Spiders, the team that brought us Of Orcs and Men and Mars: War Logs, is back again with another of their RPG light games. This time though, it is also available on the current generation of consoles, and has been positioned as the first RPG of the new generation of consoles. Sadly, in my opinion, this has put the game in a position where it was unable to live up to expectations. Although it has some redeeming qualities, these are largely overlooked due to the multitude of issues hampering this title.
Bound by Flame places you in the role of Vulcan, the demolitions expert of the Freeborn blades, (hence the moniker) as you are charged with protecting a group of magicians and the Red Scribes from the encroaching deadwalker armies of the Ice Lords, while they perform a ritual in a last ditch attempt to turn the tide of the war.
This ritual does not go according to plan, and as the Ice Lords armies descend upon the few survivors, an entity is unleashed which inhabits your body, granting you power which may be just what is needed to change the fortunes of the remaining free people of the realm of Vertiel.
Graphically, Bound is certainly not ground breaking. Using a “faux” Cel shaded look, much like that used in Borderlands, at first seemed at odds with the content and direction of the game, but gradually seemed less outlandish the further into the game I progressed. The heavily outlined features of characters, enemies and environments eventually began to feel quite natural to the themes of the areas I visited, whether it be a dank overgrown swamp or the frozen remains of a once proud city. Although it is not going to win any awards for its art direction, it was still extremely competent and well polished, despite a few flaws in the graphics I spotted in my 20 hours of play time.
Combat is where this title truly stands out. The fluidity of the combat eluded me for the first hour or so of gameplay, but once I had learned the telltale signs from enemies of when to block or dodge, the battles flowed out like ballets of violence. Superb animation and use of slow motion added to the effect of reacting to the flow of battle, but it all seemed very familiar to me. It was only after the first day of playing through that it finally occurred to me where I had seen that same style and combat flow before, and that was in the much debated Viking:Battle of Asgard from Creative Assembly. Both of these games use an identical combat style, with the same base mechanics, and neither truly can be faulted for how they dealt with multiple enemy combat. If I had to pick up on anything, it would be that the targeting system in the game was extremely fiddly, and on more than one occasion I would find myself attacking completely the wrong enemy.
Character development and leveling is intrinsically tied to combat in the game, with each level allowing you to place points in one of three skill trees. Warrior, Rogue and Pyromancer. As you can mix and match between all three at any point in combat, finding a style that suits you is down to how you like your fantasy game. The warrior, once levelled up can block every incoming attack from any direction excluding only the guard break attacks, and after a few levels becomes a veritable walking tank; able to sustain unlimited withering blows while reciprocating in kind. The rogue is a much faster attacker, but has less sting in his melee strikes, and can dextrously avoid most enemy strikes without breaking a sweat. Finally, the Pyromancer. This tree, always felt like a support class for the other two styles, as you would most likely find yourself enhancing your weapons with a flame attack while casting the occasional fire ball or fire shield when you have the time to spare. In each of the trees are specialties, allowing you reduced costs on your spells, or reducing damage and knockback from enemy hits, to increasing the reaction time allowed to dodge incoming attacks.
Alongside these level specific skills, you are also allocated Perk points, which can be used to buy the traits you have unlocked along the way, such as enhanced damage with an axe if you have despatched a set number of enemies with that type of weapon, etc. It all makes for a decent package, which gives you the feeling of progress throughout the entire game.
The plot, regrettably is rather weak, and this is not helped by either the voice acting, or the environments and NPCs as a whole. Having only encountered less than a hundred characters throughout the entire game, I always had a hard time accepting that you and your companions were the last hope for the free world. This is especially true of the attempt to retake an elven city. The plot is quick to state that what remains of the elves are within the camp you are using as your main quest hub, but given that the elves there number less than two dozen,(of which none are female), it never really feels up to the scale it is trying to present nor manages to give the impression there is actually anything to save. Add this to the dreadful voice acting in places and there is nothing there to truly engage you to the overall themes they are trying so hard to portray. This is also greatly reduced by the awful writing with its use of modern terminology and cursive language which screams of trying to be edgy and sharp, but instead comes off as shoe-horned and derivative.
A lot was made of the crafting within the game, and although this does have a fair amount of flexibility and styles, its simplicity is its only boon. Materials for the crafting are few and far between and without heading out to mindlessly grind for drops off of the respawning enemies, I found myself always short of either the required components or the gold with which to buy them throughout most of the game.
There are a few other minor niggles which detract from the title as a whole that have been mentioned by other reviews, such as the ability to change your name, yet everyone still refers to you as Vulcan, begging the question why give the option, if the name is never used?; inopportune load times, where I have actually encountered loading during a battle on several occasions, but transitions from one area to the next are animated. Surely scheduling the load times there would have been more appropriate?; and finally, your “affinity” with your companions. Although they are extremely useful in combat, at no point did I ever feel there was enough relationship building to warrant the “romantic” links that you can achieve with any of them.
Overall, it feels like they tried to take a large helping of recent successful rpg’s such as The Witcher, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Fable, and tried to wedge all of the elements together in a single title, but without truly refining what made the elements such a success for those franchises. As such, it feels and plays like a cobbled together copy. If you can ignore the tried plot and dialogue, and overlook the flaws, there is a competent action game underneath.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Format: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 /PC Release Date: 9th May 2014
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Bound by Flame for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PlayStation 4. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.