Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles Review

Bulwark Falconeer Chronicles header

A successor to The Falconeer, Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is the second of three games to be set in universe created by developer Tomas Sala. Where you might expect it to follow in The Falconeer’s slipstream as an aerial combat game, Bulwark takes a much steadier approach, revisiting the vast watery expanse of the Ursee for a more sedate city builder.

At its core, Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles gives players the task to build up the settlements of one of the main factions in this world, each with their own ideals and values.  In the campaign mode, you will start with a location and one outpost, looking to build up from there, however where many city builders, Bulwark’s focus is much more about building and exploring rather than resource management. Yes, you do need resources to build up your settlement, but Bulwark’s way of managing this is through distance rather than inventory.

The main resources in the game are workers, wood, stone, and iron. For your Bulwark to grow, you need access to all of these items, and that is achieved through your shipping routes. You can set up operations where these items are found, though you can be limited to the number of resource extractors running at any one time. Or you can trade with other factions. Whatever approach you choose, you will have shipping routes to manage and defend. Each route requires its own start and end harbour, rather than one harbour having multiple routes. An issue with this is that if you want to have multiple harbours placed at the same location you have to be really careful with placement, as you cannot build harbours right next to each other. This limits your route options and can be frustrating when planning routes. A large harbour with capacity for different routes could have been much better here.

At each harbour you can assign up to three Captains to transport goods, or protect the route. You do not have access to many ship captains to start with, and this is where exploration is key.

Exploration is done through your own airship, the Surveyor, which you can direct to any part of the Ursee. Through doing this you will find ships, new outposts, resources, unique buildings, and commanders. A very important factor is faction alignment when finding unique buildings, captains, commanders, and outposts. If you are aiming to dominate as one faction, for example the Mancers, you would want to have Mancer captain, commanders, and outposts aligned the same way to avoid internal conflict and disagreement. In one playthrough, I picked up everyone and everything, then declared war on the Imperium. Sure, I gained some outposts but then I had a captain that would refuse to sail under the Mancer Order as a result, limiting my shipping options.

Of course, while war and trade is a big aspect of Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles, building is the most important. There is no menu of different building types to place, like residential and commercial. Instead, you use resources to build towers and pathways between towers, upgrade them, and then assign commanders to them. The taller the towers, the more imposing your Bulwark appears and the more impressive. Bulwarks cannot expand for ever, due to the depth of the Ursee, but you can post various outposts to expand your settlement. The one thing that is missing on console is a free floating cursor to select buildings instantly. Instead, you switch to buildings by essentially blueprinting a pathway and then selecting the building near it. A free form cursor would take some of the guess work out of selecting buildings.

War and combat is decent enough. In my war with the Bannerless I managed to take all of their outposts, but I could not find a way to end the war and negotiate a cessation of hostilities. This meant that there were times where trading routes were being attacked by the Bannerless, and though I could repel their attacks it was a bit of a frustration. In battles, you can direct where your Surveyor will go, and it is equipped to fight but it is really a case of flying about a bit and waiting for a side to dominate. If your surveyor gets destroyed it is no massive deal as you will get another, but it can take time to rebuild your battlegroup.

The campaign features a number of choices and events to grapple with, but if you want to ignore all of that Bulwark has a freebuild mode too. In this you can place whatever outposts you wish from whichever faction you like anywhere you want, and craft a world on the Ursee to match your vision. It is essentially a blank canvas mode for people to really indulge in their imaginations.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles has some depths to it, but is definitely geared towards a more casual and relaxed experience. There is no fail or game over state as such, with there being plenty of leeway to take the game as you wish. This freedom is welcome but comes at the cost of having a world where you see a lot of what is on offer in a relatively short amount of time. Another downside is the voice acting of your advisor. He sounds disinterested a lot of the time, even when in a combat situation or giving you a bit of a telling off for trying to build a harbour next to another harbour.

Summary
Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is an approachable take on the city builder for players of many skill levels. It encourages experimentation with your settlement layout and exploration in the Ursee, but some design decisions don’t feel as smooth as they could be, like selecting buildings or interacting with other factions. If you are a city builder fan you can sink hours into this, but do not expect it to have the same depth as others in the genre.
Good
  • A very approachable and comfortable city builder
  • You can approach expansion in whatever way you wish
  • Continues The Falconeer's lovely visual style
Bad
  • The harbour situation is a bit frustrating
  • Inter-faction interaction needs some refinement
7
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From the heady days of the Mega Drive up until the modern day gaming has been my main hobby. I'll give almost any game a go.

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