When The Falconeer was first revealed at XO19 I was immediately intrigued by the concept and captivated by its art direction. Stylized cell-shading introduced us to a fascinating world where humans use giant birds as fighter planes. The moody trailer gave us some quick glimpses of various locations and even creatures we'd encounter on our journey in this wild, new land.
Wired Productions certainly got a lot of people's attention after this reveal and since then many flight fans have been eager to see more of the game in action, especially now that we know it's launching alongside the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, as well as PC. I've spent several hours playing Chapters 1 and 2 of a beta build for The Falconeer and from what I've seen so far, this unique flying game is equal parts intense dogfights and atmospheric exploration.
A balanced gameplay loop
Most games that feature flight combat, tend to focus on flight combat. If you've played games like Star Fox or Crimson Skies you know essentially what to expect from each mission. Go in, blast some enemies, and maybe fight a boss. I initially went in to The Falconeer expecting a similar experience and the fast-paced tutorial only served in cementing those expectations for me. However, when the game fully opened up in Chapter 1 I realized this adventure would be far more open and fluid than the traditional mission-based structure of something like Star Fox. It's certainly not an open-world game in a modern sense, but each of the zones feels fairly sizeable and expansive.
In between the defined combat or quest areas are beautiful landmarks and locations to explore. There's this really intriguing balance of up and downtime that most action games simply don't offer. It strongly reminded me of Sea of Thieves in this way. The sections with enemy encounters were frantic and intense, while the segments leading up to them were gorgeous and relaxing. It's very rare that a game can successfully deliver excitement and serenity in the same package.
A variety of mission types
Another major design detail that impressed me during my time with The Falconeer was the sheer scope of mission variety. Even early on, I was introduced to a wide range of distinct objectives. While some of them were more straight-forward like taking down a crew of pirate raiders with my wingman, others involved goals like retrieving precious cargo from wreckage and safely delivering it or escorting an ally ship through hostile territory. This mission variety kept the pacing of the experience interesting and balanced.
In a slower, more atmospheric game there's always the worry that the gameplay loop may ultimately become monotonous or repetitive, but with The Falconeer, I really enjoyed the way I was gradually introduced to new mission types and game mechanics. So, while not every moment was necessarily action-packed, I was consistently interested to see where my missions would take me and what I might encounter on my travels. There seems to be a lot more here than simply aerial combat.
The power of flight
While a majority of modern flight-focused games feature machines like futuristic space crafts or traditional planes, The Falconeer taps in to a more primitive form of transportation in some really interesting ways. Birds, especially falcons, are strong, graceful creatures, but when compared to a F18 or others warplanes, they're significantly slower. The mobility in this game is tied heavily to gravity and mother nature. Dramatic aerial dives are your easiest trick for gaining speed and momentum as you make your way across these sprawling ocean landscapes. There are also small air swirls that form just above the waves that assist in launching you airborne, in addition to powerful wind tunnels that will give you maximum speed.
Being aware of these useful aids is crucial to maintaining speed and mobility on your bird. These unique gameplay mechanics really helped create an engaging and immersive experience. There's definitely an initial learning curve to understanding these forces of nature, but once these elements click movement becomes so much more satisfying than simply flying another aircraft.
A curious, colorful world
To avoid spoilers, we won't be touching on key story-related details in this preview, but I did want to spend some time talking about how genuinely captivating this world is. Not to keep recycling game comparisons, but many of my favorite aspects of the environment design from Sea of Thieves can be found in The Falconeer. The nautical comparisons are a bit more obvious, but even the way this game handles landmarks can be compared to Rare's swash-buckling sandbox game.
Dynamic weather and day/night cycles make this world feel vibrant and alive. Additional ambient details like whales bursting from the waves, groups of fishing splashing and bouncing from the water, and even strange creatures flying through the sky, add a lovely sense of character to The Falconeer. I'm excited for players to experience the curious and cryptic story for themselves, but for now, I can confidently say I can't wait to uncover the mysteries of the deep and the origins of the falconeers.
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Miles Dompier is a Freelance Video Producer for Windows Central, focusing on video content for Windows Central Gaming. In addition to writing or producing news, reviews, and gaming guides, Miles delivers fun, community-focused videos for the Windows Central Gaming YouTube channel. Miles also hosts Xbox Chaturdays every Saturday, which serves as the Windows Central Gaming weekly podcast.