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Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles Review

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles Review

There’s always something incredibly satisfying in games about watching your small settlement grow into a large metropolis, and Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles intends to take that feeling to another level. Coming to us from solo developer Tomas Sala (who even makes a cameo appearance with some advice to get you started!) this open-world city builder, set in the same world as Sala’s previous title, The Falconeer, takes an interesting spin on the usual strategy formula. But does the unique design propel Bulwark into a league of its own, or do the original ideas fail to create an engaging title?

Despite being a direct sequel to the aerial combat game, you don’t need to have played The Falconeer to enjoy Bulwark. The prologue does a great job of setting the scene: the world of the Great Ursee is an almost infinite stretch of treacherous water, broken up by small, rocky islets occasionally jutting out of its deep blue expanse. Despite these harsh conditions, there are people and creatures who inhabit it, but life is far from easy: villages and structures cling to the sides of mountains or balance precariously on ramshackle platforms with nothing but the ocean below them. It makes for a very captivating location for a videogame, especially a city builder!

After the initial tutorial, players are basically free to expand and improve their bases and towns as they see fit. It’s surprisingly open-ended, with no “wrong way” to play. It rewards experimentation and building different structures in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible, which I found myself constantly doing; “Oh, that section of housing doesn’t quite look right so close to those docks, let’s destroy them and make it look prettier!”. Sorry tenants, but my bird’s eye view of the surrounding area was messing up my feng shui!

There isn’t a huge emphasis on a storyline; instead, Bulwark gives you the task of trying to create the last great settlement on the Great Ursee whilst forming alliances with or waging war against other factions found throughout the world. I do wish more lore was included, as this world is an intriguing one, full of mystery; anyone looking for a game with heaps of world-building whilst they’re building may be a tad disappointed. Alternatively, you can forgo all that and just relax and build a limitless city in the Freebuild Mode, which removes any conflicts and resource limitations!

Visually, Bulwark has such an original look to it, and the minimalist and low-poly style works really well here. It will certainly look familiar to those of you who played The Falconeer, with great building and vehicle designs and that sort of thing, but being able to zoom right into your settlements and see just how much detail is there was always impressive. You can wildly build structures all packed tightly together, and instead of it looking like an absolute mess of housing and protective walls getting in the way of each other, the procedurally generated designs will flow over one another (for example, a crude walkway passing over a stone wall) to create a hectic, yet functional, path system.

There are some clipping issues here and there, mainly with buildings merging into one another if you zoom in close enough, but when you’re taking in your empire — from the highest mountaintop spire to the dock that looks like it may be washed away by raging tides at any moment — it’s a beautiful sight to behold! It’s nigh-on impossible to create a city that doesn’t look practical and at least somewhat aesthetically pleasing, and I found that even cities that had that “organised chaos” feel were still pleasant in their own way.

Audio is similarly minimalistic, but once again, that is by no means a bad thing! The peaceful tunes heard whilst you play were always very soothing, and this is a soundtrack that would help me drift off to sleep, especially when combined with the in-game storm and heavy rain sounds! It just evokes a feeling I rarely experience in this genre of videogame: tranquillity.

Now, in the opening paragraph of this review, I mentioned how Bulwark takes an interesting spin on the city builder formula, and this may not be for everyone, although I urge you to give the game a chance! See, this game is designed with a controller in mind (no, seriously PC players; stick with me here) and thanks to that, it’s very simple to pick up and play. No trawling through countless menus or pressing several buttons to start building: just a quick, easy control scheme that will have your bulwark up and running in seconds. That said, I didn’t always find it super intuitive. Instead of being able to freely pan around the map, the cursor is always snapped to a structure or a part of your base. By pushing the left stick in any direction, you’ll instead move a cursor that changes depending on context. Have it a certain distance away from a tower, and you’ll be able to expand foundations stretching from the start point back to said tower. Close enough to a foundation, but in the ocean, and you’ll be able to craft a harbour. Or, use it to upgrade whichever building you have selected, using the up and down D-pad buttons to select which floor to improve. It works, but I did have the occasional issue trying to select the tower I wanted to focus on.

Of course, you can’t just build anywhere, with the cursor turning red when you’ve selected somewhere out of bounds, but it never felt restrictive. Having one bustling city rising into the heavens before having the Surveyor drop a new structure on a neighbouring island, only to eventually link them together via foundations, walkways, and sky bridges, always felt rewarding!

The main objective of Bulwark is to create, expand, and upgrade fortresses and settlements as you slowly explore the open world. Beginning with a Surveyor airship, you can place buildings practically anywhere, and the vast ocean landscape feels like a blank canvas for you to begin your brick and mortar works of art. Of course, you’ll need resources to do this, with the four types found in game (workers, wood, stone, and iron) being used to upgrade towers and structures. Instead of the usual “collect 50 iron to upgrade” type of mechanic, Bulwark instead lets players upgrade certain areas depending on which resource it's linked to. If you want to upgrade a specific tower, then you’ll need to ensure the correct materials are linked up to it, by having them “pass through” it, almost like a conveyor belt of materials! It’s different, but in a good way, and made me think about where I wanted certain buildings to be and which would need upgrading should the need arise.

Along the way, you’ll meet other factions, where you can choose to align with them or wage war. There’s a constantly shifting meter that shows the general state of each faction, as well as which ones are the most dominant within the world. Adding leaders or other people of prominence to your settlement or completing optional events will influence which factions favour you and which wish to see you wiped from the Great Ursee.

Ruffle enough feathers, and you’ll be thrust into a conflict, with opposing factions raiding your buildings and trying to destroy what you’ve so lovingly created. Battles are mostly out of your control, with the only real determining factor being who has more units. Sure, the game is supposed to be a relaxed city builder, but some kind of direct interaction when fighting would have been a welcome addition.

It’s clear from Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles that developer Tomas Sala is someone who isn’t afraid to experiment when creating games. Sure, this may prove risky and not always pay off, but in this case, it absolutely does. Bulwark is a brilliant city builder set in a fascinating world that I wish I could learn more about. Although I was initially concerned that the simplicity of the game may have me zoning out rather quickly, I found that this zen-like experience had my full attention, and I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who's a fan of city builders, but wants something that breaks away from the norm, or people who have found the genre to be inaccessible in the past.

8.50/10 8½

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)

This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.

A stress-free city builder with a fun, original gameplay loop, Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is sure to delight both experts and newcomers alike.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Mike Crewe

Mike Crewe

Staff Writer

Bought a PS5 and won't stop talking about it

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