Bound by Flame Review09 May, 2014
The first two hours of Bound By Flame are tiresome and largely uneventful. Following a brief character creation session, which offers the chance to change the sex of the protagonist along with a handful of customisation options, players step into the boots of Vulcan; a somewhat generic-seeming mercenary bomb smith.
As luck would have it, the land of Vertiel has only gone and been besieged by a necromancer, people are falling under his control and the dead are coming back to life. Vulcan, along with his troop of sell-swords, is tasked with a contract, one that he must finish for some reason or another despite the looming threat of the Deadwalkers.
It's a tad all too familiar at first: Over-whelming odds! Faced with adversity! Fantastical creatures! Skeletons! Large-breasted female support character! But then the story takes a turn, and that's when Bound By Flame is born anew.
During the first act, Vulcan finds himself possessed by a demon, all by chance, which installs the power of pyromancy within. Instead of falling into the predictable badass mercenary trope, Vulcan transforms into something of interest. His mind now screams with the thoughts of a demon held prisoner against its will, and he faces a choice: Save the world or watch it burn?
Moral dilemmas are heightened by the game's combat, which, also during the first act, feels sluggish. Bound By Flame doesn't have a specific class you pick and then stick to until you start afresh. Instead, Vulcan can switch between two-handed weapons and dual-daggers at the click of a button.
The biggest issue with the combat is that it's all too showy – style over substance. Vulcan swings an axe or daggers with a defined grace, but while spinning an axe in the air looks nice, there's a part of me that just wanted him to just hit the bloody thing I'm trying to beat.
To add to the problems, Vulcan starts off incredibly frail. Player weapons cause little damage, while enemy weapons can kill you in a few hits. In other RPGs, the challenge comes from making the player aware they're playing in a subpar fashion. In Bound By Flame, the challenge feels artificial; it's hard because you're given the wrong tools to get the job done.
That is, until the demon shows up. Once Vulcan has the power of flame, he can shoot a fireball, buff his defence, create a pillar of fire, or enchant his weapon with fire. Even though his newly found powers don't offer anything we haven't seen elsewhere, it's still enjoyable enough, and being able to coat one's weapons in fire does level the playing field in terms of damage output. It doesn't help with the fancy-schmancy swordplay, but being able to actually damage enemies without resorting to slash, slash, parry, repeat, aids in alleviating some of the problems that haunt the overall combat.
It's funny, I feel as though I could start every sentence with "And then the demon showed up," and I could. The demon truly is the star here. It provides the player with choices, each of which has different outcomes. One of those choices in specific, offers the player power in exchange for doing the wrong thing.
It's an interesting design choice in that respect. Weapons don't do much damage, but if you follow the path of evil, it'll make you a force to be reckoned with. This simple choice almost forces the player's hand if they want to wield demigod-like powers. You can be good, and risk constant death, or you can give in to the evil inside you and force the world to its knees.
Another area where the game excels is in the crafting system. Enemies drop seemingly useless tat, which can either be sold to merchants or used to craft ammo, potions, and such. The same tat may also be used to upgrade armour. Not just by adding a +5 to them, mind. Upgrading not only adds a stat-based effect to a piece of armour, but also adds a new visual piece to it.
It's the same for weapons. You could find a fairly useless sword, but through upgrading, you could add a new hilt that helps with poison resistance or a pommel that increases mana regeneration.
Bound By Flame is at its best when it puts forth original concepts or places its own spin on tried-and-tested ideas. The story, for example, is interesting enough so long as you're willing to stick with it. Actually, the story gains a lot of its strength courtesy of the strong art design.
Some of the enemy designs, specifically the concubine, are beautiful and ugly, twisted, hell-infused monsters plucked straight from the mind of a psychopath. They're nightmarish, in all the right ways.
To further add to the illusion, Bound By Flame has a visually stunning lighting system. I know, I know, who cares about lighting? Well, the way in which light creeps through branches and permeates paths in the daytime, creates a stark contrast to night and everything it brings with it. It's small touches like this that help set the atmosphere; when night falls, so does the player's awareness…
I suppose the final area we need to discuss is the voice acting. Bound By Flame features a name-check of under-appreciated RPG actors; Gideon Emery of Dragon Age 2 (Fenris) voices the Russian elf Ranvall, and Skyrim's Robin Atkin Downes (Brynjolf) lends his voice to the lead. Both performances are good, but the show's stolen by Christina Batman, who voices Edwen - and obviously has the greatest name in the history of ever.
It'd be easy to criticise the voice acting as bad, but it's not that simple. It's good, but there is an issue with direction. There's several scenes where the actors seem unaware of what their in-game counterpart is doing. Imagine getting stabbed in the chest and responding to the incident in a jovial voice. That's kind of the issue here. It doesn't ruin or hamper the overall experience, but it can make it feel disjointed at times.
Bound By Flame isn't perfect by any means, it's a fantasy game from a small team, with an even smaller budget that sometimes feels like a Top 10 list of RPG mechanics. But then the demon shows up, and Bound By Flame renounces familiarity in favour of originality.
Vertiel may not be vast as Tamriel, Thedas, or Drangleic, but if you're after a quick trip abroad, then this is one destination worthy of your consideration.
Words by Wesley Copeland.
(Version tested: PS4)
+ Stunning lighting
+ Easy to like companions
+ Gloriously detailed environments
+ Moral dilemmas
- The first two hours are a drag
- Combat often feels weightless
- Lack of replay value past doing the opposite of your first playthrough
- Moral dilemmas
Edited On 09 May, 2014
Bound By Flame
Developed by Spiders Studio for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox
360 and PC, the RPG Bound by Flame drags you into a heroic and desperate struggle, in which the Alliance eventually yielded in front of the inexorable advance of Deadarmy.
From their castles of ice, the lord-sorcerers of Shadowcold now reign as masters on the continent and crush mercilessly…
Suppress your inner demon or unleash its power You are a mercenary possessed by a flame demon in a desperate world ravaged by seven Ice Lords and their Dead-Army. In this RPG where all your choices lead to consequences, you must choose between unleashing the powers of the beast within or rejecting the demonic influence that wants to claim your humanity. Freely develop your abil…
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