The Falconeer is an ambitious and finely-tuned dogfighting and exploration game with a twist — you’re in control of a majestic falcon. Aerial combat has become something of a lost art in the industry, with games like Crimson Dragon doing their best to pay homage to classics like Panzer Dragoon — but one trap they’ve fallen into is trying to fit an existing mold instead of creating a new one. The Falconeer breaks free from those shackles by using the idea of a flight-based combat game, but making it an open world instead of a more closed-off one that limits what you can do or where you can go.
The Falconeers themselves are large falcons armed with weaponry that are out to take out rival factions — with a bit of turf warfare being the overarching tale being told. The narration plays out throughout the action and between missions with text boxes building on the lore. One thing to consider is that while the world is opened up to you, it’s largely empty — which reminds me a bit of Crimson Skies many years ago where you had a lot of room to move around, but had more structure to the action if you wanted it.
The most important part about a flight game like this is movement and that’s one area where the game excels. The smooth wing animation combined with the speed lines that appear next to you show off how much care went into it. Movement with the left stick is natural and the bumpers allow you to barrel roll, which is a godsend. It allows you to evade fire and get behind foes to attack them. Beyond gunfire, you can also grab mines from the water and drop them on enemies to deal out more damage. Your movement speed is slower than some may expect given that it’s easy to approach it like you would a Crimson Skies-style game, but I found that this made more sense as it’s a bird you’re using and not a plane and the slower speed did allow me to take more time with aiming.
This pays dividends when you’re surrounded by enemies and need to regroup a bit. You’ll need to do this a few times in some of the protection-based missions where certain items can’t take too much damage and you have to stop your enemies and make sure that whatever needs protecting is fine. The slower pace of the action also plays into sucking you into the world, which happens a lot when you’re starting off a stage and just get to explore the area. You don’t have to worry about enemies or what you’re doing — you can just shut your mind off and enjoy that particular moment in time. This approach allows you to truly appreciate the visual and sound design as a whole, especially when it comes to the crazier weather you’ll encounter.
This mix of calm and chaos is something that games like Panzer Dragoon Orta have attempted, but The Falconeer has perfected. The shift from just roaming around the area to getting into a mission-centric mindset is surprisingly organic because you don’t realize that you’re being taught as you explore. You’ll use things like rolls and more advanced movement not to evade fire — but to see a different part of the map. This approach winds up making you more ready than you would think before going into battle and prepares you for any kind of mission scenario that comes up. Even things like object protection missions are easier because you’re gaining more efficiency with movement in real-time and will be able to take down enemies faster as a result.
You can very well have serenity one minute and craziness the next, with thunder and lightning going off around you. The sound design is some of the best on the market today. During the aforementioned serene moments, you’ll have calm string music playing along with a bit of tuvan throat singing from time to time. You can also then travel right into an area with lightning and thunder and hear it flare up in each ear. In playing with the Astro A20s, it was remarkable to hear where everything was coming from directionally — and that made mid-air firefights even more intense since it’s almost sensory overload. You have all the beauty on-screen with the lush world and then the complete insanity of gunfire from every direction.
Outside of character model portraits in the corner during play, The Falconeer is a top-shelf production in every way. The game was designed to be beautiful every step of the way and is one of the most stunning indie productions on the market right now. You have exceptional detail in your falcon and enemies, with the world itself being stunning from every angle. The game was seemingly designed to be gorgeous no matter what thanks to its photo mode and that also works better here than in many games simply due to how picture-esque so much of the environment is. Animation is smooth for things like wing flaps and you have a lot of control over things like camera smoothness, which can be a big deal for barrel rolls as those can be chaotic. You can also adjust the size of the whole UI and not just purely adjust text size, which is a godsend for someone like me with poor vision.
The Falconeer is a resounding success in every major area. It’s a gorgeous game that plays like a dream and has more ambition than most games of its type. It has a nice, fair challenge to it and helps ease players into the action by wisely teaching you without going out of its way hold your hand beyond the early going. It’s got an intuitive design and is a must for anyone who loves games like Panzer Dragoon Orta or Crimson Skies. Anyone in the mood for a new dogfighting-style game will instantly fall in love with The Falconeer.