Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles Preview

by Peggy Doyle

Recently I was invited to a press preview for Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles, hosted by the visionary solo developer, Tomas Sala. I was hesitant to join at first as I'm not the most dedicated player of the 4X (Expand, Explore, Exploit, Exterminate) world-building genre of games. I find them overwhelming, and after a few hours, downright tedious in the way you have to play and micromanage everything. It didn't take long until I realized that Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles was something completely different.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles

Tomas Sala has created the world of The Great Ursee as a world of endless possibilities. There is no right way to play the game, you follow your heart. Listening to him talk about the gameplay was entirely refreshing. He was full of passion of course, but also blunt with what he wanted out of the game and how it's different from others in the genre. One of the things he addressed early in our time together was the very thing that I mentioned at the beginning of this preview; how they can feel overwhelming and yet require you to micromanage everything. Sala said he wanted to go against the norm for games of this genre make you think and expand and dream. This game isn't about grids and plans and specifics, "Be Bob Ross" and grow through exploration and chaos.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles feels nothing like other games I've played. You can build almost anywhere on the map, and once you start creating paths and roads, the inhabitants of the world will take over to a certain extent. You don't need to recruit people to live there or wait for your population to grow. You don't need to manage their happiness, health, or religious affiliations, it's all largely automatic. Asking you to use a combination of strategy and creativity, you craft the world you choose. You will craft settlements, towers, fortresses, and shipping pathways to move resources and people around the Great Ursee. That's your task, build and grow strong and profitable settlements. As the population of your settlement grows, so does your reputation. Along with this comes more people wanting to join you in your settlement or ally and work with you.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is, without a doubt, the most approachable game of this genre I have played. It was designed with a controller in mind and even when playing on PC it tells you that a controller will be the best experience. From this early introduction, I knew we were in for a better experience than I often have where the gameplay is designed for keyboard and mouse and ported to the controller second. The building isn't based on other games (that rely on multiple buttons), it's all based on 3D modelling programs like Blender (using cursor movement). The building happens quickly with only a few button taps as well, meaning the game should be more accessible to a lot of gamers as well.

Exploration is at the heart of Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles. You are encouraged to leave the safety of your settlement and sail the seas looking for allies, conflict, resources, trade, and mysteries. Choices and conversations you have while exploring will affect your settlement, good or bad. You can recruit captains to strengthen your shipping routes and choose to try to find a balance between factions living in your settlement, or strictly keep to one side and create conflict with the others in the world.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles

Tomas Sala said, "I make games that look good", but this was an understatement. Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is absolutely gorgeous. He has created a world that is full of life. The sense of scale is awe-inspiring. Zooming in on your settlements you can see details I've never seen in games. The 3D building vs the flat building of some other games is brilliant. Your decisions made while exploring will affect these details as well. Certain factions have their own aesthetics in design and colours, and your world will change as your alliances do.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles

The Great Ursee is an open-world oceanic map. You can go to any island at any time in the gameplay to see what might be hidden beneath the clouds and fog. You may find allies willing to trade resources, or enemies looking to protect what is theirs. There are even pirates that can and will attack your settlements. While I mentioned exploration, I should mention your airship. While playing using a "God's eye", top-down approach, you don't simply use a cursor to drop in and out of land areas. You use your airship to get around and interact. This means you are constantly engaged in the gameplay and are part of the world at all times.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles

The campaign has a fixed world and each of the three scenarios available have different rules and settings bound to them. Along with the extensive campaign that you can play using three separate starting conditions, there is a free-play mode where you can try things without restrictions as well. Everything in the game is fully voiced and the voice acting is wonderful.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles

Ultimately, Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is not a game about "winning", it's about enjoying the gameplay. There are ends to each faction's story, but you're not encouraged to rush through your time. As you are drawn deeper into the world, it becomes more of a meditative experience. I lost track of hours, and not once did I feel stressed that I wasn't playing right. I didn't feel the constant need to check if I was min/maxing anything, I was just enjoying watching my world grow and transform. I can't wait for the full launch on March 26th, as I am sure Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles will excite and delight newcomers as well as established fans of the genre.

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