We've had our eyes on The Falconeer for a while now as the Xbox Series X/S launch title evoked more feeling and themes than a fairy tale, and if you want the skinny - it plays even better than it looks.
Now, fantasies of flight are nothing new - ancient cultures, Leonardo DaVinci, the Wright Brothers, Pink Floyd - they all did it. Hitting that dreamlike quality of the fantasy of flying, however, is a whole different affair, where Pink Floyd arguably had the most success. Until now, that is.
From the moment we've laid our eyes on The Falconeer, we've been pondering which video game we'd compare it to. And while you could compare it to many popular games - none of the comparisons work in reverse.
Developed by indie dev Tomas Sala and published by Wired Productions, The Falconeer is described as "an ocean-world fantasy aerial combat RPG". The words don't do it justice though, as it pulls off hectic action, RPG-like progression and the serenity of soaring through the air like no other.
As you can see yourself, the graphics is more on the stylistic side than realistic, which gels impeccably with the game's themes. The attention to detail is pretty impressive, doubly so knowing one person is at the epicentre of development.
"Building worlds is my passion, creating epic landscapes and hidden stories within... just waiting to be found", he wrote and it describes The Falconeer well.
Secluded islands, lovingly crafted and etched into the world; fish and whales splashing on the surface; majestic landmarks and tiny but equally as delightful bits of land; clouds, skies, day and night cycles - every bit of The Falconeer sings in unison, composing a glorious, fairytale-like graphical symphony.
Controls are pretty straightforward - there are standard directional controls and separate camera ones, the latter complemented by lock-on mechanic and an additional camera-track key. The Falconeer's bread and butter, however, are the buttons for shooting, dash and roll, and break and dive.
Being an aerial combat game, speed and altitude are crucial but unlike most games in the genre, The Falconeer lets you utilise islands and land features as cover. Diving refills your dodge and roll meter, which is key for manoeuvring the battlefield without getting blasted to bits.
Utilising air currents is as fun as it is useful, regardless of whether they're vortex-like upward ones, or rollercoaster-like, front-pushing ones. They're not essential, but are helpful and make flying pretty fun on its own.
The Falconeer gives you a choice between two birds of differing stats, one tankier, the other more mobile. More can be unlocked down the line via various methods, and just about all of their features can be upgraded, weapons included.
Ammo is stored on the pods on the bird's back, and recharging them is either done by scavenging enemy corpses or flying into stormclouds. The latter is actually pretty fun, as it features an overcharging mechanic that can leave you a pod short if you aren't careful.
The Falconeer offers different type of ammo, from regular lightning shards, fire bullets, acid blobs, and more. Different guns offer different ratios of rate of fire and damage, and there are ample other ways to further increase your damage output.
The Falconeer's combat should be familiar to air-combat game enthusiasts - it's a balancing act between managing altitude, speed and keeping the aim on, or more often ahead of your target. Taking down single targets soon becomes a simple affair - lock on, camera-track if you lose sight, shoot, dash, turn around, rinse, repeat.
It's when you've got multiple targets of a different type that the balancing act really comes to the fore. Other falconeers attack you relentlessly wherever you are. Flying zeppelins, which are flying fortresses, guard the air, while seafaring ships can quickly make you regret your dive.
This is when The Falconeer shows it's not out to coddle you. If you're not mindful of your surroundings and exposed to everyone, you die. If you lose speed, you'll die, or at least pay dearly. You'll have to think on your feet, pardon, on your wings, and keep your distance from heavy hitters in order to thin out the numbers. In short, the combat is pulled off masterfully.
The Falconeer's story, which we'll not be discussing today, is intricate and griping more than enough to keep you playing. The graphics is drop-dead gorgeous. The design of the in-game world is best described as magical, and the sound amplifies each of the above.
The Falconeer gloriously handles in-game dynamics, arguably my favourite part of the whole. The contrast between flight and exploration, and combatting enemies is polished to perfection, and yours truly would go as far as saying it's the heart and soul of the game.
One moment, you peacefully glide along the currents, looking at gorgeous landscapes, taking in the beauty and serenity - moments later, you're tumbling in the air, hectically evading your attackers and looking for different ways to bring the pain without having your feathers blown off.
The Falconeer's elements resemble many games, but neither offers all of them in such a complete and beautiful package. Whether you like exploring magical settings, fighting fantastic enemies or just like flying, The Falconeer will quench your thirst, and then some.