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May 2021

The Falconeer

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Wired Productions
Developer: Tomas Sala
Release Date: Nov. 10, 2020


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XOne/PC Preview - 'The Falconeer'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 3, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

The Falconeer is an ocean-world fantasy aerial combat RPG that combines classic dog fighting mechanics and acrobatic twists and turns with an awe-inspiring open environment and bestiary of fantastic enemies in land, sea, and air.

The Falconeer was revealed last year at the X019 event in London. While there were many impressive things about it, such as the world and the various effects, the one thing that stood out for many was the simple fact that you could ride a giant falcon. It has that same appeal that Crimson Dragon and Panzer Dragoon did in that you're riding on top of and piloting a majestic creature instead of a steel vehicle. With the game close to release and debuting at the same time as the duo of Xbox Series consoles, we got to check out a preview build of the game on the PC.

The Falconeer is set in a high fantasy world called the Great Ursee, which is mostly comprised of water with smatterings of rocky outcroppings. This world is split into four different factions, each with its own ideology that is constantly at war with everyone else. You take on the role of a mercenary falconeer as you choose your faction to fight against the other houses and against the pirates who loot everyone and cause chaos.

There's a lot to love about the world. Each faction has a significant amount of intriguing lore attached. The world also features some awe-inspiring bits, such as the ability to see anything from small schools of fish to large whales breach the water as large airships emerge from the clouds. The atmosphere also feels dense with fog and cloud cover, something that you'd appreciate since you'll spend a great deal of time airborne. The rocky outcroppings look interesting to explore, and you can do that any time since this is an open world and you don't need to participate in missions in rapid succession. The game starts off with a shaman in feathers pontificating about life and death, and the same priestess appears every time you die, alluding to something mysterious as the campaign progresses.

The combat feels both familiar and distinct. At its core, this is a flight combat game with many modern trappings. It only takes one button to initiate a speed boost or a barrel roll, but both elements take up your bird's stamina. You can lock onto enemies and get two aiming reticles, with the first displaying their health and the second displaying where you need to shoot to score a hit. While you don't have an on-screen arrow to show where a targeted enemy has gone, you can press a button to make the camera focus on that foe so you know where to turn to get them in your sights again. You can also send wingmen to attack your target if they're flying with you.

As for the unique elements, some of them play off your vehicle choice being a bird, while others play into the more fantastical nature of the world. Although the stamina used for speed boosts and barrel rolls can be gained over time, you can also speed up regeneration time by performing dives. Your main weapon is a pistol that fires lightning charges, and while you can sometimes find some orbs that contain elemental blasts to fill up your gun, your main means of replenishing ammo comes from flying directly into storm clouds and harnessing the lightning energy there without blowing up your batteries. You can also pick up mines from the ocean to drop them on enemies, but you'll engage in those attacks the least. The act of picking up mines is finicky, so you'll often emerge from the water empty-handed, and the lacking of bombing guides means that you'll likely be way off target when you drop the ordnance. The whole endeavor is complicated and has very little payoff compared to using a gun to blast away enemies from the sea.

Except for the bombing runs, the combat is engaging thanks to the lo-fi approach and varied enemies, and it makes the missions feel fresh even if they feel familiar. At any point, you'll be engaged in impromptu dogfights against enemies in the air and in the sea, and in the middle of a mission or escort missions, you may need to ferry precious cargo. Main mission can take place over several segments, or you can engage in both checkpoint races and bounty hunts for cash to level up yourself and your bird. That's what we experienced in our preview build, but with so many chapters locked away, we're interested to see if things get more varied as you delve deeper into the game.

There are only two things so far that players may get frustrated with. Your falcon won't always fly in a straight line, so if you leave the controls for a while, your bird starts to meander in the air, taking large banks left and right and some dives on the way to the destination. It may be a way to remind players that these are animals instead of analogues for planes, but it means that leaving the controls alone for a little bit will always result in you being out of position when a fight breaks out. The second issue is with the game's text, which is absolutely tiny. It already feels small if you're playing on a monitor, but bring this to a TV, which a good chunk of players will do since the game seems better suited for a controller, and every bit of text requires some squinting to see from a normal sitting distance.

Currently, The Falconeer has a great amount of potential. The detailed world and the epic lore complement the varied missions. Once you get used to the lack of assists like arrows for locked-on targets and guides for where to drop bombs, the combat becomes intense while still maintaining the feel that everyone expects from aerial combat titles. Look for more on the title as we get closer to its release date.

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