you move from one to the other in a chronological manner actually all run at the same time, you are simply given the freedom to play them in any particular order which can be a little messy seeing how each chapter or faction play, will give you access to a different Warbird with different stats making it either very easy or very hard to adjust depending on when you choose to tackle them so I would recommend playing them in numerical order before maybe experimenting with that order in a new playthrough.
The combat however is really where the action of the game and the dog fighting can be truly intense right from the start with a short tutorial which gives you the basic elements of flying and fighting but once you are in the world itself it can still be overwhelming when you start off, almost punishingly so. The main flaw is that the targeting reticule moves so slowly compared to your turning, which if you have played any dog fighting aerial game is key to the combat. This can feel very clumsy sadly and though with upgrades to weapons and some practice you can adjust your playstyle to adapt to it, it really should not be a factor. After some frustrating combat scenarios, I would just go off and explore the world, focusing more on flying than fighting which thankfully the game does allow you to do.
This naturally brings me back to the reality that this was made by just one person, Tomas Sala, who should be absolutely commended for what he has achieved with this game, for the beauty of it and its flaws. I am being more forgiving for the fact this is an indie game and the work of just one person because the size and scope of The Falconeer is truly remarkable but it does have issues but despite them, for the low price of the game right now, for the beauty of the world which is impressive alone to experience on your new Xbox Series S or X then this is not a bad way to kick off 2021 especially as it just received its first DLC content which is FREE to all owners of game with “The Kraken”.
One thing is for sure, I would make a point of remembering the name Tomas Sala because I sense we will be seeing far more from him in the years to come and if given a larger team and budget, I am very excited to see what games he works on next.