One of the most powerful scenes in the Lord of the Rings is when the Great Eagles fly in and pick up Frodo and Samwise after casting the one ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Monstrous birds that elegantly swoop in, clutching the pair carefully in powerful talons before gracefully carrying them back to Aragorn’s camp and friendly faces. Given I grew up wanting to be a pilot, this fantastical thought had me wondering just what it would be like to soar through the skies on the back of a giant bird.
Developed by Tomas Sala and published by Wired Productions, The Falconeer gives us a virtual taste of this experience in a beautiful open world. While there is a story to follow, players can for all intents and purposes choose their own path, earning experience, and the in-game currency Splinters, which can be used to increase your character’s RPG-like stats, or you can buy new and upgrade your existing equipment. The world itself is beautiful to explore, with a rolling weather system and plenty of islands to discover, but is predominately set in a vast ocean, it does feel a little on the empty side of things. Fortunately, you’re set on the back of a bird soaring through the skies, so you won’t be spending too much time fixated on this, and once the aerial combat starts, you won’t be at all concerned.
For the most part, The Falconeer controls quite well and appears to feature a couple of little details that many developers would potentially miss. As you spend all of your hands-on playtime in the sky, it handles in a very similar way to most flight simulators, though quite a bit more elegantly. Diving towards the ground will fill up a meter that allows you to temporarily boost your speed or to perform aerial maneuvers that will have you gracefully dodging incoming fire or avoiding collisions with your opponents.
Shooting your selected weapon, on the other hand, is a little less elegant as you can really only fire in the direction the bird is facing. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue for most aerial combat as once you release the controls the aircraft will follow true, but in The Falconeer, releasing the controls will level out your ride, so you’re constantly pulling a stick in various directions to try and keep your target in your sights.
Outside of combat though, you really do feel as though you’re in control of something elegant and powerful, and you’re reminded that this is a living creature whenever you release the controls, as your mount will start flying however it sees fit – climbing through the clouds or diving towards the ocean while finding its own path. This was a nifty little detail that I feel most people would overlook.
During my playtime, I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing an alternate version of Sea of Thieves. The Falconeer features a very similar art style, in that it has quite the cartoony feel to it. The world in which the game takes place has been beautifully created but does lack some of the finer details. The clouds look incredible, but explosions from a downed enemy all feel like they use the same model. The fortifications on the islands all feature a decent amount of detail but don’t exactly feel like they’re alive. There is a variety of characters to choose from, though you don’t really see too much of them aside from the character portrait and your falcon is a little lacking in the finer details.
My first impression really was how wonderful everything looked, but some more intricate details are missing. In saying this, are you really going to spend the time looking for minute details when you’re riding a giant falcon? Of course not.
The soundtrack is also a little hit and miss. The musical numbers are incredible, giving a real sense of romance and excitement, while some of the sound effects are a little underwhelming. Certain areas in the menus are narrated, and if you happen to accidentally move away and then back, it starts all over again. Your wingman will sometimes talk to you, but other times it’s just a quick burst of radio static and some writing in the corner of the screen. It was awesome to hear my falcon occasionally give off a screech, but I would have liked to have had some wind rustling in my ears to help set the tone and suggest I was traveling at speed.
While I found it difficult to stick to the story and instead spent most of my time exploring the world or completing side missions, The Falconeer has its own special appeal. For a title that was basically created by a single person, it has been beautifully crafted with the inclusion of many staple gaming elements. RPG-like character development, flight simulation, and real-time strategy aspects merge well with an amazing open world, allowing players to create their own unique experience. If Tomas Sala can create something this elegant by himself, I can only imagine what a whole team could come up with.
- Easy to learn controls
- Spectacular open world
- Elements from RPG, RTS, and Flight Simulation
- Small details such as the falcon choosing its own path
- Controls during combat can feel a bit clumsy
- Voice acting is inconsistent
- The story isn’t overly captivating