Bound By Flame, Not A Savior But A Solid Action-RPG | Review
Developer Spiders may be a young studio, but their ambition is not stunted by their age. With the release of Mars: War Logs last year, it was clear they were stepping up in the industry and ready to put their stamp in gaming. The game, possibly too ambitious for the size and experience of their studio, received very mixed reviews but would later prove to be the foundation in building their first experience for next-gen, Bound By Flame.
In Bound By Flame, you control Vulcan, a mercenary fighting with the Freeborn Blades, the only surviving mercenary group in Vertiel. Vulcan, being a pseudonym, you can name your character, male or female, anything of your desire, but Vulcan will be your calling card mentioned throughout Vertiel. Typical of most RPG’s, customization is a big key in Bound By Flame, but customization to your character is limited to a set of five faces and five hairstyles. The room for a unique character is stifled, but the armor and weapon customization more than makes up for the lack of character detail. Alas, you are ready to begin your adventure.
Your main goal in Bound By Flame, besides getting coin of course, is helping Vertiel suppress the Ice Lords control of the Worldheart. The Worldheart is the center from which all power is siphoned in Vertiel. At the onset, you are simply familiarizing yourself with the Red Scribes Camp (the scholars and healers of Vertiel) and its people when, to no ones surprise, the camp is attacked by Frozen Shadows. Frozen Shadows are the forces of the Ice Lords, aptly given the moniker by the people of Vertiel. The battle and current state of the Red Scribes after fighting back the Frozen Shadows is the least of your concern, considering you have met your first companion, or more aptly, it has become a part of you. The demon that is using you as its vessel allows for immense power but also seems to have an agenda of its own. After all, a vessel is simply a means to an end. But, all hope is not lost. You have the power to curtail its objective of consuming your body by avoiding the urge to use the demon in battle. The question is whether your soul, relationships and appearance are worth the cost of extra power?
On your trek to freeing the Worldheart, and in essence Vertiel, you will come across quite diverse landscapes with equally diverse inhabitants. Although the world of Vertiel isn’t an open-world affair, the hub-world approach does a great job allowing for interesting scenery, albeit a very corridored experience. Through the game, you will encounter a camp surrounded by swampland, icy mountainous terrain and frozen over castles. As neat and interesting as the environments are, it’s a shame Spiders wasn’t able to pull a little more juice out of the PS4 to make the game look better. Unfortunately, Bound By Flame looks like a title straddling console generations. It’s not an ugly game by any means, nor is it screaming next-gen.
Bringing to life the environments are its monstrous inhabitants. From swamp poison slinging-creatures to ice-throwing concubines, you will definitely have your hands full. Also, heavily prominent are huge boss-type battles that provide an extra challenge, especially towards the end of the game. Although the enemies are numerous, you will come across quite a few interesting characters, five in particular that will help you. Your companions, with varying skills and weaknesses, will aid you in your battles and provide some quite comedic commentary. Each has a unique story and will react in certain ways to you based upon your dialogue with them. The lip-synching is practically non-existent, but the companions voice-overs are done exceptionally well which only emphasizes the weakest part of the game. Your character’s voice is absolutely awful. Where each companion and any other NPC for that matter has unique inflections in their voices, yours is bland and pretty boring. Adding into the strange main character voice is the equally puzzling dialogue wording. Hearing the term, “dicking around” multiple times in a sentence is an oddity, especially for the setting of the game. Also, swear words seemed hacked in to add impact, while usually only inducing laughter. Having said that, the dialogue may be weird, but the overall plot is quite good and your big-game choices not being purely black-and-white adds to the strength of the game. Accompanying the plot is a strong, often times enchanting soundtrack that adds force to the story. Similar to all RPG’s, the game has various quests and side quests to move the plot along, and it’s nice to finally say that the majority of the quests are fun and seem impactful to the surrounding NPC’s.
The fighting in the game relies heavily on blocking and successful parries and ripostes. You can’t just go in reckless abandoned, or you will see the death screen quite often. While a heavy attack and a weaker sweeping attack has potential to being tiresome, the parry and riposte system keep the combat fresh in battle.In combat, Vulcan has three main techniques to vanquish each and every foe if used correctly. The warrior stance is good for the, “I want to hit something, and I want to hit it really hard” type of people. Utilizing two handed swords, axes and war hammers, the warrior stance allows for extremely powerful, yet slow plodding strikes. Unlike the ranger stance that can dodge, the warrior’s counter-attacks will come in the form of timing the enemy’s attack and blocking it with your sword to initiate a riposte. Those more akin to stealthy approach will welcome the ranger approach. The ranger stance dual wields daggers for lightning fast strikes with a hit on pure damage. Although they aren’t as powerful as the two handed weapons, sneaking and back stabbing enemies multiplies damage output immensely. Also, having the ability to dodge in and out of combat allows for easy ripostes and counter-attacking. Finally, we have the pyromancer skills. The good: extremely effective in augmenting your weapons as they are and can provide some nice damage at a distance. The bad: you sell your soul to a demon and allow it to transform your being. Each play style is effective, but you’ll generally stick to one or two of them throughout the game. Depending on whether you like to grind or not, it would be smart to choose your favored stance early on to level-up that skill tree because there are tons of skills to dump in points, and the points don’t come flying at you like in the early levels. This also goes for Feats. Feats are static skills that allow you a certain perk like, being able to carry more weight, a better chance of better loot and so on. You earn points to spend on Feats each level you gain. Also to note, each class has access to a bow to keep enemies at bay. Although somewhat useful, especially early on, I didn’t find the need or want to use it in the latter half of the game.
Where customization was missing in character creation, it’s prominent in weapon and armor customization. Through loot picked up from enemies and in chests, you can combine items to add hilts, pommels, crossguards and tassels to your weapons and armor. These enhancements not only add a cosmetic change but also provide stat bonuses that can turn the tide in battle. Adding customization to the weapons and armor is a welcome addition to give some flare to your weapons. Loot is also extremely useful thanks to Spiders’ great crafting system. When in need of a potion to heal or raise your magic, simply mix the immense amount of loot you have and craft it mid battle. While the loot is plentiful, sometimes overly so, you won’t get anything you can’t use. The amount of throwaway loot is miniscule which helps when sifting through items you want to sell.
When winding down through the game, it’s apparent that it stops at just the right time. Clocking in at a little over 18 hours doing quite a few sidequests may seem like a short game, especially for an RPG, but it really is the right length for this experience.
Bound By Flame is proof that Spiders is here to stay. There is some jankiness to the title that could use some polishing, but the overall experience is enjoyable and addicting. It’s unlocked framerate was rarely a problem minus a few fluctuations, it won’t ooh and aww at first site either, but it is a strong action-rpg for a system that is begging for new experiences.
+ Tough brutal combat
+ Extensive crafting system that’s easy to manage and use
+ Choices seem interesting throughout
+ Pretty good story with a strong sense of choice
+ Nice customization options for weapons and armor
+ Great periphery characters, especially the companions
+ Great soundtrack
+ Fun Boss battles
– Dialogue and tone doesn’t always fit the fantasy world
– Very weak protagonist voice
– Poor and/or no lip-synching
– Lack of character customization