The Falconeer preview (PC/Xbox One)

Coming out on November 10 to coincide with the launch of the Xbox Series X/S, The Falconeer is an aerial combat game that puts you atop giant birds as you soar across the skies and battle with enemies that are land, sea and air-based. Developed by Tomas Sala and published by Wired, it’s one we’ve been looking out for and one we’re happy to preview.

What we know

The Falconeer is being developed by Tomas Sala, acclaimed for his work on the Skyrim mod Moonpath to Elsweyr, and casts you as a falconeer character – which exist in different classes, each of which being upgradeable as you complete quests and/or emerge victoriously in battle. Aerial combat is the core of the game, but there is plenty of exploration to be done as well, as you traverse The Great Ursee and the islands and seas that comprise it.

The game is an open world take on the aerial combat genre, which allows you to explore the world’s architecture and the civilizations that inhabit it now or once did. Although there’s a narrative that slowly unfolds, there’s plenty of combat as well, and it features spectacular foes that are often based on real-life or mythical creatures, giving a unique feel to this game’s fantasy setting.

the falconeer

You’ll also be able to shape your own story through exploration and by how you align with the various factions within the game, as doing missions for one of them will make you less popular with another.

What we saw

We caught our first glimpse of The Falconeer about a year ago when we met with Wired and they announced they had signed the game, showing a few visuals that certainly intrigued us. More recently, The Falconeer was also the representative for The Netherlands in the recent EuroPlay contest, where it was also met with enthusiasm from fellow developers when we joined a shared Zoom call with them.

Since then, we’ve also been able to go hands on with an early version of The Falconeer, running on Steam and finally giving us a bit of firsthand experience with the game.

the falconeer3

What we thought

Despite a great soundtrack and opening screen, our original reaction to The Falconeer was a bit underwhelming. For a game that looks so stylish in its trailers and screenshots, the on-screen map and characters were surprisingly devoid of detail and character, the NPCs having a low poly look to them with very little in the way of animation.

Luckily, this feeling quickly gave way to a sense of being impressed once we got into the game itself. Flying your giant warbird and performing a barrel roll quickly made us fondly remember classic arcade titles like After Burner and G-Loc, but where those were essentially on rails the controls in The Falconeer are far more interesting and responsive – letting you dive for momentum or climb up using the thermal currents in the ocean.

Combat is where the game really shines though, although there is a bit of a learning curve since the in-game tutorials are quite limited in how they don’t tell you much more than what you can see on the controller page of the options screen. After a few initial moments with practice dummies, you soon engage impressive looking enemies, many of them forcing you to engage with different battle tactics depending on how they move, if they’re land, air or sea-based and if they have support systems that you need to take out first.

the falconeer4

Although that’s not necessarily new, one of the things that really stands out is the unique visual style that The Falconeer has – emphasized more so through some amazing camera angles and visual effects than through sheer detail. Remember how certain camera angles made The Matrix look cool? That’s what combat in The Falconeer feels like when you’re targeting enemies that aren’t directly in view and the camera pans, almost as if you’re part of a movie trailer that never ends.

A lower emphasis on visual detail doesn’t mean that The Falconeer doesn’t look good by the way – the flowing waves of the water, the lightning in the clouds, the mist-like shrouds that you pierce through and the unique enemies and structures all look striking, and fit together as if they’re an organic whole rather than individual layers that were stacked on top of one another. And as good as it looked, I was surprised to see that the game kept to a 140 frames per second framerate while maxed out even on a relatively modest 970GTX videocard. If you’re interested in 4K gaming, this is going to be a game that makes it possible. With a lack of system exclusives at launch, it’s also going to be one to target for Xbox One Series X/S owners!

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