The Falconeer is an aerial combat game, focusing on characters who pilot huge, gun-sporting birds in order to go to war with pirates and protect their lands. You will play as a variety of falconeers throughout the game and your objective will be to help the people of each island with various missions and tasks, usually involving retrieving, destroying or protecting something, for which you will be rewarded upon completion.

The game is set in a gorgeous open world with a unique, almost hand-painted art direction. The game is very unusual in that, not only is the entire game (sans audio) created by just one single developer, but the game features absolutely no textures. Everything in the game is done using clever shading, right down to UI elements. The result is something of a one-of-a-kind, breathtaking art style which pays dividends. The majority of The Falconeer’s open world is covered in water, with small island settlements sporadically placed with the oceans. I say sporadically, as one of the game’s flaws is that this stunning open world quickly begins to feel a touch too empty. The gap between settlements is oftentimes very large and consists of nothing but empty, open water. The addition of some smaller, hidden areas filled with secrets to explore would have gone a long way in breathing some further life into the dead waters of The Falconeer.

A surprising amount of depth is present in the lore of the game. Each of the islands has their own unique culture, purpose and backstory and the interactions between islands are not always entirely friendly. You will begin the game working with the mining settlement Dunkle. After completing some tasks for the island, you’ll eventually run into some trouble during a delivery run to a neighbour. Unfortunately, the residents of the island to which you were delivering refuse to do any further business with Dunkle, despite Dunkle not being associated with the bad guys who came to attack and intercept the shipment. This is just an early example of the many exciting plot elements which occur throughout the tale, serving to display the complex relations between the autonomous islands of the game.

The Falconeer is a strange game in the sense that, from an outside perspective, you would guess that the game will be light on story and lore but heavy in satisfying and inventive gameplay. The reality is, in fact, the opposite. The Falconeer’s narrative and backstory is incredibly well developed and interesting and is likely enough to hold your interest for the duration of the game. On the other hand, the gameplay is where The Falconeer falls flat.

The vast majority of missions in The Falconeer are extremely similar, involving flying to a map marker, destroying a few ships and/or enemies and then returning to your island. This tends to get quite boring after a few hours in and the game does not do much to shake up the core loop as your progress. The combat itself is equally unimpressive. You only have a single, fast-firing light gun attack to use, in addition to usually having an assisting teammate who you can order on a target. While the flight mechanics feel smooth, responsive and satisfying, the combat is very much a one-note affair and the lack of alternate combat mechanics really sours the gameplay experience.

While this wouldn’t be a major issue if The Falconeer were a short and sweet adventure, the reality is the game is, in fact, quite long. A full playthrough should easily take you over ten hours even without attempting to go for full completion. It really is unfortunate then, that Tomas Sala didn’t manage to architect a more varied gameplay approach, perhaps one which evolved over time to introduce additional mechanics which could freshen up the gameplay loop.

Despite the drawbacks which hamper The Falconeer, the deep, well-written lore in which the game is drenched pairs perfectly with the beautifully picturesque visuals and this provides the requisite amount of captivation to keep you hooked through to the end of the game. If you’re looking for an Xbox Series X|S game to play which can deliver a visually striking experience at up to 120FPS, the Falconeer delivers a compelling experience, albeit one which offers little in terms of gameplay variety or side content.

DISCLAIMER: This review was carried out on Xbox Series X|S using review code which was kindly provided by the publisher.