Developing a console launch game has always been tricky. You’re either remembered as the star of the show or forgotten shortly after release and left to the annals of gaming history. Launch game are even trickier in 2020, with developers trying to launch across current gen, next gen and PC all at the same time.
With all of this in mind, The Falconeer still feels like a next-gen game, happily touting 4K resolutions and 120Hz modes on the new Xbox consoles, but scaling that all back down for the base Xbox One as well.
The Falconeer is a dogfighting game, following the likes of Ace Combat and Star Fox as it provides big aerial battles that focus around the fundamentals of attacking and evasion. The Falconeer changes the formula slightly by introducing an open-world to explore and a vast, ongoing narrative to experience. Simply calling this a dogfighting game feels misleading as there’s so much more going on at the core of its gameplay.
Unlike many dogfighting games, rather than controlling a ship or a machine that has no free will, you are commandeering an autonomous bird. While you are always in full control in The Falconeer, there are little things that remind you about the giant, living being that you’re riding. Dive down into the water below to pick up an item and you’ll have to rely on your bird to actually pick it up. There is no button for the action, you instead have to guide your bird and let them do the rest of the work. When you’re simply cruising from one location to another, if you leave the controls alone for a few moments, the bird will take over, starting to weave through the sky and drifting off course as its desires take over.
During fights you can evade attacks with a dodge button and boost your speed with the same input. This isn’t something you can do indefinitely though, as the bird has a limited amount of stamina. Flying through an electric storm or dive down at speed will refill your stamina, but it’s something you’re constantly managing. Most fights are a balancing act, between acting aggressively enough to defeat your adversaries and balancing your stamina and ammo, although there’s always typically a storm reasonably close by.
The world of The Falconeer is known as the Great Ursee, a vast ocean split between five different factions. Each one of these factions plays an important role in the narrative and the gameplay, with all of them providing missions to complete and stores for you to shop in. What makes the factions interesting is the ways in which they interact within the game. There are clearly tensions between each of them as you travel from one to another, but in the early part of the game you are mainly there to build your reputation with each one by doing jobs.
There’s clearly a very grandiose story being told, and there’s a surprising amount of depth to the lore you find. The world feels fleshed out with numerous tales and anecdotes of history and landscape. What makes this even more impressive is that The Falconeer has been created by solo developer, Tomas Sala. For one person to put this much depth, lore and heart into the game is impressive and it shows in the quality of the gameplay – thankfully he’s had some help from publisher Wired Productions to help scale the game across all the different hardware options.
Previewing the game on PC and playing The Falconeer on a high-refresh rate monitor is an utter delight. Everything from the clouds above through the unforgiving sea below look absolutely fantastic with smooth animations that bring every inch of this spectacular world to life. It’s stylised and lacks the miniscule detail that you’d get from a Naughty Dog or The Coalition game, but it still looks fantastic.
Those eagerly awaiting an Xbox Series X or S on 10th November will also be able to indulge in 120Hz gaming on a supported TV or monitor, but this game scales from native 4K on Xbox Series X all the way down to 1080p on Xbox One S and 900p on Xbox One, but with 60fps as standard. We’ve also checked the game out on Xbox One X, and it still looks, feels and plays fantastically well, matching the Xbox Series S with its 1800p and 60fps target.
From what I’ve played so far, The Falconeer is going to be something very special. There’s real depth in the world presented here and the combat and visuals are fantastic to match. While it may not visually look like a step forward into the next gen, it represents a significant leap for what small indie games can try to do. The level of quality and detail created by one person is truly impressive. This is one to watch out for when it launches alongside the Xbox Series X|S on 10th November.