Bound by Flame is a fantasy RPG developed by Spiders Studio which launched today, May 9th for PC, PS3, PS4, and Xbox 360. Published by Focus Home Interactive, Bound by Flame has been running a bit under the radar leading up to its release, though we didn’t let that stop us from giving the game a spin.
You take the role of Vulcan, a human mercenary on a mission to defend the world from ice zombies from the north called the Deadwalkers. If that short plot summary kind of reminds you of the current season of Game of Thrones and the White Walkers, you’re certainly not alone. Thankfully the story in Bound by Flame is much more than just a retelling of Game of Thrones and also includes more high fantasy aspects like demons, undead, elves, and mages.
Much of the story in Bound by Flame is told through optional interactions with various NPCs. You’re never forced to listen to a boring voice over about somebody’s pet that needs rescue or read dozens of journal entries to progress a quest. Players that could care less for the intricacies of the lore can skip over the fluff and just hit things with a sword, while those who appreciate the finer details can dive deep into the story. This leads to a nice balance overall between casual and hardcore players.
From what I knew of the game before release, it sounded to me like Bound by Flame was a hack and slash action-RPG with some Fable inspired elements. I could not have been more wrong on my previous impression. The best way I could describe Bound by Flame is that it’s a unique mix of Skyrim, Dark Souls, and Fable with a bit of Dragon Age mixed in for good measure.
The norm in the RPG industry nowadays seems to be gravitating toward epic 100+ hour games with hundreds of side quests on top of a huge main story. What interested me about Bound by Flame is that Spiders Studio chose to go with a more manageable game length that still offered the hardcore elements that you’ve come to expect in modern RPGs. A particularly dedicated player could probably finish most of the game in a Friday night to Sunday night gaming weekend, though you might not get much sleep. It’s safe to expect between 25 – 40 hours of gameplay counting all of the side quests.
What makes Bound by Flame stand out in a major way is the wealth of customization available to you. Even at an early stage in the game you’re making many choices that decide how your character plays and looks. A very robust leveling system allows you to spend points in many different ways to create a character that plays exactly how you want. A skills section offers you the choice to spend your points in either the Warrior, Ranger, or Demon trees. You also have a full equipment section that allows you to craft upgrades and adorn them to your armor and weapons. Finally, you’re also given points to spend in a merit-based perk section where you choose passive attribute boosts. When you combine all 3 systems you end up with a very complex leveling mechanic that really feels MMO inspired with its instant gratification and longer range goals.
Without giving too much story away here, early on Vulcan is possessed by a flame demon that continuously attempts to influence your decisions throughout the game. Giving in to his desires will heavily alter your appearance over time, morphing Vulcan from lowly human soldier into a godlike flame demon human hybrid. Your choices throughout the game decide the fate of the allies you meet along the way as well, people live or die by your decisions which should offer some interesting replay value for those looking to play multiple times through.
Combat is the star of the show here and with good reason. Even early on in the story, Bound by Flame is a damn hard game if you come into it with the wrong mindset. The game is not a mindless hack and slash aRPG, and if you play it as such you’ll be redoing a lot of fights. I chose to play on a more moderate difficulty and even then it was still hard. Mastering the combat system will require you to hone your reflexes and get really good at parrying, riposting, and dodging attacks while learning your enemy’s attack patterns and weaknesses. Combat is nothing like the Fable-inspired fighting that I had imagined it might be, it’s much more reminiscent of Dark Souls and Skyrim. Even the small encounters require you to play strategically in Bound by Flame. Rushing into a pack of skeletons with a heavy mace might yield better results than using your daggers, but a more agile and stealthy approach on a lone enemy might allow you a quick kill without being noticed.
It wouldn’t be right to not mention a few things that stuck out in other ways. The soundtrack for Bound by Flame is downright amazing. While the production quality and awesomeness of the songs is beyond that of most games, I did find myself wishing there were a few more songs to keep things fresh as you’ll end up hearing them repeat a lot. Pretty much the entire game is expertly voice acted which is really cool for people like me that like to listen to the character talk rather than read. It threw me off a bit though that the character’s mouths don’t sync with the words they are speaking. In the end I guess I have a better idea of what it feels like for non-english speakers to play our games that get ported for their native language. For a game that otherwise looks so damn good it’s interesting to see, but also not unforgivable.
Maybe you were waiting to see what people thought before you put down some cash, you’re not crazy for wanting to do so. It’s a new IP with some ambitious mechanics from a company that you might not be too familiar with. If you’re a fan of difficult games with a rich story that also happen to look really nice, Bound by Flame might be for you. If you enjoy fighting giant monsters and mastering a combat system that rewards quick reflexes, Bound by Flame also might be for you. If you’re a fan of being possessed by a flame demon,Bound by Flame is definitely for you.
Summary: Bound by Flame might catch you unprepared for how hard it can be. A rich storyline and huge amount of customization makes this a great game that you can sit down with over the course of a few weekends and beat.