Review: Bound By Flame Is An Average Journey
Can Spiders innovate with their newest title or will they just stick with traditions?
- Worth The Time?Perhaps, if you're into RPGs
- Things LovedThe combat can be quite fun when you get into the flow of things, lots of options regarding equipment and crafting, comprehensive skill tree, some character dialogue is pretty witty and funny, a host of side-missions to do, provides a good challenge, lots of choices that can be made, some interesting characters.
- Things HatedGets repetitive fast, visuals and animations aren't very pretty or impressive, little enemy variations, allies are nearly useless, a short game for an RPG, the stakes are never really as immense as they initially appear, very traditional story, combat can be insanely hard, while there are interesting characters there are some that just aren't as interesting as they can be, very boring environments, warrior stance is useless.
- RecommendationHardcore RPG fans might get a kick out of it, but only if they don't expect to be blown away. For other people, this game won't be a revelation and is only really worth it at budget price.
- Name: Bound By Flame
- Genre: RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: No
- Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PC
- Developer: Spiders
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Price: R699 PS4, R540 PS3, R360 PC
- Reviewed On: PS4
Spiders doesn’t really have a repertoire to be proud of. They were mainly responsible for a bunch of lackluster budget games that didn’t make much impact. Their most successful game, and one I quite enjoyed, was Of Orcs And Men which was an interesting game at least, but suffered from slow combat and awkward pacing. I could sense the presence of Of Orcs And Men in their newest offering, Bound By Flame, but it seems they haven’t learned from their shortcomings and made a lot of the same mistakes.
Bound By Flame is an action RPG that features a hero called Vulcan that, from circumstances, is possessed by a fire demon in a ritual gone wrong and with this newfound power, he (or she) has the ability to counteract the apocalyptic events of the world, Vertiel. There are a bunch of Ice Lords that seek to destroy everything with their insurmountable power and they use the essence of a magical dimensional plain called the Worldheart to get their power. They use an army of re-animated corpses called the Deadwalkers as their army to take over the world. Deadwalkers are basically zombies with shields and swords, you see.
The story is very traditional with the whole lone hero taking on an impossible force with the help of their allies. What really bothered me throughout the campaign is how the characters always make the stakes seem higher than they appear. You don’t get to see the destruction and the actions of the villains and everything is insinuated. There was one point in the campaign where an entire city was taken over and you’re just told that everyone died and that was it. Important characters die off-screen and you don’t feel invested in the story even if you’re the integral part in the whole thing.
The game does provide a multitude of choices throughout the campaign and as far as I could tell, this does change the trajectory of the events in the game. To what extent, I can’t tell because it would require another full playthrough to figure out. Still, this aspect was welcome and gave the game a little more variation and some replay value. The demon that possesses you is an interesting character that talks to you during specific intervals in the game, trying to convince you to let it have more control over you and make you powerful. I defied the demon throughout the game and it seems to have a big impact on how things played out which is interesting.
Vulcan is an interesting protagonist to control as he is very opinionated and vocal about things and his dialogue is probably the highlight of the game with witty quips and great catchphrases being thrown around all the time. You craft his personality in a way, but he is still a set character with his own story which is fine. Overall, playing with Vulcan was a fun experience if anything else.
The lore in the story is rather comprehensive and if you take the time to ask some questions and look around, you will learn about this world of Vertiel and some of the stuff is pretty interesting to discover. It’s a shame that we hardly ever get to see this lore realized and it’s often just in the forms of dialogue. This world would have worked very well with an open-world, but sadly that is not the case.
Bound By Flame is what I like to call a pseudo-open-world. What I mean by this is that there are areas to explore and discover, but when you get down to it, these areas can be seen as largely linear. Some of the areas are expansive and have multiple paths, but you will only really explore them once and never again. Added to that, the areas are pretty boring to begin with. The same landscape is constantly used and the lack of variation in the environments make everything repetitive to explore. I often found myself loathing having to walk across some areas because they all looked the same and offer nothing new.
The combat is a strange thing in this game. There are two stances as well as a pyromancy. Ranger stance allows you to use fast attacks with dual daggers and use a dodge to avoid damage. Warrior stance allows you to use axes, swords and hammers to clobber enemies and you can parry to avoid damage. The thing is, warrior stance is pretty much useless. It’s so hard to control and the parry system is rather wonky so you will often just get frustrated and switch to ranger stance because it’s a lot more competent. Ranger stance is fun because you are quick and nimble and you have a lot of options in order to attack enemies. It’s a real-time system so there isn’t an attack queuing mechanic like there was in Of Orcs And Men.
