A Lame Flame
Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Dragons Dogma, the hack and slash RPG is really hot right now. So of course we are going to see a couple lesser known companies try their hand at the genre. The latest to come out is Bound by Flame by Spiders, which has become recently popular for its release on the PS4.
In Bound by Flame , you play the mercenary Vulcan who kinda, sorta, maybe, is totally possessed by a horrible fire demon. That’s not that bad though, after all the bad guys are undead and icey like some sort of spillover from Game of Thrones .
The central plot conceit of Bound by Flame is the game’s morality system. The idea is that you can choose to either give yourself up to the demon, or hold on to the last bits of your humanity. Depending on what choices you make, the story of the game will change as will the abilities that you have at your disposal.
This sounds like a pretty interesting system, but in reality it’s just the same black and white moral choice system that we have seen in the past. The decisions that you make don’t really feel profound. When you start to give yourself up to the demon and start changing your physical appearance to be more demonic as a result, it doesn’t feel like you are doing anything bad. You’ll probably find that you’ll either fall into the goody two shoes category, or the baby killing man eater category just like you do in every other game. As far as the story goes, it does change in relation to the decisions you make, but in my opinion those changes weren’t that profound. You’ll play a couple different quests here or there and hear some altered lines of dialogue, but it was never enough to warrant coming back for another play-through.
As you progress through the game, you will be able to advance your character on one of three different skill trees: Fighter, Ranger, and Pyromancer. The fighter tree is all about dealing and taking damage. The ranger tree is all about speed and stealth. Finally, the Pyromancer tree is, as you guessed it, all tied to flame magic.
One of the most enjoyable parts of Bound by Flame is the character progression. Unlike a lot of other actions games which limit you to simple methods of attack and defense, the myriad of choices in Bound By Flame really do make it feel like your fighting style is all your own. It’s very simple to make a big dumpy brawler that goes for mutually assured destruction, or a nimble dagger fighter that tiptoes and dodges around his enemies. You can even switch between styles mid battle and that’s pretty cool.
Unfortunately, it also feels like this customization isn’t realized in the thick of combat, and that’s partially because the combat is so awkward. Hit detection is very spotty. Sometimes enemies will go into hit-stun when you strike them and other times they simply won’t. This actually makes it kind of hard to tell when your blows are landing.
Combat animations are actually kind of sloppy as well. For example, when backstabbing an enemy, half the time your dagger won’t even intersect their model. These wonky animations make it really hard to play defensively. Parrying and counter attacking, while admittedly useful in battle, feel kind of like a gamble more than anything else.
Not to mention the fire skills are, to be honest, kind of lame. A lot them are what you would expect, throwing fireballs, AOE fire blasts, enchanting your blades with fire, so on and so forth. However, the situations in which these are useful are rare. They also don’t particularly feel demonic in origin. Instead it just sorta feels like you are a dude slinging fire around, and we have kind of seen that done a million times in other fantasy games. They don’t really change the way you fight and are best used as curiosities and “oh crap” style desperation attacks. There are a couple cool fire techniques, but you have to slog through the lame ones to get to them.
Some other points in Bound by Flames favor include its crafting and equipment system. The game takes a generalist approach, allowing you to equip any sort of weapon you stumble across, which once again goes a long way toward making your particular fire possessed mercenary feel unique and personality.
However this, once again, is undercut by the game’s graphics which make it feel rushed and dated. Not every piece of equipment interacts with your character model in the most believable way. If it does manage to rest on your bulging man chest well, then it will bug out when it intersects another character model.
In fact, the graphics are probably the worst part about Bound By Flame . I encountered slowdown, random clipping errors, enemies that wigged out and didn’t know what to do, and tons of other graphical hang ups that really took me out of the action. I usually feel that graphics are entirely secondary to gameplay but they really do step between you and the action here.
But if you can get through the graphics, there’s quite a bit to see here. The world is a decent size and is fun to explore. The enemy designs are really interesting and aren’t just your standard fantasy faire. The quests are fulfilling and getting one more point to spend in a skill tree is satisfying, even if it is basically just plain old Skinner Box train of watching numbers go up so other numbers go up.
Bound by Flame also doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you mainline all the story quests, you can blow through the game in about 10 hours. Doing all the side quests will increase your playtime to about twice that. If you were anything like me, you’ll probably get tired of the combat system a couple hours in, but will happily pick up the game again after a break to have another go at it.
In reality, there isn’t much to say about Bound By Flame . It’s not a horrendous travesty that all action RPG players should avoid, and similarly it’s not a stellar blockbuster that all Dark Souls addicts should pick up. It just feels very mediocre and generic. Nothing stands out about the game and nothing really holds it down aside from its graphics at points. It’s a simple fantasy action RPG that won’t replace any of the big names out there, but will keep you amused for 10 hours if you have some money to burn.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.0 Graphics
The graphics feel unpolished and half done, especially for a PS4 game. 3.0 Control
The two stance fighting is cool, but hit detection is kind of wonky. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is competent enough, it’s all your basic fantasy fare. 2.5 Play Value
Bound By Flame is just OK. It’s frustrating at times and interesting in others. 2.3 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best