I’ve always been a fan of the Dark Fantasy genre. Sure, High Fantasy stories have the saviours and destruction of evil lark, but it’s the moral ambiguity found in Dark Fantasy that tickles my fancy. Game’s like The Witcher (and it’s stellar sequel) or the “Souls” series are fine examples of Dark Fantasy in gaming, while Dragon Age skirts around the edge, lacing everything in blood and fire to hide it’s High Fantasy core. Bound by Flame borrows from all of the above, without ever cementing an identity of it’s own.
That’s not to say it’s all bad mind you. Fans of Spiders previous titles Of Orcs and Men or Mars: War Logs, will know that the studio makes flawed, albeit interesting titles and Bound by Flame is no different. I came at this game as an ex-developer and was impressed by the scale of the game, given that it’s not made by a massive triple A studio. In saying that the game does boast a massive triple A price tag, and that may be an issue for those who are on the fence about Spiders latest.
Bound by Flame tells the story of Vulcan, the powder master of a mercenary troupe known as the Freeborn Blades. Vulcan and his mercenary buddies are unwillingly pulled into a desperate battle between the last remnants of humanity and the ancient evil known as the Ice Lords. These evil overlords have swept across the land and with each army destroyed, have expanded their own undead army.
At the outset of the game, Vulcan finds himself possessed by an ancient and evil demon, who seeks to drain a mystical entity known as “The Worldheart”, claiming it will destroy the Ice Lords. Vulcan and his followers are sure the demon has ulterior motives and it’s from here on that the games most interesting element is born. Unlike other games with a morality system, Bound by Flame balances the subtleties of morality quite well. Many choices seem like the obvious “good” choice, but may have seriously negative ramifications down the line.
Unfortunately, while the story is interesting, the dialogue is typically quite vulgar and the voice acting varies from top notch to bottom of the barrel. This huge sway in quality, is evident throughout many areas of Bound by Flame, and is the reason that I find it difficult to recommend the title to all but the most die hard action RPG fans – especially at it’s full 50 dollar price tag.
The combat is another area of the game that flies wildly from great to average. The game has an interesting combat system that borrows elements from The Witcher and Dark Souls. The core gameplay relies on three fundamental skillsets. You have your warrior stance, your ranger stance and your pyromancer abilities. While in Warrior Stance, you can use large swords, block more effectively and interrupt your foes with a cheap kick attack. While using ranger stance, you can use stealth attacks and attack much more quickly, while sacrificing your stronger attacks and guard.
Each skillset has it’s own ability tree, which can be improved using points gained, obtained by levelling up. This all sounds pretty fine and for the most part it is. However, the games combat can be particularly bothersome when facing multiple foes. It’s not that the game is any more difficult per se, it’s more so a cheap way of spamming the player into submission. It’s these momentary frustrations that detract from what is otherwise a compelling, albeit simple, combat system.
Visually the game is yet again a mixed bag, utilizing an interesting art style that falls more in line with Gearbox Studios Borderlands than say, the Dark Souls games. There are some really bad lip-syncing issues during the cutscenes and animations are often stiff and last gen. In saying that, environments do look quite nice and textures are typically pretty nice. Character and monster designs can be pretty sweet too, but feel like a mish-mash of characters and foes from other fantasy games like Dragon Age, Dark Souls or The Witcher – coming back to that lack of identity I mentioned earlier.
All in all, Bound by Flame is not a catastrophically bad game as many out there might have you believe. It’s certainly rough around the edges and appeals to a select niche of fantasy fans, but at it’s core beats the heart of a good game. It might be worth skipping the game right now for it’s hefty asking price, but if you’ve enjoyed any of the other fantasy games mentioned in this article, it could be worth picking up in a sale, when it drops in price a bit.
Bound by Flame is on par with Spider’s previous effort, Of Orcs and Men, in my eyes. It gets a lot wrong, but as the adventure continued I found myself getting more and more fascinated by the world of Vertiel and my standards dropped, allowing me to overlook some of the games bigger flaws. However, the bizarre difficulty spikes and lack of polish will definitely turn off many gamers, which is a shame because it’s in the games later hours that it really starts to feel like a whole product.