WILL YOU BE THE HERO? OR EMBRACE THE DEMON WITHIN?
Bound by Flame has been on my radar for the last year. I have been eagerly waiting while paying close attention for new information in every press release. Now, the time has finally arrived and Bound by Flame is out and I couldn’t have been more excited to get the chance to review it.
Fantasy role-playing games are one of the most common genres on the market today, probably only behind the likes of first-person shooters. So, with new fantasy RPGs coming out all the time, you could easily feel like you are drowning while trying to play them all. That has been the case for me over the past few years. Games like Skyrim, Dragon Age II, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Dark Souls II, and The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings are all great games in their own right, but they didn’t grab me the way I hoped that they would. The only one on that list that did was Kingdoms of Amalur and it only did because it had the most fun combat system I have ever played in an RPG. Because of the bad taste left in my mouth by these HUGE blockbuster games, I was skeptical about the possibility of Bound by Flame changing my mind. Sure, the screenshots and trailers looked pretty cool, but how many times have we been burned by previews like that? The only glimmer of hope I have been holding on to was that Bound by Flame is developed by Spiders, a small French video game development studio known for games like Of Orcs and Men and Mars: War Logs. Maybe a small team could develop the perfect fantasy RPG that I have been waiting for.
The story in Bound by Flame has a Game of Thrones feel to it, but not in the sense that there is a war between five kings. Instead you should think about the “White Walkers”. For those of you who are not familiar with Game of Thrones, the “White Walkers” are a race of mythical humanoid creatures that possess magical powers, look akin to zombies, and have a history of waging war on mankind. The Bound by Flame counterpart to the “White Walkers” are the Deadwalkers: an army of rotting, deformed, and downright disgusting zombie-like creatures. The Deadwalkers were summoned over 150 years ago by the Lords of Ice, who are hell-bent on conquering the world of Vertiel. The Lords of Ice are a circle of mysterious immortal necromancers who have been successfully leading their legions of undead in the extermination of all other known races.
The world of Vertiel was once bountifully populated by humans, elves, dwarves, and the like; however by the time you begin your quest, most of the sentient lifeforms have been wiped off the map and unwillingly joined the Deadwalker army. You play as Vulcan, an upstart human mercenary with a bad attitude and a lot of sass. Vulcan belongs to a faction of respected human mercenaries called the Pure-Blades, who are tasked with protecting what’s left of the Red Scholars–an ancient Order of mages who are considered to be the last chance of stopping the impending apocalypse brought on by the vicious bloodlust of the Lords of Ice.
While protecting the Red Scholars during a ritual intended to stop the Lords of Ice, all hell breaks loose. Vulcan accidentally ends up on the wrong side of a Demon summoning spell and becomes possessed. The Demon inside Vulcan is trapped, and has no choice but to help our hero if he chooses to accept it. As the fight against the Lords of Ice and the Deadwalkers progress, Vulcan is constantly tormented by the Demon, tempting him to give up his humanity in order to gain unheard-of levels of magical powers.
I was overwhelmingly obsessed with finding out every little detail about the history of the world and the war with the Undead. Spiders did a fantastic job at establishing both compelling lore and an awesome story. I found myself talking to every single character, while making sure to investigate all dialogue options so as not to miss any of the story. Most of the story is told through these dialogue investigations, so if you decide to skip them you will surely miss out. I wanted to know who the Lords of Ice were, why they were waging war on the entire planet, and who the hell the Demon was that possessed Vulcan.
Bound by Flame has an excellent fantasy story; but that being said, I fear that many players may not enjoy spending as much time diving deep into conversations as I did. By no means is the story told solely through NPC interaction though; you will get the overall picture just by playing and only talking to NPCs necessary for each main quest. However, there is no way you will enjoy just how rich the story can be by doing this.
When comparing Bound by Flame’s story to the story of Skyrim, there are obvious similarities in story progression and themes. However, the aspect that sets Bound by Flame apart from Skyrim (and the myriad of other fantasy RPG clones) is that Bound by Flame does not bother overloading you with thousands of meaningless sidequests. I will admit, I was once a gamer obsessed with finishing every single sidequest in every game just to say I did it, but that is not the case anymore. I simply do not have the time or the patience to spend hundreds of hours completing fetch quests and other throwaway chores for characters you will never speak to again.
Bound by Flame is exactly what I have been looking for. Sure, there are sidequests in every camp you enter, but there are a very limited number of them. Further, most of these are somehow tied to your party members or even to the overarching main storyline. I was able to complete both the main questline and the majority of the sidequests available in just over 25 hours. Even if you take your time and attempt to do everything, you will still only clock in about 30-35 hours. This is the perfect formula for a great fantasy RPG and I commend Spiders for hitting nail on the head.
For a game that has been flying under the radar by most of the gaming world, Bound by Flame looks absolutely gorgeous. Many developers these days take the easy way out and use the same color palette throughout the entirety of their game. Spiders did not abide by these rules and instead built a world made up of incredibly diverse environments. Each of these environments were beautiful and used different colors to show off their differences. Even the dreary environments like swamps were and caverns were alluring if you take the time to inspect the detail.
