The Falconeer (Xbox Series X) review

By Sean Carey,
I’ve played my fair share of aerial combat games over the years, and many strive to be the most realistic and serious, with the latest jets included, high-tech weaponry, and advanced computer systems. Sometimes you don’t want that. Sometimes you just want to sit on the back of a giant bird and shoot gargantuan flying moray eels out of the sky, y’know? And this is exactly what you can do in The Falconeer. It’s a third-person aerial combat game that plays out in a fantastical setting, one that’s filled with dramatic dogfighting, raging storms, and water. Probably a bit too much water.


Set in an ocean world known as The Great Ursee, you play as a Falconeer, a warrior that rides atop a giant warbird equipped with heavy weaponry. The game is split into five chapters, and you’ll play as a Falconeer for several of the warring factions located across The Great Ursee. The main two are The Imperium, which is made up of different noble houses, and the Mancer Order, a powerful group of scholars that control and limit all access to technology. Tensions have been running high between the two factions, and the Mancer order declares sanctions against some of the houses of the Imperium, which leads to an all-out war between the two groups.

For this review, I played The Falconeer across both the Xbox Series X and the Xbox One S, and both looked and performed superbly. On the Series X playing at 4K at 60fps was a real spectacle on the eyes. The Great Ursee, filled with its lashing waves and gorgeous sunsets, really popped on the next-gen console with its brilliant implementation of HDR. When switching over to the Xbox One S, the game renders at 1080p and still manages to reach the 60fps sweet spot with no frames being dropped even amidst the most intense and frantic of dogfights. Lone developer Tomas Sala must be commended here. The game looks visually stunning and plays extremely well on both Series X and Xbox One S.


After a brief tutorial, The Falconeer throws you in at the deep end by thrusting you into the Civilian faction to deal with some pesky pirate plunderers. Piloting the bird through the sky is simple and feels gloriously fluid. Swooping from a lofty height down towards the raging sea fills an energy gauge, which can then be used for more advanced manoeuvres such as defensive barrel rolls and speed boosts. It’s all very satisfying and feels wonderfully effortless, but it can take a while to strike a balance between energy conservation and flying, especially when your falcon is at a low level. Energy can deplete fast if you’re not paying attention, and when you’ve got an enemy warship and a rival bird on your tail, it’s easy to get shot out of the sky due to a lack of speed.

On the offence front, falcons are equipped with a lightning-fuelled gun located at the front of the bird. Deflection shooting, where you aim ahead of your target to account for movement and weapon trajectory, is the main mechanic at play here. You’ll be familiar with this if you’ve played the likes of H.A.W.X. or Ace Combat. It can be a little tricky to grasp from the off but thankfully, aim assist does kick in when you’re close enough to an enemy. To add a little variety into the mix, falcons can also pluck mines from the sea and drop them onto targets. However, there is no aiming reticle for bombing, so you either have to fly low enough to guarantee a hit, or guess. Nine times out of ten, I missed my target and ended up resorting back to the main gun instead.


Ammo tanks for the main weapon are recharged by flying into lightning storms, which can create some pretty intense moments. Fighting in a storm requires concentration, as not only does the storm buffet your falcon around, but ammo tanks can also overload if you’re not paying attention — which is easy to do if you’re in the middle of an intense dogfight. Add in some loud cracks of thunder, explosions, and enemies zipping around in nearly every direction, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Overall, this aerial combat is fantastic and a real joy to get to grips with. Swooping down for a strafing run over the top of a boat, to pulling off sharp brake turns to create a small pocket of space away from an enemy fighter and firing off a few rounds... there’s real drama here which is only intensified by the rugged and harsh landscape that surrounds you. And when you do finally shoot down that enemy falcon that’s been glued to your tail feathers, you are rewarded with a great feeling of accomplishment.

At the beginning of a chapter, you start at a faction’s outpost, and this serves as your base of operations. Here you’ll find several different people that offer lore, story missions, side missions, and can sell you upgrades for your falcon and its weapons. The voice acting from these folk, and all the characters in the game is a mixed bag — some are great, while others are a little off the mark, but this is more a minor gripe than anything.

