Bound by Flame Review (PC)
key review info
- Game: Bound by Flame
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: Yes
- Reviewed on:
- Show system requirements
Bound by Flame is a third-person role-playing game from French development studio Spiders, an ambitious project that aims to throw players into an unforgiving fantasy world and have them play a crucial role in the fate of all those who are still living, as well as uncovering some ancient mysteries and battling their own literal inner demons.
As with any role-playing game worth its salt, Bound by Flame presents plenty of weird and interesting situations and characters, as well as a ton of choices to make along the way, the most important of which being how much of yourself you will sacrifice to the demon lurking inside you in order to harness its power in the hope that you will be able to change the inexorable tide of the world's downfall.
The necromancers are using the power of the Worldheart, the source of all magic and life, channeling it to further their own goals without paying any mind to the consequences of such a reckless abuse. Your demon is the first of its kind to ever walk the earth, its singular goal being the restoration of the immense energy source which the Ice Lords are depleting.
You play the role of a skilled warrior, a mercenary trying to make his way into what little remains of the world, one of the few survivors of the great war with the Deadwalkers. By using your knowledge of the fighting arts and the new powers bestowed upon you by the demon, you have to try and change the fate of the entire world, while various factions want to use you as a pawn and fit you into their own plans.
As such, you have to make the right choices when it comes to who you can trust and who you should listen to, and pay close heed to the repercussions of your actions, always questioning your companions' true motives and the ultimate goal of your demonic inhabitant.
Although the story is a tad generic overall and fails to sway the incredulous by feeling a bit contrived at times, and with its apocalyptic nature taking it a little over the top, the writing in general is good enough that it doesn't get stale.
And that is truly brilliant, because you're going to do a lot of listening while playing Bound by Flame, even if you opt not to run around doing side-quests. Speaking of which, a very welcome feature is the ability to tell people you're not their personal errand boy and to flat out refuse to pick berries for whatever inane reason NPCs need them for, but can't be bothered to do the picking themselves.
You can of course accept the ones you feel are relevant to you or your character, such as helping some young lads discern which end of a sword is the pointy one or gathering some weapons from a fallen patrol to arm the sentries back in the village, but for the most part you are free to pursue your own goals.
That of course becomes a bit murky, as the demon is constantly tugging at you to give it more power over your body and mind and to forget the petty affairs of the mortals and just focus on what he deems important, the purification of the Worldheart, which coincidentally would sever the Ice Lords' connection to their source of power and prevent the eradication of the few remaining humans and elves.
To further confuse things, everyone has a different agenda and seems to want to study you and fit you into the tapestry of their plans, from a witch you rescue from the leader of an arcane order, to said arcane order, swearing on their scout's honor that they had nothing to do with their leader's machinations, along with pretty much everyone else, making for some very exciting decisions and a lot of finger crossing, hoping that you made the right choice and you won't get betrayed later on.
The demon's presence will also alter your physical appearance, from orange eyes to full-blown horns growing from your head and being on fire most of the time, but it will also imbue you with the power of flame, offering you various offensive and defensive magical abilities.
Most of the combat, though, will still rely on good old-fashioned melee, and you have three main paths to take, the celebrated trio of the role-playing universe, warrior, mage and rogue. The differences, of course, aren't all that great and it's more of a matter of preference of a certain style over another.
Each of the three paths has its own skill tree to advance. In addition to this, every level up will also net you an additional skill point to be used on some feats, such as increased hit points or healing from potions, greater chance of finding items or a slight increase to combat prowess when wielding a certain type of weapon.
Speaking of wielding weapons, the game's combat system is great and horrible at the same time. It's very engaging, but it falls prey to the same problems almost all action combat systems have, the precarious controls and the lack of some obvious abilities such as side rolls or a quick jab.
The bane of single-player games is also a problem, with uninterruptable animations that force you to watch your avatar twist a knife in someone's back for an aggravating half of a second more than it should take for a professional to do it, unable to move out of the way of an incoming blow no matter how hard you press those buttons.
The mix of ballet techniques with proper swordplay is what will get you killed the most, along with the slow motion making it hard to read the visual cues of enemy attacks, at times. But, by far, the most aggravating bit is the superfluous animations that get in the way of fighting.
I'm guessing fantasy fighters all around the world secretly dream of being on So You Think You Can Dance, but once you get used to how the system works, you'll learn to move within its constraints and things will become easier.
Which really is a pity, because instead of being the most exciting part of the game, fighting quickly becomes monotonous, for the most part you hit two times and then you dodge or parry, rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
It's also an unending source of frustration, because sometimes you can't dodge because you're too busy prancing around with your knives and other times simply touching an enemy's weapon will register as a hit, not to mention that enemies tend to gang up on you and there are no crowd control abilities.
There are a couple of redeeming factors to it though, such as kicking enemies guarded by shields in order to knock them off balance, and it does feel rewarding when you routinely start to dispatch enemies who posed a serious problem the first time you encountered them, giving you a feeling of earned progression.
There are also ways to improve your weapons and armor, as you pick up materials along the way, via Bound by Flame's crafting system, which is pretty straightforward but also fairly complex, allowing you to patch up defensive areas where you are lacking or to further increase your deadliness.
In addition to this, the graphics also feel a bit off, especially the lighting system, which tends to be either too dark or too bright, most of the time giving all surfaces a shiny, over-reflective look which starts to become bothersome after a while.
The graphics are detailed for the most part, with decent textures and some creative models and environments making the game a pleasant visual experience. Aside from the lighting effects, the visuals get a passing grade, almost all animations feeling pretty natural and functioning pretty well, which is good, considering that combat relies on subtle tells.
The cutscenes are, unfortunately, an entirely different discussion, as the combat in most of them is so contrived that it completely breaks any kind of immersion. The story ones also shove some questionable choices that you wouldn't have made on your own down your throat, but that's a sin that all role-playing games make in order to progress the story.
Its sound production is of decent quality too, there's a lot of voice-acting, which sometimes feels like it misses the mark, but contributes to the atmosphere nonetheless, and the way the demon's voice makes its way into yours if you let it consume you is a particularly nice touch.
The music is a strong point of Bound by Flame, a mix of orchestral and electronic music with a haunting voice performance in a strange and eerie language that immensely helps flesh the world out and confer it more depth, along with punctuating various events such as emotional cutscenes or an enemy spotting you and charging toward your position.
- Good dialogue
- Interesting concepts
- Rewarding combat
- Frustrating combat
- Colors and lighting off
- A bit contrived at times
Bound by Flame is not by any means bad, but it's not spectacular either, falling into the category of good but lacking some elements to make it great. The combat has its issues, some parts of the story feel a bit contrived, but for the most part the game is pretty solid.
It has some interesting characters and piques your curiosity in what's going on in its world and your role in achieving an impossible victory, not to mention that the fact that you might lose yourself to a demon adds another layer of excitement and tension to your decisions.
Although combat can prove to be monotonous at times, there is also some variety to it, challenging you to take a different approach to some encounters in order to gain the upper hand. Taking the time to learn your enemies' attack patterns and using some strategy on the battlefield will make it a rewarding experience.
All in all, Bound by Flame is a worthwhile experience that takes an overplayed fantasy storyline and breathes new life into it, even managing to surprise at times, offering a captivating journey and luring you within its world, keeping you glued to the keyboard until you see its conclusion.