With Halo Infinite being delayed, there has been talk about Microsoft's lack of major launch games for the new consoles, and much of this talk has actually been about older games with new features rather than fresh experiences that utilise the hardware in an innovative way. A title that has somewhat disappeared is The Falconeer, a new title from developer Tomas Sala, which is optimised for Xbox Series X/S, but which also works on the older Xbox machines and PC.
In this flying adventure, we get to play the role of a Falconeer, one who possesses the ability to ride and fight on the back of a giant falcon, and it is your job to tackle every conceivable nuisance between heaven and sea. There is a story to take part in, and it feels obvious that the developer has taken the time to build a credible world full of factions and alliances, but at the same time, it is difficult to feel too engaged in the story that takes place on the screen. Most things develop quite standardly with an old empire on one side and a lot of smaller factions on the other, and when you are mostly asked to shoot down one pirate fleet after another, interest simmers down fairly quickly. The fact that you are offered the chance to play from all sides is certainly a nice opportunity, but it only gives something to those who really feel invested in the saga to begin with, something I unfortunately never did.
In terms of gameplay, there are some nice things to pick up. Flying around over the rolling seas and among the sharp cliffs is very soothing and atmospheric. The battles do remind me a lot of the Panzer Dragoon titles, and it is generally a rather cosy action experience you are offered, together with the rather casual mission design. Shooting an airship before avoiding incoming enemy fire from another Falconeer is, really a heart-pounding and entertaining activity, but quickly becomes repetitive. I have not been able to play The Falconeer for more than an hour at a time, since it feels like I am starting to repeat the same mission and similar scenario over and over again.
Much of the problem lies in the pace and the general lack of variation. Although the missions are mostly very short, they also look too similar to each other when you have to fly out somewhere, fight against some enemies, or pick up an object, and then go home again. In addition, some quests can be a little tricky to master in the beginning, and having to replay these sessions was never particularly fun. You can certainly upgrade your bird with new weapons and tonics to make the challenge easier, but these additions are linked to a currency you get from doing even more boring missions.
The control is also a bit too sloppy, even if you learn to adapt to it relatively quickly. You can change the camera flow to make your movements a little slower, but I really appreciated the ability to fine-tune all settings to my liking. The crosshairs also needed to be changed a bit. Because as it is right now, the sight consists of a small white cross, but then, much else in the environment shares the light colour (a problem when you lock on to an enemy and are confused by the enemy's health meter and all the countless clouds in the sky, for example) then it easily happens that you lose focus on where you direct your guns, and it all, of course, leads to some frustration during the more hectic air battles.
The design, on the other hand, is wonderful. The simple, but oh so lively, graphic style is a joy to watch. Seeing the sun's rays flicker out over the billowing waves never ceased to tickle one's cosiness and when the thunder danced over the lively night-black water, I always grabbed the controller a little harder. The music is also very nice with a lot of Gregorian choirs that subtly rock you into different moods. For a moment, it is calm and quiet and then escalates to whipping seriousness, and the soundscape really deserves a little extra praise when it comes to bringing empathy. The voice actors, on the other hand, are a real raffle of hit & miss tickets. Sometimes it sounds acceptable, and even good, to then sound extremely bland. Sometimes they are actually so bad that you wonder if people just have fallen in from the street and started reading parts of the dialogue.
I hope in the end it does not sound like The Falconeer is a bad game, because it actually is not. Of course, it is not the strongest game out there, and there are certainly a lot of shortcomings in the layout, playability, and presentation. However, there is a fair amount of originality when it comes to the basic concept itself and the overall design, and I do not regret that I played this adventure, even though I yawned through some parts of it. Tomas Sala has laid the foundation for something exciting here, and hopefully, it can grow into something even more polished and entertaining in the future. Right now, however, there are more fun titles to sink your teeth into.
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