If I had to make a comparison for you to better understand the combat system, I would have to say it feels a lot like The Witcher 2’s combat in many ways, but a bit worse. You have fire spells at your disposal that offer a bunch of options such as defense, DPS, straight up damage and so forth and you can combine that with your preferred stance. The combat can feel fun at times, but often it just becomes a repetitive affair of a dodge-hit cycle.
There are a whole bunch of skills in the three skill trees that are available that do a good job at providing some variation. In the late game when I had all of the ranger skills unlocked, I found myself having a lot more fun than without them. Combat became varied enough for me to start enjoying the combat some more. It’s definitely a point in the game’s favour.
Let it also be known that this game is tough as nails. On normal setting, some enemies can potentially half your health in one strike which is ridiculous and even more so when you consider you’re fighting big groups nearly all of the time. The fact that there are so many powerful enemies in large groups makes the game a lot harder than it should be. I had an easier time fighting a gigantic boss than a group of shambling corpses just because the boss doesn’t constantly barrage you with insane attacks. I don’t mind difficult fights, but there is clearly a balancing problem here when four zombies with purple swords terrify you more than a gigantic monstrosity.
You meet a whole bunch of allies throughout the game that can assist you in combat, but the problem with that is that they are mostly useless. Some are more useful than others, but ultimately, the most helpful thing they do is serve as distractions for the other enemies for a while before the ultimately die. Some of the allies I used die in about ten seconds sometimes and I often questioned their usefulness.
As far as the personalities of these allies go, they are quite varied and entertaining. You have a scholar/healer called Sybil who is awkward and sort of weird. Her dialogue sucks, however, as her emotions are delivered in this deadpan voice and you don’t feel invested in her. There’s a knight that speaks in third-person called Randval which is all about honor. Rhelmar, a witty elf with a troubled history. Edwen, a mysterious and malicious white witch with a very shifty past and intentions. And my favourite character, Mathras. An immortal that has lived for 6000 years that has a twisted sense of humour and demeanor about him. The lines he delivers are always very well timed and the voice actor did a good job at giving him some real personality.
There are romance options for all of the characters (except Mathras, sadly) and you can choose to pursue them by doing personal quests and being there for them. The payoff at the end is rather disappointing, however, with a singular cutscene at the end and nothing else and I wish something more could have been done to these romances to give them some emotional weight.
The crafting system is probably the most unique thing about this game. You get your traditional armour sets and weapons, but you can also upgrade them with accessories to personalize them with attributes of your choosing. These accessories require materials to craft and you get them by either finding them on enemy corpses or recycling inferior equipment. It gives everything a degree of personalization and is a welcome addition. You can also craft potions, traps, crossbow bolts and so on to use in combat.
There are side-missions available such as investigations, simple gathering missions and the traditional RPG fare of missions. There are a lot of them, but they aren’t that essential to complete. Still, they do flesh out the game a little more and this is needed because the game is rather short. Which is also quite strange for an RPG. I did all of the side-missions available and the game took me about 12 hours to complete. If I would wager a guess at how long it would be without side-missions or talking to a lot of characters, I would say it would be about 8 hours long which is extremely short considering the genre. But there is a lot of replayability with the choices that you can make and even some new romance options.
Bound By Flame is a strange game to evaluate. The story had me intrigued for a bit, but then it slowed down and never showed you the stakes. The combat has variation in in, but it’s often repetitive and frustrating. The characters seem interesting, but they don’t really get fleshed out beyond their initial introductions. The areas can be explored, but the environments are samey and boring. Enemies aren’t very varied and require you to understand their pattern once in order to defeat them the next time.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the game and it plays competently, but it just did nothing to really surprise or really captivate me. The best word I can use to describe it is average. It looks average with last-gen visuals and assets as well. The whole game is just an average RPG with nothing new to offer to the genre and very little done particularly well. Hardcore RPG fans might enjoy it for a while, but it won’t light their world on fire. For the others, it won’t do much for you either and might just end up frustrating you. Perhaps wait until a sale or a significant price drop before getting this one because I still feel like it deserves to be played, but not for full retail price.