However, when comparing Bound by Flame’s delightful art style and color palette to that of other games in the genre, it doesn’t quite compare the the photorealism that many of these games have achieved in recent years. With that said, it doesn’t take away anything from the game as Spiders studio created an awesome visual style of their own.
The voice talent in Bound by Flame is headlined by the established and excellent Robin Atkin Downes as Vulcan. Downes plays the part to perfection and makes it easy for players to connect with Vulcan and really feel involved in the story. The entire cast followed Downes amazing lead, making each character interaction that much more enjoyable. The only downside to these interactions is that there is almost no lip syncing in the game. If you pay close attention, you will notice that characters mouths will just freely move as they speak and will not look realistic in the least. The lack of lip syncing was not detrimental to the overall experience for me because I read the subtitles as characters talk instead of watching their faces; but it is obvious that it will be an issue for some players.
Speaking of the audio performance in Bound by Flame, I would be remiss to not talk about the soundtrack. You know a soundtrack has done its job when it delivers tension and emotion at just the right moments. That is exactly what composer Olivier Derivière (known for his work on Assassin’s Creed and Remember Me) was able to do with this soundtrack. As catchy as most of Bound by Flame’s songs are, you will quickly notice that there aren’t a whole lot of them. You will spend a lot of time in each environment so by the time you have completed each section of the game, you have probably heard the same songs played repeatedly for hours. The collection of songs you will experience really are superb at establishing the perfect mood for each environment and aspect of the story; I just wished that there was a larger variety of them when it was all said and done.
The question that everyone has been asking when inquiring about Bound by Flame has been “What is the combat system like?” To put it simply, I would describe it as being fun, strategic, and a little difficult if you are not paying close attention to what you are doing. Bound by Flame is not a game where you can run into a large group of enemies and just hack-and-slash your way to victory with no second thought. In fact, that is the easiest way to find yourself dying quicker than the amount of time it took you to run into them.
Strategically using your assortment of combat abilities and weapons is the most vital aspect of winning against even the most mundane battles with mobs of weak Deadwalkers and beasts roaming the land. You can freely choose between a sword, axe, hammer, daggers, a crossbow, explosive traps, and fire magic to help you get the upper hand on enemies. Bound by Flame is packed full of different mob level enemies that all have different attack patterns and special abilities. As you progress, you will have to learn their patterns and what weapons are most useful against them or accept your inevitable fate as becoming one of the undead.
The strategy required to defeat the many different beasts and Deadwalkers increases tenfold when you encounter a boss fight. Spiders did a great job when designing their terrifying set of bosses. Each major boss fight was incredibly unique when compared to the previous boss you encountered. Not only are each of them horrifyingly creepy looking, but they also all have different combat styles as well. If you are anything like me, you will find yourself dying often each time you encounter a boss until you can finally develop a well-oiled strategy. Often the most rewarding part of defeating a boss was the feeling of satisfaction from working out the perfect strategy.
Based on how I described the combat system, you may think that it will be really hard, but that really isn’t the case. I have never been a fan of hard games, and Bound by Flame never felt like it was approaching that territory. I always felt like I was just one second or one move away from figuring out how to kill each enemy or boss. This caused me to immediately jump back in and try a different strategy until I could finally work it out.
Armor and weapon customization will often determine whether you live or die in any given skirmish. Bound by Flame has an incredibly deep loot system which lets you use just about any item you find to upgrade your equipment. These upgrades will not only add statistic boosts like attack power or physical resistance, but they will also completely change the way that specific piece of equipment looks. Needless to say, it was awesome to see Vulcan go from having raggedy amor in the beginning to looking like he could rule the world by the end. Aside from the huge variety of cosmetic differences in weapons and armor, you will want to pay close attention to each statistic you are upgrading because some will prove to be your best weapon against certain enemies, while others will be your Achilles’ Heel.
The leveling system and skill trees are very straight forward and include no real surprises or innovation when compared to other RPGs. Vulcan gains experience and levels up by defeating enemies. After leveling up, you can choose to put skill points in any of the three available skill trees: a heavy weapon warrior skill tree, a dagger and crossbow ranger skill tree, and the Demon’s fire magic skill tree. On top of that, you will also have the ability to use an additional skill point on a passive skill that can improve things like how often you find ingredients or how much items will cost at a merchant. Nothing really crazy stood out about the leveling or skill trees, but it was well done all the same.
The Verdict: 9.0 out of 10
Bound by Flame is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise crowded genre. Spiders has achieved what many developers fail to ever do: creating a beautiful world with an incredibly deep/interesting history while also including a rock solid fun combat system. Even though you can complete the main story and most of the sidequests in about 30 hours, many players will find themselves diving right back into the game to try and achieve the other two endings. Bound by Flame was everything I wanted it to be and then some. Spiders did an absolutely fantastic job and I hope that gamers will realize this so that we might see a sequel in the near future. How do I sum up the entire game in just three words? “Go buy it.”