Bound by Flame, PS4 review
The literary world is full of fantasy realms and their tales of heroic deeds, so if you want to create a new one it had better be good.
Bound by Flame is a third person action orientated RPG which is all well and good, but once you pass the title screen it becomes apparent the game has a personality disorder. There are aspects of well-trodden franchises scattered throughout the game, Witcher, Game of Thrones, Dragon Age to name but a few. The game sets it stall out early with plenty of adult language and a limited combat system to fight some familiar, yet brutal enemies. Seen by some as a budget release, the game has pretty much snuck up on me and to cut a long story short while it does have faults, sometimes game breaking faults, I find there is something beating at its heart that keeps me playing.
And here’s an early Boss Fight video I grabbed with Sonys new Sharefactory app.
The story can easily be ignored, mainly due to the terrible writing and voice acting, which lurches all over the globe depending on who you are talking with. Characters have little to zero depth, Vulcan the player’s protagonist could have been written by a foul mouthed teenager, he (my default male avatar choice) in no way carries the persona of a hardened mercenary fighting for something worthwhile. Incidentally during the limited character creation you get the option to change his or her name, but the game still calls you Vulcan and it stills feels like the wrong name unless there is some in-joke relevant to the demonic possession you undergo.
Quests and side quests unfold as the game progresses and you will often find yourself revisiting areas to complete them, these areas are fairly small generally maze like corridors in or outside with pockets of enemies to defeat. It’s a fair call, given the overall polish of the game this doesn’t actually feel like a bad design decision and too be honest I’ve seen worse in much bigger games. Quests deliver experience and experience expands your skill tree, three of which Vulcan can choose from offering choices between Heavy melee combat, fast and evasive Ranger combat or the Pyromancer tree which is a result of the demon possessing you. Needless to say the Pyro tree is effective, but it can have some evil ramifications on your appearance if you push it all the way. There are also Fate bonuses, this is a modest range of buffs that can be activated through various activities such as kills or looting, but it feels too limited and half hearted. The skill trees unlock the more you put into them, so progression is limited by how much you want to spread your points rather than purely being level locked, this I do actually like.
As the narrative drifts along on its meandering journey a number of companions will become available to you and some will have side quests that trophy hunters will need to pursue. Being only allowed one of them seems unfair in such an unforgiving world and on the whole they aren’t incredibly helpful, apart from the healer Sybil who is generally my ‘go to’ companion for the sake of my health potions.
The loot drops are not plentiful and often occur more as the result of turning in a quest, however diligently searching chests, barrels, rocks and tree stumps will turn up a range of raw materials that are used to craft weapon or armour buffs and equipment. It’s been done before, but Bound by Flame gets the concept right enough to make it useful and not a chore. Crafting can stay on the good side of the game, especially as the upgrades to weapons and armour actually change their appearance which is a nice touch.
The combat is both fierce and repetitive, more often than not blocking and backpedalling are the order of the day while you build up health ready for another attack. The target lock on mechanism is a touch flaky being tied to the right stick which often leads to a target change in the middle of combat while your brain is trying to move the camera. Switching between fighting styles and weapons is a must in various situations, as is setting the right combination of spells to quick access on the fly. The action can be slowed down to bring up a skill wheel to select other items or give orders to the single companion that is currently tagging along, yep, seen that before. On the whole battles last fair while due to the limited health you can develop, the slow erosion of enemy health and their brutal attacks that can crush you if you hit the deck. All of that said, I like the combat, if anything it reminds how much I enjoyed slashing my way through War in the North and I’m pretty sure I’ll be revisiting that gem once Bound by Flame is done with.
Design wise the presentation is crisp enough, and there are times when the environment looks to be cell shaded to the point of being comparable to Borderlands, whereas character models are suitably fantasy, but to varying degrees of success. There are flaws with the quest structure and navigation, but they are not insurmountable, often losing track of a side quest to the point of it being closed without knowledge. This is probably more to do with the absence of waypoints or visual clues in the game world, rely on the overlaid map or nothing I’m afraid. The one thing I cannot forgive is my stumbling into a (friendly, yet deadly) duel with some dopey knight called Randval, whose overpowered attacks laid waste to me for over an hour before I gave up swearing and reverted back to an old save. In any situation like that there should be a “let’s do this later” option instead of a literal dead end that costs an hour of in-game progression.
Bound by Flame has issues and the internet will shout about them, but, and this is a big but, there is something buried inside it that keeps me coming back. It’s the Roguelike in me that enjoys the grind, the combat works well most of the time and the skill trees offer enough to keep a “Hack n Slasher” like me busy. I’m not even going to get into the story, the fate of Vertiel I’m sure will be fine and I’ll just enjoy the ride for as long as I can.
Just remember Bound by Flame isn’t a multi-million dollar game development, but it is a game made by people that wanted it to be enjoyed. I can forgive its faults because it’s trying hard to please me.