Bound By Flame
Things are not going too great for Vulcan, your character in Bound By Flames. As a member of the Freeborn Blades, a mercenary group, Vulcan is responsible for the safety of a group of scribes attempting a last ditch ritual to help turn the tide against the Ice Lords and their Deadwalker armies. Things go wrong though, and Vulcan ends up possessed by a flame demon with some sinister intentions of its own.
Bound By Flame is a single player, action role playing game by Spiders, the studio that previously worked on Mars: War Logs and Of Orcs and Men. The game is set in a fantasy universe with a world called Vertiel under siege by powerful Ice Lords. It is an unforgiving world that is perched on the edge of total destruction, so when your character is possessed by a demon that grants him special powers he uses it in his fight against the undead instead of heading to the nearest priest for an exorcism.
Bound By Flame is certainly a very ambitious title, but it is also quite apparent that the developers did not have the kind of budget that the bigger studios have to work with. You can choose between a male or female character, but your facial customization options are pretty limited. Don’t expect an open world experience either, as you are restricted to maze-like levels that open up for the occasional combat arenas. Despite being very linear, there are plenty of sub-quests to complete in each area and some very tricky foes that will keep you on your toes.
The visuals are fairly well done overall and some of the areas look genuinely impressive. I really liked the enemy designs as, apart from the usual undead skeletons, there are some very unique monsters to battle. The bosses in particular deserve a special mention as they are not only big, but impressive looking as well. Unfortunately there is not a lot of variety amongst the enemies, so new foes are introduced in drips and drabs. Eventually you will find yourself encountering the same groups of enemies while running around the corridors of the levels, which can become a bit monotonous. The environments are rather limited as well, with only a swamp, some sewers, an icy wasteland and a few ruins to battle your way through. Each area has a central hub where you set up camp and from where you set out on your quests, but generally the levels are fairly small.
The designs of non-player characters are decent apart from the lip synching, which is very, very bad. An interesting feature, pinched from Fable and Knights of the Old Republic, is the way Vulcan’s appearance changes if you give in to the temptations of the demon. It might start with a pair of glowing eyes and end up in full blown horns and darkened skin if you cannot resist the power that it offers. The animation can be a bit rough in patches, but overall I think Spiders did a good job.
As this is an action RPG, combat takes place in real-time, although you can open the tactical menu to slow down the action and change your stance or quaff a few potions. You can issue orders to your companion (yes, you can only have one join you on quests) as well, but they are fairly limited in what they can do and mostly serve to direct some heat away from Vulcan. Bound By Flame is definitely not a button masher and trying to wade in with sword or axe swinging at anything that moves will get you killed very quickly. Instead, you have to learn enemy attacks and then block or parry before striking back when you see an opening. Vulcan has three stances that you can switch between on the fly and each has a skill tree that unlocks new moves or strengthens existing ones. I would have liked to see a few more special moves or spells to spice up the combat, but considering how tough enemies are to kill, it is probably better that you are forced to become really skilled in what you have available.
The fighter stance and skill tree are for heavy, two handed weaponry such as swords, axes and hammers. Although slow, these do bigger damage and allow you to block. The ranger stance, on the other hand, gives you two daggers to work with. The daggers are weaker and you cannot block, but they allow you to stealthily sneak up on something and stab it in the back. Finally, there is the Pyromancer stance granted by your unwelcome demonic visitor, which allows you to set your sword on fire for extra damage, fling fireballs at enemies and generally cause flame related havoc. Vulcan can also let loose a few crossbow bolts to soften up enemies from a distance and has the ability to put down exploding traps. You are going to need every trick at your disposal to best your enemies as even the lowliest of foes can knock you down and take you out if you are not careful. With some skill and patience, you shouldn’t have any trouble completing the game, but you might need to drop down the difficulty a notch if you find yourself struggling.
The game also features a crafting system, but thankfully this aspect has been kept fairly simple and easy to use. Each piece of equipment you have can be upgraded by crafting, which is done using components you find when killing monsters or looting chests. By crafting a new guard and pommel for your blade, for example, you can increase the damage, add some poison or something similar. The changes you make to your equipment are also visible in the game, so a piece of armor that has been upgraded to offer better protection might look a bit different than one that increases your fire resistance. Items such as potions, traps and crossbow ammunition can also be crafted if you have the right components. Some games that feature crafting can be overly convoluted or confusing, so I quite liked the system that Bound By Flame uses.
Although you can only have one companion in your party at a time, there are a few to choose from and Spiders did a decent job making them interesting. I quite enjoyed some of the conversations I had with my companions to learn more about them. You can become romantically involved with a companion as well, but don’t expect anything on the level of the Dragon Age games, though. I would have liked to see more interaction between party members as well as the ability to at least upgrade or equip them better for combat.
The audio in the game is very good, with some great songs playing in the background and decent sound effects. The voice acting is passable, although some characters definitely sound better than others and there are more than a few corny lines. I found a controller to be the most comfortable for playing the game, although it works just as well with traditional keyboard and mouse controls.
In total it took me about 17 hours to complete Bound By Flame, which included doing most of the side quests. The game only has three acts and things definitely felt a bit rushed towards the end. The game keeps alluding to some epic events that are taking place or will take place, but unfortunately it seems that the budget just wasn’t there to really portray these events. Despite borrowing quite a couple of elements from other games and television shows, I found the plot to be interesting enough although, once again, things could have been fleshed out way better if the third act wasn’t so rushed.
Bound By Flame has its fair share of faults, but despite this I found myself enjoying the game quite a bit. It is one of those games where I would barely notice the hours pass while playing the game. If you are going to compare it to games like Dragon Age and The Witcher, it unfortunately falls short in a few areas, but judged by its own merits it is a valiant effort from Spiders. They have crafted an interesting world with lots of potential, so with any luck this won’t be the last time that we get to visit the world of Vertiel. Hopefully the next time the experience will be a little less linear, though.
*Review originally published May 2014.
- OS: WINDOWS XP SP3/WINDOWS VISTA SP2/WINDOWS 7/WINDOWS 8
- Processor: AMD/INTEL DUAL-CORE 2.2 GHZ
- Memory: 2048 MB RAM
- Graphics: 512 MB 100% DIRECTX 9 AND SHADERS 4.0 COMPATIBLE ATI RADEON HD 4850/NVIDIA GEFORCE 8800 GT OR HIGHER
- Hard Drive: 6 GB available space
- Sound Card: DIRECTX 9 COMPATIBLE
- Additional Notes: INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED FOR THE GAME ACTIVATION