STAFF REVIEW of Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles (Xbox One)

Friday, May 31, 2024.
by Peggy Doyle

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles Box art This review has been a long time coming, and even though I had played it before launch and could have posted this review a while ago, I’m still playing Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles almost daily. This game has its hooks in me in a way that I can’t even begin to explain. I was lucky enough to write a preview of the game before launch and I would encourage you to read that; my first impressions of the game still hold true.

There is no shortage of strategy and city-building games on the market, and how you feel about them will ultimately be determined by your experience with the games you’ve already played in this genre. They tend to fall into a pattern, and while there are a few different types on the market, the choices are fairly limited. I have always been interested in this genre but often find it overwhelming to new players. They often have one way to play them if you want to be successful, regardless of them spouting that they are open world and can be played any way you choose. My experience with those I’ve played waned in short amounts of time, over and over, regardless of how many times I tried whatever the new game was, hoping for a different experience.

Enter Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles to the party. Solo developer Tomas Sala has done what I thought was impossible, he made me fall in love with this style of game in this delightful city builder. While most of these games are about harvesting and managing resources, building, and upgrading armies, Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is aimed at a more relaxing and casual approach. Sala defines his project as an “open-world sandbox builder with some grand strategy elements”. Ultimately this means you are spending more time building and less time harvesting and managing your resources.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles takes you to the Great Ursee. Small islands scattered around the Great Ocean are home to factions of a crumbled ancient civilization, 40 years after the Great War. Although a sequel to The Falconeer and set in the same universe (and with a similar art style), the two games could not be more different in their gameplay.

At the beginning of the game, you will be greeted by Tomas Sala telling you to not become burdened with understanding everything immediately. Just build, explore, and learn as you go. Although this starts as a sort of tutorial section, you are given very loose guidelines. Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is a game about exploration. To start you need to access wood to build. You will build bridges and towers from your first tower to allow workers to access the sawmill. As you build the bridges, paths and towers, the workers will automatically build homes along the routes and your population will grow. Accessing the sawmill will allow the free flow of workers and resources. A lot of the work in the game is automated. If you connect the paths correctly, the flow of people and materials will happen, and you don’t need to micromanage your population. Eventually, you will also access other materials like stone and metal, allowing for the building of larger and more impressive structures. Constructing ports and hiring trade ships allow you to move workers and resources across larger distances and between islands in the Great Ursee. Create taller and larger structures by adding terraces and balconies to them. Highlighting each floor gives you the freedom to design as you wish.

Besides using just a point and click on the map, you can also use your Surveyor to move around long distances. This is basically a steampunk-style blimp that you navigate. It is your mode of air transportation and your primary combat for incoming enemies.

Control movements felt slightly clunky at times, but generally, the game was very easy to navigate. This is something unusual for this genre, as in my experience most are designed with PC players (using a keyboard and mouse) in mind and ported over to a controller. Tomas Sala chose to design Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles using a controller first and foremost. Simple buttons and clicks allow you to do everything.

Time flies when playing Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles. I easily caught myself playing for 8,10 even 12-plus hours some days. Not once was I bored or stressed. What a novel idea for a game like this. Normally I find myself lost, stressed, or concerned if I’m playing the ‘right way’. Worried about getting stuck and starting over never crossed my mind while playing Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles. Sailing around in my Surveyor, bringing in refugees, by dismantling their towers and rebuilding them at your settlement to have them join you. While flying around you may also find random events, including trade ships and their captains that you can recruit. You may also find larger settlements that just want to trade with you, allowing you to create allies. As you bring in more refugees, trade captains etc., the alliance balance of your settlement will shift. With four groups existing in the Great Ursee you can have a settlement existing in harmony or, if you are too one-sided in your allegiance, you may have groups that simply won’t collaborate with you.

Visually, Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is beautiful. If you zoom in while building, you can see little homes appear along every expansion and walkway, basic wooden bridges will become stone and metal over time, including arches in their designs. Again, this is all passive as long as you have resources flowing. I spent a lot of time zoomed in watching my settlement take shape. As your settlement becomes more aligned with one faction or another, the architectural designs and styles will be reflected. A building can change style over time as well if a different faction replaces your tower captains. It’s an interesting thing to watch the changes in design, colour and even decor over time.

Weather patterns and day/night cycles give the game a real feeling of being alive. How your settlement fights and defends itself also relies on your faction alliance. Freehouses have falcons, the Marcer faction has dragons, and Pirates have small zeppelins. The zeppelins and the battleships you recruit all have a distinctive steampunk feel if you look at their details. There are a lot of these details if you choose to spend time admiring and examining them.

Speaking on combat and defenses, there isn’t much combat in the game. Combat mostly takes the form of taking your surveyor to the map location you need to be at to fight the pirate or other enemy. Your alliance fighters will be there with you and do most of the work. The winner seems to be primarily determined by who shows up with more fighting units. While it may seem like a gamble showing up to a battle, the stakes are also high. You can lose alliance fighters and if you do, it can be difficult to replenish them, and it’s entirely random when you will come across new captains to recruit.

Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles kept me engaged for hours and days. While the building is chill, and you don’t need to stress too much about resource management, you will be busy defending your trade routes, settlement and recruiting captains. If you do not want to even bother with those tasks, you can partake in the free build mode, which affords you endless resources and no combat.

I normally prefer a story with my gaming experience, and this might be the only downfall to this game for me. While there isn’t much of a story, there is a little lore that you will pick up, but just as the game wants you to build anywhere and everywhere, it also leaves you to think of your own story a little as well. The story is one that you create based on what actions you choose to take.

The music in Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles gives you feelings of a grand adventure. It’s not overwhelming and doesn’t grow tiresome to the point you want to turn it off. It’s moody and adapts to the action in the game appropriately. The voice work is equally well done, although it can be repetitive if you accidentally click a button, and you’ll get a replay of the same commentary.

Retailing at $25.99 CDN, the price is exceptional for the amount of time you will invest in it.

While the lack of focus may turn some 4X city-building fans off, Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is a fantastic adventure for newcomers to the genre or those looking for a less stressful experience. No intricate building planning, no tech trees, and no micromanaging of your population; just build, grow, and learn as you play. The Falconeer was wonderful, and Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles is set in the same world but is a fresh style of game. After playing this, I feel confident that this cements Tomas Sala as one of the most creative developers I know of. I would highly recommend this game to anyone looking for a new city-building experience or just a chill game to explore your creativity.

**Bulwark: Falconeer Chronicles was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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