Bound by Flame is a game which takes the player on a somewhat immersive journey through the use of light RPG game mechanics while holding its focus on slow-paced hack ‘n’ slash combat moments. After a brief character customization screen that has you deciding upon the gender, name and facial appearance of your main character, you’re immediately flung into the game and there’s no delay in starting your journey.
Taking the role of a mercenary or as I like to call it, hired help, long story short there’s demons to slay, people not to trust, and player-based decisions that make an attempt to try and change the outcome of the game. By the way you’ve also been possessed by a demon who could care no more for you, or any of the other lifeless NPC’s that you’ll meet in the game.
Now, while many people will be comparing the game to those in a similar genre such as the The Witcher, and most obviously Dark Souls, Bound by Flame is it’s own game. Dark Souls seems to have set a benchmark for what qualifies as a “good” game, within the genre of slower, combat focused games. Although, I feel the most appropriate term that can be given to this is an ignorant based standard, that many will more than likely disregard, along with any other game that bares similarities to Dark Souls, as a rip-off wannabe. With that being said I don’t feel it’s okay to even draw any comparisons as the games have nothing in common other than the obvious which I have just mentioned.
Bound by Flame presents itself to the player as a straight forward adventure with minimal side missions, that tie in to it’s main story. While these side missions don’t do much to contribute towards the main story they’re quite enjoyable and deliver enough content to keep the player engaged. These also add replay value to the game along with elements of choice, to keep the player coming back for a second time round. As I said previously there’s an emphasis on combat and the way it ties in with it’s RPG system. As the player gains experience points through battle with other demons and creatures within the game’s world, along with looting dropped items from fallen enemies, these can be used to craft new resources which can then be combined to upgrade and produce stronger weapons, potions, and armor.
What’s unique about the crafting and resource system in Bound by flame is that it doesn’t feel too pestering or heavy. It’s not deep enough to repel players not fond of this system, but it’s not so light that it would repel those who are heavily deep in to this feature. It’s also rather simple in the way that it works and it doesn’t overdo itself in swarming you with text and explanations as to what every single item does.
As thought out and well managed the item system is in the game, I do wish I could say the same for the actual plot of the game, and the characters that it involves. There’s no denying the enjoyability of the game particularly when slashing your sword through Deadwalkers and timing your counter-attacks on Necromancers. Free to use at the player’s disposal are daggers, axes, swords, and the like.
Different weapon types are particularly useful when going against different enemy types, combined with Pyromancer magic and the option to switch play-style by the flick of a button, the longevity for engaging and enjoyable combat is a given. How well your allies make use of such dangerous weapons when fighting alongside you is a different case entirely. It’s a great feature that you can assign them certain actions such as healing your character or attacking from a distance, but their own abilities and combat are lackluster in comparison, and I found myself doing most of the work. Every other character in the game felt “half developed” and did nothing of the sort to have me interested in who they where or how beneficial they may become to me later on down the line.
This also stretches into conversation sequences when a large number of the characters would exchange dialogue for the sake of progressing the story forward. Character interaction appears to be somewhat broken in my honest opinion, if not thought out entirely and given proper care and attention. The characters themselves are full of personality and I guess we should be grateful for that, but the conversations that take place between the characters don’t quite match up or even make sense as to how people would respond or talk in actual reality, and the stiff animations don’t do much to help this neither. I guess it’s also okay to excuse the fact that amongst the primary group of people you travel and make conversation with for the majority of the game, all have entirely different accents hand picked from around the world.
Since the game itself takes place in a fictional realm of middle-earth humans, bad-mouthed elves, and floating plants with a chip on their shoulder. I counted one Russian, an upper-class Englishman, a Scottish guy, and my main character originating somewhere from the U.S. but hey it’s laughably forgivable. As far as the brains of the group go, the only person who seems to be aware of the bizarre happenings taking place in the actual story of the game would be the player.
Seeing as the main character becomes possessed as some point by another worldly demon you would expect your companions to be in a state of “Shock and Awe” when he or she slays an over-sized zombie, that you were previously fleeing from twenty minutes beforehand. But oh no not here, in my character’s own words. “Uh, hey…Did anybody see what I just did to that huge monster? I mean, seriously? I fried that thing! I saved our asses, and you’re all just, Hey, what’s for lunch?.”
Not long after that when your character’s eye’s are bright red and he or she is cursing the other members of the group in a completely different tongue, and insulting the very nature of what it means to be human, they still remain completely oblivious. This whole issue with the character dialogue and not being aware to the strange events taking place around them, is a complete immersion breaker. It looks like a bad stage rehearsal for a low-budget play, taking place in a rundown theater. Just to add time to the crime, the game throws in character choice responses in the same way that the Mass Effect series does.
However in the same way that Mass Effect does this, by having your character say something that’s completely different from the text box you chose, Bound by Flame does the exact same thing. While there are consequences for your actions they’re not really worth caring for as no relationships are formed between anyone in the game, nor will they see you in a different light, should you choose to be an arrogant snob. These sections of choice however seem to prove useless the majority of the time anyway as it often contradicts itself and backfires on what you originally chose to say.
At one section in particular when deciding not to snitch upon a murderous witch, responsible for the death of an untrustworthy old man. My character mentioned her name during the next set of choices that followed immediately after. Not to long thereafter she spilled the beans on who the witch was and why she killed him. Does storytelling mean anything these days when it comes to a game that involves the element of choice? As fun and exciting that Bound by Flame is, my own personal reasons for continuing on with the game came from my liking for combat and raising the abilities of my character. The world in which you’re given to explore is quite open in the sense of being split between sandboxes and zone entrances that contain minimal loading times.
In each of the zones the player uses an in-game map that is placed in the bottom right corner which can also be over-layed over the screen through a semi-transparent filter. This works well as the game’s world is set up as mostly as paths with mission indications to help navigate the player in reaching his or her destination. The game’s world itself bares well with the theme and setting of the game, that being dark, ghostly, and fantasy medieval.
There’s narrow forests, foggy swamps, caves, villages, and the like. The visuals that give these settings life however, are really nothing to write home about. The best part from a visual standpoint is increase in resolution and frame-rate that the game holds over its console brethren. While the graphical settings will please the PC gamer’s fetish, and will run well across a multiple of configurations, playing on the highest settings available I wasn’t really impressed.
Textures appear flat and contain a “hard wet” look, and the detail appears quite minimal. The game is clearly screaming for tessellation and would do well in benefiting from more visual effects in giving the game a more atmospheric style and look. Particularly in the form of smoke, dust and particle effects. Since my character seemed to emit her own light whenever nightfall came, not much can really be said regarding the game’s use of correct lighting and character shadows. The practicality of how this actually works for the best of my knowledge is not explainable nor did I accept it as actually possible. Had my character been carrying a torch I would understand, but then fact she became her own light source with no supernatural tie-in to the story made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
All said and done Bound by Flame is full of plenty to do and plenty to explore. Upgrading your artillery and changing your character’s appearance never gets old, and the element of choice and ongoing side missions succeeds on delivering replay value. The game is fifteen hours plus and while I don’t bold well with the idea of justifying a game’s length in contrast to it’s price, I mention the length of the game on the basis of how enjoyable the game is, and how much time the player can expect to spend with it depending on his or her play style and natural sense of progression.
Despite the few misnomers regarding odd character dialogue and out of touch instances of character emotion, Bound by Flame manages to stand out more for it’s good sections, and they largely outweigh those that are bad. This isn’t a DarkSouls substitute nor is it attempting compete with it. Bound by Flame carries it’s own identity and deserves the play time that it manages to deliver so much on.
This game was reviewed on the PC.