‘Bound by Flame’ Review – “Half-Baked Quest”

Platforms PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer Spiders   Publisher Focus Home Interactive
Genre ARPG   Platform Played On PC

I feel like using an internet meme here, but I’ll refrain myself. However, what I will do, is tell you this – If you’re going into Bound by Flame expecting a role playing game, you’re gonna have a bad time. Ever since its first reveal, the game has been classified as an ARPG (Action Role Playing Game), which would imply that Spiders’ latest is a more fast-paced RPG. Well, the truth is that Bound by Flame is 50% action, 30% boredom, and 20% actual role playing. Let’s get started.

Bound by Flame‘s tale is set in Vertiel – a land currently under siege from seven terrifying Ice Lords, and their (not so cleverly named) DeadWalker armies. While the Elves are trying to stay neutral, the Sages are doing all that’s in their power to stop them, under the protection of the Mercenaries. Enter Vulcan – one such mercenary that finds himself/herself possessed by an unknown demon, and shouldered with the task of stopping said Lords, alongside a few companions.

Apart from a few stereotypical ones, the traveling-buddies are a worthwhile addition, even though your interaction with them is limited to dialogs. Each has his/her/its own personality, motivations, and some even hidden agendas, which will alter the course of a few events.

It’s a familiar premise – I would even compare it to Dragon Age’s – involving a few betrayals and twists, though I feel like it’s also underdeveloped. For example – at one point during your adventures, it’s implied that the Ice Lords could be turned against each other, but that never actually happens. The game initially starts slow, though its pace is greatly picked up towards the end. To some degree, your companions also get a little bit more interesting – even likeable.

Bound by Flame is divided into several chapters, each taking place in a different corner of Vertiel. As long as the main quest is still “to-be-completed,” the player is free to explore and complete different side-missions. That said, once you’ve moved on from one such region, your unfinished side-activities are automatically failed, as there’s no way of going back.

Unfortunately, leaving behind a few missions isn’t even that big of a deal, since almost all of them boil down to mere fetch quests. Not only that, but the overall game feels way to restrictive, down to the level design offering you nothing but narrow paths, alongside a few, more open-ended areas.

The game also include a day-and-night cycle, but apart from changing the colour pallet, it doesn’t affect the world in any way. Everybody sits in the same spot, whether it’s afternoon. or midnight. Some missions can only be accomplished by night, but that doesn’t change much. The overall world feels too stiff; almost dead, even.

One of Bound by Flame‘s main selling-attributes are the choices you’ll make along the way. Will you give in to the demon’s powers, or surpass it? Will you help those in need, or see to the “bigger picture?” Unfortunately, this aspect is also “half-baked.” Choosing to give your inner demon more space results in nothing more than a change in appearance. You can still use all your fire-spells, only this time, some characters will not get horrified by your new horns. Sure, some bonuses will not be granted, but they really don’t feel that significant. Not only that, but the rest of your choices also don’t yield any significant consequences. Sure, you may be faced with battling one companion or the other, but once that’s done, everything goes back to normal – if you can call it so – like nothing has happened.

Fortunately, the game’s combat system works better than all the other features. Bound by Flame presents three classes – Warrior, Ranger, and Pyromancer. The Warrior is slower, but deals more damage, while the Ranger is obviously faster, but weaker. I haven’t used the Pyromancer’s abilities that much, but the spells have always given me an edge over my enemies. You can also sneak up on them, but be aware that they’ll immediately detect you after the first blow.

Even on the normal difficulty, Bound by Flame can seem quite tough; that is, if you march head-first into combat, without making use of your traps, healing potions, or different spells. The combat mechanics can seem difficult at first, but – just like in CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher series – if you take it slow and understand each class, you’ll realise that fighting these monsters actually takes a bit of finesse. It also helps that the boss fights are a great treat, with the exception of the last one, which seems overly difficult.

All that action mentioned above is tied to a leveling system. Leveling-up Vulcan will reward you with skill-points to invest in your classes, but also with “Feat” points, which will add further bonuses to his/her character (e.g. increasing the maximum health, or gaining more experience from fallen enemies). That said, these bonuses must first be unlocked, and you do that by completing different tasks, which usually involve killing a specific number of enemies with a specific weapon, recycling, or even collecting different ingredients.

Speaking of recycling and ingredients, Bound by Flame also presents you with an opportunity to gather different ingredients, with which you can craft different items, such as crossbow bolts, traps, healing potions etc. If you can’t find them, you can always buy said ingredients. You can also recycle unwanted items to gain ingredients, with which to craft new items. It’s a competent system, though it also denies an RPG’s obvious feature – loot. More often than not, the loot dropped by your enemies is composed of said ingredients, instead of actual items.

Let’s now talk about the A.I., which can be pegged as “completely moronic.” Not only do NPCs get stuck in the geometry, but more often than not, my companions would cast short-ranged spells, when the enemy was clearly way out of their range. Even though you can configure each ally’s combat-strategy (i.e. being more offensive, defensive etc.), I feel like the companions serve as nothing more than target practice for the enemy. At the very least, they’ll take the enemies’ pressure off of you.

Bound by Flame‘s scenery can be gorgeous at times, though low-resolution textures are quite prominent. Poor lip-synching, combined with a not-so-stellar script and decent-at-best voice-acting can also break that illusion a few times. The only good voice actors – and the ones with better lines of dialog – seems to be the main character, and one of his/her companion (which resembles Dragon Age: Origins‘ Morrigan so much!). The soundtrack, on the other hand, is great.

Bound by Flame is anything but an RPG. Its focus on combat and its great soundtrack are redeemable qualities, though not enough to compensate for being so rough around the edges. The premise is interesting, but never fully-develops; only a few characters are worth paying attention to; the illusion of choice is just that – an illusion; and, finally, this being called a “corridor” game couldn’t be truer. Bound by Flame is a decent, linear action/adventure game, but not an RPG. Oh, no!

The Good

+ The Combat

+ Some Companions

+ The Soundtrack

The Bad

– The Level Design

– The A.I.

– The Disappointing Story

– The Lack of Any Real Consequences

– The Voice-Acting

The Score 6