Taking to the skies of The Falconeer’s fantasy world of aerial combat

If the game’s name doesn’t give it away, The Falconeer is an aerial dogfighting game that’s a bit different from the norm. Instead of popping you into the cockpit of a fighter jet or sending you off into space in an X-Wing, you’re flying one of the huge titular falcons through the sky, battling for supremacy against other riders and birds.

Hang on a second, why is it called dogfighting and not birdfighting, anyway?

The game looks sublime, the water raging beneath you as you soar through the sky and take on other riders, airships, ships, sea creatures and more. There’s an agility and grace to the bird that immediately feels engaging as you pick up the controls, and battles are fast and fluid. There’s a healthy amount of auto-aim helping with this being a third person game, and you can easily snap your view to look at your target enemy, helping you move in relation to them and bring your bird around to face them.

A lot of your manoeuvrability depends on how much energy you have. This is tied in part to how high you’re flying, depleting and refilling as you climb closer to the clouds and sweep back down, and that builds up your birds speed. It’s the speed that you then use to perform barrel rolls and dash moves, with more moves like a speed stall still being mulled over to enhance your abilities even further.

Though you’re riding the back of a bird, you’re not resorting to primitive technology, and instead have energy cannons to fire off at the enemy. This is charged up by flying through thunderstorms, the electricity fizzing into your weapon and being fired off at your prey. It comes in three elemental types, red incendiary, green caustic and blue, well, lightning.

But that’s not the only trick that you have up your sleeves. While you’ll be able to knock other birds (and dragons. Did I mention there were dragons?) out of the sky just by landing enough blows, other enemies might want a more targeted approach. You can fire into a ship’s sails to slow them down, or blast away at a blimp’s engine to leave it just floating in the air. Similarly, fire at their turrets and damage can cascade from one gun to another, causing a ripple of explosions across their hull.

It’s simple to pick up and play, but there’s meaningful depths there and more to come as developer Tomas Sala hones and refines his creation.

The Great Ursee world of The Falconeer is fascinating one, even if it falls into several well worn tropes. The vast majority of the planet is covered in huge, raging oceans, with just a handful of pockets of land on which life can flourish. So many boats will sail and travel back and forth, but so too do the beasts of the sky.

Holding the keys to the ancient technologies of this world are the Mancers, closely guarding their secrets and only bestowing them upon a select few. They look down on the power struggles of the Imperium and its various houses and factions, who must come and request assistance. But beneath them all are the ordinary folk, under the heel of oppression, simply looking to survive amidst the Freebooters and pirates, whether that’s through honest living or turning to more illicit means.

The Falconeer revolves around a single conflict between these various factions, but you don’t pick one side, you play as them all, hopping between the various factions and getting to see as many sides to the story as possible. Yet this is also an open world game filled with procedurally generated events and missions, alongside the more narrative handcrafted missions which come with BattleMap introductions familiar to anyone.

Carved right down the centre of all of this is the Maw, a magical Moses-style trough cut into the water and peeling it back for anyone to fly down into and explore. In fantastical fashion it’s bridged by a single wide aqueduct, the Mawbridge, controlling the flow of sea traffic from one side to the other with a healthy tithe to be paid to the Imperium. It’s sure to be a key part of the battle for the fate of this world.

However, that won’t be the only time that the ocean is peeled back, as mythical missions might take you to explore underwater temples, potentially revealing some of the mysteries behind this fantasy world.

The scope and scale of The Falconeer is stunning on several levels. Not only is it putting a fantasy spin on the untapped aerial dogfighting genre, but it’s doing so in an open world filled with lore, clashing factions, and stunning visuals. To think all of this is the work of just one guy makes it all the more impressive.

Coming to PC and Xbox One later this year, this is absolutely a game to be keeping a bird’s eye out for.

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