An Open World Air Combat Adventure
The Falconeer was the first game I downloaded on my Xbox Series X. It was a game I had followed throughout its development and its blend of fantasy and flight combat was instantly appealing. I deeply enjoyed it on Xbox Series X, but with a flurry of other things I was eager to try on the new system, I never took the time to fully invest in The Falconeer. Then came its surprise announcement on Nintendo Switch, followed by a very early review code. Unlike most reviews where I have to play quickly to get a review in by embargo, this was a rare instance where I could simply sink into the game, and that's exactly what I did. The Falconeer may have been a factor in my purchase of the Xbox Series X, but the Switch release has been the version that clicked.
The Falconeer combines aerial combat, a piratic, fantasy setting, and a vast open sea and sky to create something wholly unique. You play as a pilot attop a warbird. From your mount you’ll fly across the Ursee, a vast ocean world dotted with small islands. The campaign is split into multiple chapters that can be freely jumped between and replayed. Different chapters position you as a pilot in service of different factions. The lore of each faction and the world at large is surprisingly dense, but you’re free to take it all in or simply skip to shooting stuff. That being said as I got my sea legs under me, I found myself highly invested in the storylines gradually developing across the various factions.
Gameplay in each chapter has one primary quest line but you are always free to take on additional quests from your home island or simply take off and search for adventure on your own. Most islands can be landed at and many include traders and their own set of optional quests. That said, the availability of these functions is dependent on your status and the status of your faction in relation to whomever controls a given island. Taking the time to venture off and seek out additional quests yields financial rewards along with experience points. Money can be used to buy equipment, and your level affects stats, which will carry over into later chapters. While the difficulty curve in Falconeer isn’t unfair, it is constantly rising, so taking on side quests is highly recommended.
The majority of quests, be they primary or secondary, take the form of combat encounters. Here is where Falconeer truly shines; your warbird legitimately feels like a living creature and not an airplane or spaceship. It has stamina that can be depleted by trying to quickly gain altitude or accelerating. It can also simply tuck its wings in and plummet quickly, which can be helpful for making a quick getaway. This all means that your position when entering a combat situation becomes the difference between victory and defeat. If you fly in low you’ll likely be staying low as the stamina cost to climb up and out of a crossfire is prohibitive. But if you enter from high up in the clouds you’ll have plenty of potential for quick dives, and an advantage on enemies below you. Because of these considerations The Falconeer takes some getting used to, even if you’re familiar with other aerial combat games. And it's worth getting used to, as combat is not only deep if given the chance, but also the bulk of the gameplay. While occasionally a side quest quest will involve delivering a package or some other alternative activity, they almost always ultimately result in a fight. I could definitely see an argument for this being too repetitive, but at the same time, this is a flight combat game at its core. Complaining that there is too much aerial combat feels a bit like saying Tetris has too many falling blocks.
As for the Switch port itself, I couldn’t really ask for anything better. In fact I probably would have settled for less. The entire game runs with no loading beyond the main menu even when fast traveling. It also maintains a constant 60 frames per second. That’s right, no 30 frames per second drop for this Switch port. I posted a full technical breakdown back in June that goes over all the changes that were made. The performance on Switch has actually been improved since then with better image quality than it had during that preview period. If you’re interested you can find a link to that video embeded below. All of this results in a game that plays fantastically both docked and handheld.
It has been odd returning to Falconeer to polish off this review after taking a break to play the recent remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. In a way The Falconeer feels a lot like how I would have liked the sky portions of that game to work. In another Zelda reference, the island hopping across an ocean world reminds me a bit of Wind Waker. Mix all of that with Crimson Skies and you’ve got a pretty good idea for what is on offer in The Falconeer. It is hard to describe simply because it is so unlike any other one thing. Even as someone who plays a lot of games that are theoretically in the same genre as The Falconeer, I have to say that I’ve never played anything quite like it. On top of all of that the Switch version itself is among the best Switch ports we’ve ever seen. This is a rare instance of a game that feels perfect on the go but also looks great on a big screen TV. Yes, the core gameplay loop is fairly simple, but The Falconeer never really pretends to be anything other than what it is and it excels wildly at it. If you’re a fan of aerial combat games and want to try something outside the usual realm of fighter jets and spaceships, I can strongly recommend trying out The Falconeer. While it may get repetitive for some, the core combat loop and lore filled world drew me in and I’ll likely be returning for more very soon.