Bound by Flame
It seems like nowadays, all games have to have some degree of familiarity to them. This was true when I first started playing games (though it was less obvious) and it is true now. It’s why we see (saw?) so many FPS games set in modern times. It’s why platformers usually involve bright colours and cartoon characters, and it’s why a lot of RPGs are showing influence from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
‘Bound By Flame’ from developer Spiders and publisher Focus Home Interactive is a game that dares to be different, in not just its art direction or gameplay, but both. While this can often lead to some slight annoyances for the player, it also makes for a fun and original experience too.
At the start of the game, players will create their character’s appearance and name. While I appreciate being able to customise my character’s appearance (I am a glutton for creating myself), there really isn’t a point to naming your character, as he will forever be referenced by every character by his default name, Vulcan. After that, you’re thrown into the main story. After a goofy cut scene where our muscle-bound protagonist struggles to defeat a rotting corpse, the player is tasked with meeting the rest of Vulcan’s mercenary company and the game’s crafting mechanics. I hope you’re paying attention, because you can craft at any time, and if you rush through this part, you will end up filling your inventory with all manner of ore and no idea what to do with it.
Vulcan works with a group of mercenaries who are body guarding the Red Scribes, a group whose motives aren’t that clear to Vulcan or the player at the start of the game. Perhaps Spiders left this part of the game deliberately vague, as there is a fair bit of gameplay to learn, such as the combat. In any case, players will be forgiven for wondering what the hell they’re doing at the very beginning of the game. Persevere though, and you will find an interesting game with pretty fun leveling up mechanics and engaging combat, even if it is at times somewhat goofy and sluggish. Vulcan and his mercenary crew are tasked with protecting the Red Scribes while they decipher various texts in some mysterious ruins, though Vulcan quickly discovers that the Scribes are in fact, performing some sort of ritual. While fighting to protect his mercenary brethren and the Red Scribes, Vulcan is possessed by a demon, who chooses to inhabit Vulcan’s head. The demon both speaks to Vulcan inside his own mind, as well as to other characters by using Vulcan’s mouth. The demon has remarkable insight into the motives and personalities of other characters, and it’s not always easy to determine whether or not the demon wants to help Vulcan, or take over his body completely.
I feel as though I should mention at this point the amount of cursing in Bound By Flame. At times, it feels like it belongs in the game and at other times it feels extremely forced, as though swearing was mistakely recognised as mature writing. Our (as in, real-life humans) type of cussing will always attract attention to itself in an RPG, which is why games such as the Elder Scrolls series and Shadowrun Returns have their own made up cusses, such as “N’wah” and “Drek”. Bound By Flame seems to think that a Resoirvoir Dogs amount of swearing is perfectly acceptable between characters who have just met, which just rubbed me the wrong way.
Throughout the story, you will be presented with moral choices similar to the Mass Effect and Fable series of games. The outcomes of which aren’t often very obvious. One “decision” I made was simply to disagree with someone. The situation escalated rather quickly and one person ended up dead. It seemed like a discussion until that point. For the most part, these are executed adequately but I would suggest saving often if you’re not sure which way you’re leaning in a moral predicament.
The combat has a number of unusual choices that at times left me showering the game with praise and other times, scratching my head. For one thing, there are direct attacks, which target a single enemy and do average damage. Then you have area attacks, which are usually spinning and swirling attacks that leave Vulcan open to attack from his enemies. Instead of most action-RPGs, where any attack hitting any character or enemy will damage them and cause them to stop whatever it is they’re doing, Bound By Flame has stats to determine how much chance the player has to interrupt an enemy or to be interrupted by them. Sounds confusing? Well it is, and it isn’t. You can still block your opponent, but swinging around an enormous axe isn’t recommended until you’ve leveled up a few times. Otherwise you will be constantly struck down by your enemies.
At other times, you will have the illusion of choice with how you wish to enter combat. You have three different stances: Ranger, Warrior and Stealth. The Warrior uses heavy weapons, the ranger uses two smaller daggers and using stealth is basically useless. I mean, I appreciate that you can eliminate a single enemy (or most of a single enemy’s health), but it’s not very often that stealth is a viable option. For one thing, the “stealth” moments don’t feel natural or opportunistic at all. Rather, you will have one idiot enemy with his back to the entrance of somewhere, and they never turn around. These are pretty much the only times you will get to use stealth – namely, when the game wants you to.
The Ranger stance plays like the Warrior stance, only it is much faster and weaker. Both of these fighting styles feel as though they have a rhythm to them, and while they both have skill trees, it feels as though you will pick one or the other and stick to it. I never moved past the Warrior stance, despite trying out various weapons.
Killing enemies often yields spoils and other rewards. These can be money, or items used in the crafting of potions or accessories for your weapons and armour. I actually really like crafting various armous and weapon accessories in Bound By Flame. It adds a reward for someone like me who is a thorough explorer, or doesn’t run away from a fight. Speaking of fights, even on the “normal” difficulty setting they can be tough. You can often be outnumbered (even when you have a companion) and there are other factors at play that will see you at a disadvantage. Only with leveling up and smart use of your abilities and items will you find a fair fight in Bound By Flame, which I really enjoy. It reminded me of when Risen finally clicked with me. It might not have been a AAA titles, but it had an interesting story and provided a challenge, two departments that AAA titles such as Fable III and other RPGS like it often falter in.
I don’t always mention a game’s art direction in a review unless I feel it is particularly noteworthy or interesting. Bound By Flame blends traditional 3D graphics with clever use of cel-shading techniques. These helps subtlely guide the player around various environments, as well as make bleak environments more interesting. Quite often the majority of characters you meet are rather boring, but unique characters such as Sybil and Edwen the Witch. Visually, this game won’t set the world on fire, but it certainly has its moments, particularly with some of the enemy designs.
- Rewarding gameplay if you venture beneath the surface
- Confused vision of what mature story-telling is “F@#! S@!# Wh@#%”
- Goofy cut scenes
- Confusing combat
When you strip away the goofy cut scenes, awful dialogue and confusing combat, Bound By Flame does offer a fun, challenging and rewarding game underneath. Similar to games like Risen, your enjoyment will depend on whether or not you can put up with a few weak elements in a game to experience the few good ones. Definitely worth checking out, as there are fewer and fewer action-RPGs coming out nowadays.
Score – 6.5/10