Game: The Falconeer: Warrior Edition
Release Date: August 5th, 2021 (Switch release)
Platform: Switch, PC, Xbox, Playstation
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
When I was eight years old, I once had to spend an entire day sitting in my dad's office. We were leaving straight from there on a road trip, so I had to occupy myself all day long while he worked. Thankfully, there was a TV in the office. To pass the time, I brought in my Nintendo 64 with my copy of Star Fox 64.
I played that game for the entire day.
Gaming marathons weren't a new thing for me. I'd had plenty of days spent with a controller in hand. Most of those were playing Goldeneye or Super Smash Bros. or something with friends. So saving the Lylatt system that day was one of the first times I got that absorbed into a game all on my own. I've tried a lot of flight-based games since then, but none of them have really captured my attention in quite the same way.
On paper, The Falconeer: Warrior Edition feels like it should be a game that I'd love.
✅ indie game
✅ on Switch
✅ has aerial combat
✅ open-world setting
✅ RPG mechanics
✅ political intrigue storyline
There are a ton of things about this game that I absolutely love. At least individually. But adding them together…the complete package just doesn't quite work for me.
Water World x Panzer Dragoon
The story of The Falconeer has been really tough for me to latch on to. At the start of the game (and each time you die), some sort of mystic greets you with a small snippet of narration that seems to be suggesting that you, as the player, are reliving the life of someone from ages ago, Assassin's Creed style. Right away, this made me feel weirdly disconnected from the story.
I do believe the player is looking back at the game’s flooded, post-apocalyptic world from a vantage point further on, but it left me not really caring about my character.
I’m just a guy playing as another guy in the future who is flashing back to a different guy who is in the past of that guy but still in my guy's future. Unless it’s a fantasy world. In any case, that’s at least one too many guys for me to keep track of. Maybe more.
I was excited that they had me picking a character class and portrait, thinking that'd help pull me back in, but those decisions didn't seem to do much of anything. The classes just tweaked a few of the background stats that my bird started with, but not in a way that felt significant. And since the character is a silent protagonist I honestly don't even remember seeing the character portrait again after I chose it.
Lacking in Character
Add on to this the fact that you are playing as a Falconeer, riders of massive warbirds who protect small island civilizations throughout the world, and the disconnect got even worse. You see, you don't ever do anything as your character, because you are always controlling the bird in flight.
When you do land at outposts throughout the world, you just talk to quest givers and merchants through menus. The rest of the game takes place on the back of a bird.
I found it hard to connect with the story through my character, but I still liked the idea of this flooded world. Storytellers at each outpost fill in a lot of the world's lore. They give you in-world exposition about the cultures that live there, their history, and how the different islands interact with each other.
Don’t you love when you walk into a place and some rando just starts spouting history at you? The world is interesting, but the storytelling is slow.
Nothing really hooked me until a few story missions in, when the clan I was working for got wind of an upcoming pirate attack on a nearby settlement. They sent me to stop the pirates from taking over, but under orders to let the current occupants get obliterated first.
Being part of a community that would willingly let our neighbors be killed so that we could move in suddenly had me way more invested in how the story would unfold.
Ride Birds, Shoot Stuff, Repeat
Looking past the storytelling, this is a game where you fly around on a big bird and shoot stuff. The flight controls all work well enough. Your warbird flies at a set speed, and you can hit buttons to throw on a bit of boost or to slow down. Those skills are great for combat, where you have to maneuver around to get a good line of attack on your enemies. Usually your shooting at a combination of other warbirds, blimps, and ships. Adjusting speed and using a barrel roll to avoid attacks and get good shots at your enemies feels pretty good, but there wasn't as much variety in combat I was hoping for. Most of the encounters I engaged in felt pretty samey.
Engaging in combat is about all you do on your missions in this game. I've been playing Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories as a “turn off my brain and goof off” game lately, and that decade-and-a-half old game has way more mission variety than The Falconeer does.
You might start a mission being asked to fly a patrol route, which will end up with a firefight. Or maybe you need to deliver a package to another colony and along the way you get ambushed and get in a firefight. I got asked to help a team who located a sunken ship once, which ultimately just meant I got into a firefight above their boat.
This is an aerial combat game through and through. The aerial combat is fine, but it's really all that you do.
Exploring the Ursea
Wandering through an open-world can go a long way towards making me like a game that isn't quite clicking otherwise. Heck, I'm still picking away at Biomutant even though I think that game is utterly absurd, just because its environments are interesting to explore. The Falconeer‘s open-world looks great, but it has actually become one of my least favorite aspects of the game. The biggest issue for me is that the world is just a bit too open; everything is spread way too far apart.
This works wonderfully for atmosphere and story reasons because it really helps sell the importance of Falconeers in this weirdly isolated world. When you're actually traveling, though, it just means long stretches where you don't do much.
The closest comparison I can think of is The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, another game that takes place in a flooded post-apocalypse where you spend large amounts of time traveling from one place to another. However, Wind Waker has two advantages over The Falconeer.
First of all, there are pretty frequently enemy ships, sunken treasure chests, or some other distractions that'll pop up as you explore its Great Sea. There's stuff to do.
From what I've seen of The Falconeer so far, there's just not a lot to do while you travel. On missions, you'll run into pirates at pre-determined locations, but that's about it. I could see that shifting in later chapters of the story, when you've got more enemies, but for now the world feels kind of bland.
The second thing that Wind Waker does right is that it allows you to set the controller down. Yes, there are all sorts of distractions you can engage with, but you don't have to if you don't want to. That game is fine with you getting your boat pointed in the right direction, then running off to the kitchen to reheat some pizza.
When you come back, you may have run into a thing or two, but you'll probably still be on course.
In The Falconeer, you cannot let your attention drift for even a moment. The warbird you ride is loyal and obedient, but it's also got worse ADHD than I do. If you stop steering for about 15 seconds the bird will just start wandering around all on its own. He'll drift left and right and all over the place, and you'll end up on the wrong side of the map before you even get your pizza into the microwave!
The weirdest part of the open-world design is that even the game itself seemed bored by it. On some missions, as soon as you point your bird in the right direction you get a pop-up that lets you hold a button to skip forward to your destination.
This helps break up the tedium of flying from place to place, but that basically leaves you with decent combat without much between one battle and the next. I also haven't figured out any rhyme or reason for why that skip option is available on some missions and not others, which makes the whole thing even more frustrating.
The Falconeer: Warrior's Edition is a very pretty game that I feel like I should love, but it just doesn't click for me. The aerial combat is pretty fun, but I wish it had more variety. The story and worldbuilding are super interesting but are drip-fed to the player way slower than I'd prefer. The locations on the map all look great but they are way, way too far apart.
This game is a hard one for me. It’s not one that has critical flaws that kept me from enjoying it, like The Skylia Prophecy. Instead, it’s a very ambitious and pretty game that just doesn’t click for me.
Ultimately, I think I'd love this game a lot more if it had been built from the ground up as a more linear campaign, and less of an open-world. But since I don't think it's fair to score a game on what I wish it was, I'm going to leave this review without a score attached to it. There's absolutely a lot to like in this package, it just didn't quite hit the buttons I wanted.
Depending on what you think about the things I've mentioned, this could be a very nice experience for you. It's a good game that checks a lot of boxes, just not in the way I needed. It totally might for you.