The Falconeer, for a small title, is an ambitious sounding game. Not just because it presents as being a semi-open world flight combat game with factions and light RPG elements, but also because of its attempts to create a lore riddled and atmospheric world. Pre-release marketing boasted of exploration, friendly and non-friendly factions, and exciting fantastical aerial combat, but while some of this remains true or at least impresses in its own way, The Falconeer turned out to not be 100% genuine.

You play as a character of your choosing from a very limited selection of appearances, names and classes. You will realise very quickly that The Falconeer plays out in a much more linear fashion than you might have previously expected. Though maintaining a small open world, progression favors a chapter format, with a handful of missions in each to complete in order. At the beginning of each new chapter you will choose a new character, however will carry over items and your overall level from the previous ones, including map progression such as how many places you’ve discovered, etc.

Character classes simply affect the stats you start out with, for example you can have a Falconeer that has more health but less speed, and vice versa, though you can modify and increase your stats in-game as well. At the beginning of each chapter, you start at your faction’s home base from which you can accept main missions and some side missions, and also access a store to kit out your bird. From here you can choose to get stuck in to the story, try your hand at a side mission to get some money and experience (or ‘splinters’) or just take off and fly around the world to see what it has to offer.

The world itself is fairly small, though for the pace of the game it isn’t insignificant. The Falconeer is set in an ocean world called Ursee, which is home to a number of factions residing on scattered bits of land and rock. Some of these factions get on with each other, but there is an ever present conflict and suspicion that ultimately keeps them all apart. With each chapter you play as a character from a different faction, seeing their side of events as the narrative progresses. While initially disappointed that you didn’t progress as the same character, making your own choices and allegiances, the way the chapters progress allows for an intriguing narrative design. You’re always on the cusp of discovering something and then you move forward to make a start with a different character somewhere else on the map.

Flying and combat in The Falconeer is simplistic in its design, but it’s dynamic enough that you can play around a bit and enjoy some tense encounters. You can roll and boost with your Falcon, this being useful for avoiding fire, and running away from or even chasing your enemies. Using these abilities consumes stamina though, and with a very limited supply you do have to be somewhat conservative, especially in larger encounters. The same goes for your ammunition. Carried on the back of your Falcon, ammo pots can be filled with a small selection of ammo types. This can be your standard electric ammo, fire or acid. Each is more useful against different types of foes, and each can only be refilled with its desired ammo type. For example, if you want to refill your electric ammo pots, you can fly into a storm, but if you want more fire ammo then your options include flying over a volcano or finding a lucky drop in the sea to circle around for a bit (destroyed ships sometimes drop these). Of course you can also just buy these pots, but obviously within the confines of a mission this isn’t always possible. It isn’t perhaps as big a deal as this may initially sound, but there were a few occasions later in the game where I needed to divert my course from the main mission area to find a storm – I assume this will be more significant on harder difficulties. You will need to be careful though as you can also overcharge your ammo pots if you stay in a storm for too long.

You can also purchase a variety of weapons which have different effects and styles. Saving up enough money for my first new weapon was a good feeling, and the difference it makes to overall combat was significant. The Falconeer can initially seem like a punishing game, however utilizing the stores littered around the world to buy better stuff is a quick way to correct this. You can also buy mutagens for your bird which improves its various stats. A bit of an extraneous feature though is the need to buy tokens or permits in order to trade with some of the factions. This perhaps would have made some sense for when you start as a new character with different allegiances, but again I found that these are carried over. In order to get the money for these purchases, you will need to complete missions and jobs. ‘Splinters’ can also be gained from defeated enemies, however you need to swoop down over the area they crash-landed in order to pick them up. As far as I can tell, gaining experience is linked with these splinters as well, though if I’m honest this aspect of the game was never particularly well explained.

Aside from the main missions available at your faction’s home base, you can also play a variety of side missions and jobs for the settlements around Ursee. These range from transport missions to bounty hunts and escorts, but all essentially involve a short trip to a location and a brief battle. Later on in the game you can also take part in defense missions and fort conquests which are essentially the same concept, just with larger battles. A good way to uncover the map is to take on jobs from the cartographer, who will send you to locations to discover settlements and shrines. While the various chapters describe the level of depth of side-quests (from limited to full) they are all unfortunately quite simplistic, and the only draw I felt to complete these was to break a bit from the main story and gain some money and experience. With regards to the factions and their attitude towards you (a feature boasted about prior to release) I didn’t see much evidence of this at all, and completing the various side missions doesn’t have any meaningful impact on the game.

The whole game is very much an in and out experience. While there are moments of slow paced travel and exploration – these moments being an atmospheric joy as you glide through the clouds appreciating the sky and the intensity of the sea below – missions are short and even the larger combat encounters aren’t as elaborate as you might hope for from a flight combat game. There are up to 10 missions in each of the five chapters, and as a rough estimate, it might take the average player around 6-7 hours to complete the game (if not less, if you really don’t care about the side content). It’s a shame, as the world of The Falconeer feels like it could have benefited simply from having more stuff to do. While the voice acting is utterly dire, the story that binds it together and the lore that you can uncover from visiting shrines and hovering over settlements on your map is really interesting. The story comes to a conclusion of sorts, however the ending isn’t what I’d describe as satisfying, and going back into the game a second time doesn’t hold much appeal in terms of replay value.

The combat itself is enjoyable, but much like the previously mentioned areas of the game which weren’t quite what was anticipated considering the marketing that lead up to release, I was very disappointed to find that out of all the fantastical beasts that are commanded through the air, your only playable option is the Falcon. No giant bugs or flying manta rays, and the dragons are only available in the DLC. Again, there needed to be more.

The Falconeer is a short, but quaint experience with some cool aesthetic and narrative ideas, and enjoyable brief action littered throughout, however it isn’t quite the adventure it could have been. It’s linear at heart and in need of further substance and perhaps also a victim of some undue hype, but for its asking price and creative efforts I would still be happy to recommend it. It’s easy to become wrapped up in its atmosphere and simple but sweet gameplay, even if it doesn’t entirely fulfill.