The story missions are varied, with a good number of different objectives that stops things from getting stale. The early stages of the game are a bit slow-paced. The falcon you’ll be flying also lacks speed, so travelling from location to location results in a fair amount of downtime where not much happens. It would be fine if there were something to look at while traversing the game world, but considering it's mostly made up of water, there aren’t many sights to take in. A few of the major outposts and forts are quite the spectacle, featuring tall spires that reach into the clouds and colossal bird monuments to gaze at, and there’s also The Maw, an awe-inspiring trench that parts the sea that you have to fly through on certain missions. Aside from these few unique locations and features, most of the downtime will be spent flying over empty rolling seas — bar a couple of craggy rock formations — and through angry storms. Luckily, there is a skip ahead option for some missions that instantly teleports you to where you need to be, but even after using that, there are still some long, dull periods of flight.


The end of each chapter culminates in longer missions which are even more interesting. These are a real highlight, and you can expect some curious curveballs to be thrown your way. The combat is more frantic, and you’ll often be tasked with more surprising objectives. I went back through the story just to play through these finale missions because they were so much fun. However, the story, overall, is largely forgettable. Right from the get-go, you are bombarded with lore which makes the plot needlessly convoluted and hard to follow. It’s very Game of Thrones, and if you’re not absorbing everything that’s been said, you’ll probably find yourself getting as lost as I did. Things pick up and become a bit clearer towards the end of the game, but I never found myself caring about one faction or the other.

One of the biggest issues I found with The Falconeer was the lack of checkpoints during missions. If you die, you are immediately sent back to your faction’s outpost and have to reload the mission. This means you have to skip through all the dialogue again and fly all the way back out to where you just died for another attempt. This would be just about acceptable if the game didn’t suddenly spike in difficulty. I eventually resorted to lowering the difficulty down to Easy, but it was still tough at times.


One way to beef up your bird is by purchasing Mutagens, which allow you to boost your falcon’s agility, speed, and health regeneration. Currency (called Splinters on The Great Ursee) can be earned by completing story and side missions. The latter are a bit of a mixed bag, with some requiring you only kill a single enemy, and others have you delivering something to a far-flung place on the map. These soon start to repeat and quickly become boring, but you’ll need to do them if you want to upgrade your feathered friend. The best Mutagens and the best weapons are obscenely expensive, so if you want the best of the best, be prepared to grind out some side missions. Luckily, levelling up does boost your falcon’s stats, and although you don’t get to pick what gets upgraded, I completed my playthrough using a modestly priced gun and some very basic mutagens. You can also buy different falcons, but only once you’ve completed specific races dotted around the map. The issue with the various races is that the checkpoints you need to fly under are all attached to outcroppings or buildings, and the falcons really struggle with collision detection. Fly too close to an object and, despite not touching it on screen, your falcon can suddenly bounce off it in a completely different direction. This makes the races and a mission where you have to fly through The Maw close to the ground maddening.

Summary

Developer Tomas Sala has created a unique and engaging aerial combat game with The Falconeer. Dogfights are thrilling and filled with tension, and the piloting of the falcons feels incredibly slick, especially in the latter stages of the game once you’ve levelled up your bird. Visually, it’s hard to fault The Falconeer on both Xbox One S and Xbox Series X. The world of The Great Ursee is dramatic and looks gorgeous with its pleasing sunset vistas that really pop thanks to the game’s brilliant use of HDR. However, The Falconeer does fly too close to the sun in some areas. A largely forgettable and at times confusing story will be a disappointment to some, while inconsistent collision detection and a lack of mission checkpoints create frequent disappointing turbulence. Faults aside, for a game that’s been created by one person, and is one of the cheaper Xbox Series X|S launch day titles, you should definitely consider picking up The Falconeer along with your new console.
3.5 / 5
Ethics
Sean spent around 14 hours flying a giant falcon across endless seas and shooting down rival birds. The achievement list was not viewable during his time with the game. The game was played on both Xbox Series X and Xbox One S, and a review code was provided by the publisher.
Sean Carey
Written by Sean Carey
Hey, I’m Sean! I joined both TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies as a staff writer in 2019. I’m a big fan of the Metal Gear Solid series and love a good narrative adventure. Most evenings you’ll find me failing to get a win in Call of Duty: Warzone.