While the launch of the Xbox Series X, and S haven't been packed with major first-party releases, there have been a few key 3rd party titles marketed that take advantage of the new hardware – one of those being the aerial dogfighting game The Falconeer.
With 4K and up to 120 FPS gameplay on the Xbox Series X, this certainly stands as one of the most visually striking titles releasing this holiday season, but are impressive visuals enough to carry this falcon-focused flying game? After spending over a dozen hours playing on Xbox Series X and PC, I'm ultimately left feeling very mixed about my time with The Falconeer.
Bottom line: The Falconeer is an undeniably beautiful game with unique storytelling and jaw-dropping environments, but repetition ultimately keeps it from being great.
- Gorgeous environments
- Cryptic and intriguing storytelling
- Fun and rewarding aerial combat
- Unbalanced difficulty spikes
- Repetitive mission structure
- Lack of meaningful progression or customization
What I liked about The Falconeer
In my initial preview of The Falconeer, I praised the game's gorgeous art-style and captivating environments. These two elements remain the highlights of my time with this game. Some of my favorite moments simply came organically while serenely exploring this semi-open world. Encountering impressive wildlife while passively flying towards a quest went a long way in keeping me invested in this world and its inhabitants.
The initial feeling of taking flight as a falcon rider is a pretty magical introduction to the game and it genuinely takes a bit of focus and engagement to truly master the mobility of these elegant creatures. Riding roaring wind vortexes to propel yourself towards enemy forces is consistently exhilarating and made me pay far more attention to my surroundings. The subtlety of the forces of nature and their importance to navigating the map is one area where The Falconeer shines.
For players looking for a bit more action in their experience, the game also features some intense aerial combat that incorporates classic dog-fights reminiscent of titles like Crimson Skies or Panzer Dragoon.
The forces of nature and their importance to navigating the map is one area where The Falconeer shines
You'll fight an array of deadly enemies based on the faction you're currently playing as and eventually get to square off with some rather deadly boss encounters. Getting used to the combat does take a bit of time, as movement and aiming are tied to the same control stick, but once everything clicks with the targeting mechanics enemy encounters generally feel great and rewarding.
Another element of this title I really enjoyed was the cryptic way the over-arching story was presented. You essentially take control of different warring factions throughout the four main chapters of the game, experiencing unique perspectives and ideals from opposing militias. You can play them in any order, but ultimately, you're experiencing almost the same timeline for each chapter.
It was a great way to portray the complexities of each faction's motivations without beating you over the head with exposition. Player deaths also grant you additional insight into this mysterious world through the stories of a curious shaman. It wasn't the most gripping video game storytelling, but it was presented in a very unique way.
What I didn't like about The Falconeer
While there's certainly a lot to love about The Falconeer, there are also a handful of serious faults that really put a damper on my enjoyment of the game. The first and definitely most frustrating comes in the form of brutal difficulty spikes deep within stages. These jarring moments of unbalanced combat often caused my progress to come to a grinding halt.
I often enjoy a good challenge, but without in-mission checkpoints, you have to replay the entire stage and rewatch the introductory dialogue every single time you die. There were stages where I hit a wall of enemies and died within a few seconds out of nowhere, after being 10 minutes into a stage. Replaying the same 10 minutes over and over was downright exhausting at multiple points of my playthrough.
It's very tragic that the back half feels more like more of a chore than a game
My other major complaint stems from a lack of variety in both missions and customization. After a few hours of playing, you've seen basically every mission type the game has to offer. It essentially boils down to combat missions, escort missions, and delivery missions and each of them plays out in a very similar fashion. Outside of the occasional boss fight, you're effectively doing the same things over and over.
This repetition in mission design might be easier to ignore if there was a meaningful progression layer for your character, but outside of a few basic upgrades, there isn't much to customize. You can speak to vendors at various outposts in the game who will sell you items that boost certain stats, but obtaining enough currency to unlock them takes more time than simply completing the main campaign. With The Falconeer being close to a dozen hours, it's very tragic that the back half feels more like more of a chore than a game.
My final thoughts on The Falconeer
After having a very positive initial experience with The Falconeer, I can't help but feel slightly disappointed by the final product. Like I said previously, there is genuinely a lot to love about this beautiful game, especially when it comes to world design, art-style and unique storytelling, but there are few glaring flaws that some players won't be able to overlook.
If you're a flight-fan looking for a gorgeous showcase of 120fps gameplay on the Series X, this is a solid option, but casual players might have a tough time really connecting with The Falconeer. This isn't to say that you should avoid this title if you aren't into aerial combat. In fact, players who enjoy more atmospheric experiences like Sea of Thieves will likely find more than enough to keep them entertained, but be wary of the moments of frustration that take away from an otherwise charming and chill game.
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