Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles Review – Endless Ocean Playgrounds

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles Review

Floating somewhere between an open world RTS game and a chill, endless builder, Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles has a unique approach to both. Director and developer Tomas Sala emphasizes that the game isn’t really about endgame goals or traditional victory conditions. There’s a campaign with back-and-forth trade and combat, but as long as there is territory to explore, the game keeps moving on.

Falconeer Lega-sea

Taking place 40 years after The Falconeer, Bulwark continues the original game’s art and aesthetics. The setting is the endless Great Ursee, a lovely oceanic environment. It’s a welcome change from the gritty darkness of most post-apocalyptic games. There’s a fantastic amount of detail in the building and ships, not too far removed from a steampunk-like concept of whirling gears and complex machines.

Bulwark welcomes the player into two, overlapping modes. Freebuild mode is essentially directionless building. In this mode, you simply paint the world and it’s scattered islands with buildings, housing, factories, docks and more. There’s very little tinkering involved and feels similar to Townscaper. You’re unconcerned with making citizens happy or stressful resource management. There’s some relaxed creativity involved, but the pleasure comes from simply seeing your autonomous collections evolve and expand. Bulwark’s has the kind of building mechanics that can be fun to drop into for a few minutes or get lost in for much longer.

Pick Your Battles

Aside from the Freebuild Mode, players can engage in three campaign-like scenarios loosely tied to the narrative fiction of The Falconeer. You play as one of three factions, with different starting locations. In the campaign, basic construction is the same, but now constricted by the demands of resource management. Like in other builders or RTS games, the loop of collect, build and expand remains familiar. Island-bound resources of wood, stone and iron are collected by extractors leading to an ever-growing variety of structures. Worker housing takes care of itself.

Expansion is the next order of business. You fly the airship to neighboring islands and then even farther afield, establishing new settlements, extractors, harbors and trade routes. You hire airship captains and recruit commanders to take control of your citadel-like towns’ defense. Enclaves of refugees join the labor force.

Not every faction you encounter is friendly or amenable to cooperation. Eventually, this leads to trade-route disruptions and naval or aerial combat. In Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles, combat is pretty basic and somewhat out of the player’s control. However, neither winning or losing a battle — or many of them — does much to bring the game to a close. The battles themselves are chaotic and colorful.

Construction Manual

As visually appealing and relaxing as Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles can be in Freebuild mode, the campaign needs a few more navigational aids. There simply isn’t much by way of guided instruction. In some cases — as with the complex resource flow overlay — the mechanics are sometimes confounding. For players accustomed to traditional RTS games or traditional city-builders with upgrade trees, the lack of coherent directions may frustrate. Granted, this is in line with Sala’s intention of letting the player make discoveries without too much handholding. It’s something new players should be aware of.

Aside from excellent art, environmental art and music, Bulwark generally works great with a controller. There are a reasonable number of options for optimizing the experience and the game ran smoothly.

When I previewed the game several months ago, I appreciated Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles for its setting and engaging building mechanics. I felt then — and still do — that the bones of a genuinely unique RTS are there, waiting to be more fully developed. But that’s not Sala’s vision. As the second game in a planned trilogy, each one offers a singular set of mechanics and experiences.

Solo Sailing

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is an impressive solo achievement. Its disregard for traditional goals, victory conditions or game-limiting objectives makes Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles stand out in a — pun intended — sea of builders. As a set of automated construction mechanics, the Freebuild Mode feels great. Sometimes the campaign scenarios sit uncomfortably in the middle, tasking players to discover how things work but not always giving them a clear, actionable goal. Fans of games like Townscapers will enjoy Bulwark very much, and players of more traditional RTS games will appreciate its fresh approach to the genre.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Beautiful art and world
  • Relaxing Freebuild Mode
  • Intriguing RTS variations

The Bad

  • Sometimes opaque
  • Combat feels tacked on
  • Will be too directionless for some