Bound By Flame is an RPG that’s crept up on a lot of people with ninja like skills. There definitely seems to be two camps here and one that very inquisitive about Focus Home Entertainment’s new entry into the RPG genre. With so many questions to be answered let’s get on with an overview to start, eh?
So, the history lesson first then. The Ice lords have come along with an army of Deadwalkers and pretty much are kicking arse all over the lands of Vertiel. You play as Vulcan, a mercenary. It doesn’t matter if you change his name in the character creation screen to Bob Johnson like I did, he’s still called Vulcan all the way through, purely because Vulcan is his mercenary name not his real name (took me a moment or two to work that one out). Anyway, Vulcan is a mercenary with the Freeborn Blades Company who are currently in the employ of the Red Scribes who appear to be humanity’s last hope against the Ice Lords. It’s all very nice and standard stuff so far. Now add into the mix that somehow Vulcan has managed to get himself a demonic lodger inside his skull.
Much in a similar vein to Borderlands and the later Prince of Persia games, Bound by Flame has a cell shaded appearance which works well. The design of the characters is pretty well done too. Your main character does change throughout the game, not just his or her armour and features depending on how you create them but also how much of them appears demonic due to the influence of the demon inside your head. The scenery around you is subtly alien looking too. The swamps around the village of Valvenor for example, have a dense claustrophobic feel in places, especially at night when your light doesn’t really extend that far. Vertiel is easily a world to lose yourself in.
A big disappoint for the game is the voice acting. A lot of it doesn’t really roll together cohesively and comes across as more of a throwback to older games such as the first Resident Evil. The writing is a bit ropey in places too, but for the most part holds up quite well. It’s just a shame the acting has let it down there. Vulcan as a character can come across as being a bit of an arse already, which is refreshing really. In fact so many of the characters I’ve met are from immediately nice people, which makes sense. There’s a war on that’s decimating them, they’re stressed etc. It makes some of the dialogue a bit more realistic I believe, unlike other games where someone’s witnessed something bad etc and you go to talk to them and they’re perfectly happy to tell you anything you want. The rest of the audio work isn’t too bad though. The incidental music throughout has a good sense of drama about it and can be quite gripping, kind of what you want while wandering a dense swampland in the middle of the night looking for big nasties to slaughter.
Gameplay wise, Bound by Flame is pretty good. The combat flows well, with each enemy having a good AI that they can be pretty hard to beat right off the bat. This isn’t a game where you can just run in and smack seven shades out of opponents. You have to be careful. For one thing, health doesn’t regenerate that quickly and it can very often take you a bit of time to get a health potion sorted. Another is the aforementioned AI of your enemies. There’s a knight in the first village you come to who wants to duel with you and test out his skills in combat. So you accept and fight him. I’ve had my arse handed to me by this guy several times. Prepare yourself to lose more fights than you win as you try to learn how each opponent fights and how you can effectively counter their styles. It can get incredibly frustrating, and health potions and the ingredients to make them aren’t that plentiful. Especially if, like I did, you made the mistake of giving some health potions to a woman who runs the local house of healing. I’ve found in a few cases, it’s easier to use the burning weapons power bestowed upon Vulcan by his demonic hitchhiker. There have been a couple of glitches in combat which have made a few fights that little bit more frustrating too but these have been few and far between. The scenery can also have a bad habit of getting in the way of your view at times so it’s worth bearing that in mind during combat. The main issue I’m having with the fights though is the feeling of actually hitting something. It’s sort of missing here. It’s the mark of a good fighting game when your character hits something and you actually get that meaty feeling of the strike. Unfortunately that feeling is lacking here. That feeling would make some of the more difficult fights better as you’d feel rewarded each time you land a blow. The rest of the game so far for me has been typical of RPGs. It’s not a bad thing, just expect to be playing the errand boy for people who are supposed to be helping you instead, all in the name of building experience to get better stuff later. One difference between Bound by Flame and so many others though, is that your character doesn’t just take it in his stride, he comments on it, a lot. Just like any of us would do in actual reality. Let’s be honest, how often during one of these “would you go get me 87 health potions please?” missions have you just wanted to shout “No! I’m trying to save the world here knobhead!” At last here we have a protagonist in Vulcan who speaks our minds in these instances. Speaking of typical RPG characters though, why is Edwen the witch / sorceress / necromancer so obviously a mistress of dark powers? The other characters are created really well that Edwen seems a bit out of place with her attire etc. The experienced RPG player in me thinks “do we need another Morrigan?” My answer is simply no we don’t. I think spider have done themselves a bit of a disservice in the design of Edwen.
Crafting also plays a big part, most of the time you’ll have to create your own potions and add bits to your armour and weapons to give them that extra oompf that you’re really going to need. Another bonus is that you can still use the craft menu during combat, so if you’ve got a ton of tainted blood just sitting in your bag and forgot to use it for those important health potions, then feel free. I’m sure your opponents won’t mind in the slightest. They’ll probably be kicking your arse anyway as soon as you rejoin the fight.
There are choices to be made throughout the game involving your demon friend and how much influence he exerts over Vulcan. These choices affect the game around you considerably, like the loyalty of various companions and which path the game takes as well as Vulcan’s appearance as mentioned before. I’m currently playing on the Hawk setting, which looks to be the normal difficulty mode and still combat is quite tricky right from the outset. It’s a nod to all those who’ve complained that games have become too easy maybe in its difficulty setting.
Bound by Flame is exceptionally easy to sink many long hours into, partially due to its frustrating combat but mostly due to the game itself being pretty decent. Being an epic RPG though, don’t expect to be done with it in a few hours. At time of writing I’m about eight or nine hours in and still it doesn’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface. All in all Bound by Flame is a very enjoyable if hard as nails RPG.