The Falconeer Hands-on Preview: Soaring Bird-Based Battles

We went hands-on with The Falconeer, and we had a really good time with it…

On a chilly February morning in London, Den of Geek went along to the offices of Ukie, a non-profit trade association that supports the video games industry in the UK, to meet up with a Dutch developer named Tomas Sala and try out his new game The Falconeer. Immediately, the game’s visual style caught our attention.

Set in an oceanic open-world called The Great Ursee, The Falconeer is a fantasy RPG that offers epic airborne battles. From crackles of lightning in the sky above to wild waves rolling beneath you, it’s a world that feels alive and active at all times. Playing host to sizeable sea creatures, eye-catching islands, powerful ships, and massive birds, The Great Ursee also feels lived-in and stuffed with opportunities for action. And this is a pre-release build with a lot more stuff still to be added.

Flying on the back of a giant bird, you’ll take on missions for a variety of different factions that each have their own island homes. There are lots of different types of missions: you might be defending a fortress, delivering a parcel, protecting a convoy, or engineering an all-out assault on a certain faction’s enemies. You’ll be able to earn favor with different factions, as well as play the game from different perspectives. You can even screw everyone over and become one of the outlaw pirates if you like.

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Lone developer Tomas Sala can reel off a huge number of flying combat games that have inspired The Falconeer, and his mention of TIE Fighter is a namedrop that will make fans of Star Wars games sit up and pay attention. During our time with the game, we really enjoyed swooping through the sky on our feathered friend, even though it may not be quite as sinister or cool as a TIE Fighter.

Whether you’re taking in the scenery or taking part in a battle, the bird-wrangling controls feel intuitive, and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of dodging blasts with rolls, firing at your foes, and recharging your weapons, which you can do by absorbing some lightning. You can also pick up bombs with your falcon’s talons and drop them on your targets, which feels very satisfying. There are a few fiddly bits that Sala is still working on – landing your bird in the right place is a bit tricky, for example – but there is still plenty of time for finessing since the game’s release date is yet to be announced. There is also some voice work to be done and cutscenes to be finished, and a few new features that Sala plans to splice into the game.

Even in an unfished state, as you fly around, you’ll notice that a huge amount of attention to detail has gone into creating this world. There are underwater temples and mysterious trenches that point to a larger mystery tied to The Great Ursee’s history. And there are also nods to real-life history, with barrage balloons in the air that echo a popular defense from air attacks that was used during World War II. Details like this make the world feel real and lived in. Even though the things you’re doing are fairly standard video game fare (shooting, completing missions, exploring), the thought that has gone into The Great Ursee makes the world feel really engaging.

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Creating stunning visuals, fun battles, and an array of different factions is no small feat for a solo developer, and Sala has also found time to build a Photo Mode into the game. In this mode, we were able to alter the day/night cycle in the game, resulting in some beautiful sunsets that are worthy of being your desktop background. Again, you can tell that a lot of thought and care has gone into this, even though the Photo Mode is hidden away in the pause menu. Sala has also gone to the effort of giving players a lot of options in the main game – you can hide the UX completely if you’d rather just soak up the scenery.

The full game will probably have 50 central missions and six hours of main campaign content, but we’re wagering that this world is one that people will want to hang out in long past the point of wrapping up the story. And given that quests can be procedurally generated, it seems like players will be able to swoop around as much as they like. We look forward to seeing The Falconeer come together, and it should be fun to play the finished game and explore its gorgeous world more fully. For us, it’s been a while since flying felt this free and fun.

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The Falconeer is launching on Xbox One and PC later in 2020.