Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Bound by Flame (PC) review

Bound By Flame is an ambitious Fantasy RPG from the developer Spiders, and is arguably their biggest release to date. With previous games like Of Orcs And Men and Faery: Legends Of Avalon failing to inspire, is this the game to really showcase what Spiders can do?

The player takes up the role of Vulcan, a warrior in the Freeborn Blades Mercenary group. You have been tasked with a protection mission in a world overrun by Deadwalkers, an army of undead led by seven powerful sorcerers known as the Ice Lords. After being possessed by a demon, you gain fiery powers, which you must use to try and turn the tide of war, and push back the enemy for good. 

Upon starting the game, you can customise your character, although choices are limited, with about 5 different faces and hair styles for each gender. You can give your character a new name, but this is mostly pointless as NPCs always refer to you as Vulcan regardless. There are 3 chapters to the story, each set in a new part of the world. Each of these has a town, in which you can get new quests, or purchase and sell items. The environments change greatly between the chapters, seeing you visit a woodland village, an Elven city and a whole other realm, amongst other places. These locations all look fantastic, and thanks to a well designed mini-map, are easy to traverse. Quest pointers are clearly labelled, even to the point of showing which exit to take if you need to leave your current area.

You can customise your character, but the choices are limited

As to be expected, most quests are standard for the genre, with a large amount boiling down to either killing particular monsters, collecting specific items, or talking to various characters, but none of them take too long, and backtracking is fairly minimal. At certain points in the game, you are tasked with making a choice that will affect how the rest of the game plays out. Unfortunately, these instances are few and far between, and often don't really affect the game as much as you might hope. Still, there is some added replay value thanks to this.

Combat is fairly simple, but it can take a little while to get to grips with fully. Basic attacks and area attacks are done through the mouse, with one block key and a guard block/evade key. With perfect timing on a block or evade, you can counterattack, which gives you free hits on your opponent. Getting this right becomes vital against stronger enemies, and you are thankfully given enough time to practice on weaker opponents before it becomes necessary. There are two main combat styles in the game, either using powerful two handed weapons, or quicker, weaker dual-wielded knives. The choice is purely personal preference, and you aren't really forced into using either. Swapping between the two styles is very easy, so you can experiment with each without having to make a final decision.

There are varied play-styles, depending on whether you prefer light or heavy weapons

On top of the basic weapon combat, you also have access to a crossbow and magic. The crossbow isn't very useful and can be largely forgotten about, but the magic is even more useless. A large part of the plot focuses on bonding with a Demon inside of you, that grants you these magical powers, but using them is very unnecessary. Most of the powers aren't very helpful, and quickly drain your magic supply. A couple of them can be very useful though, such as the ability to conjure flames on your weapons, increasing your damage. One of the problems is that these skills are used through either a tactical menu, or the number keys, although only four are displayed on your HUD at any one time. As such, you often forget about the rest of them, and you rarely feel the need to use them.

The biggest issue however, is how cheap some of the enemies' tactics can be. Bound By Flame isn't a ridiculously hard game, but some fights can be downright infuriating. The biggest cause of this is when you get knocked down by an enemie's attack. There is no way to speed up your recovery time, and you can't do anything until you stand back up. In this time, your enemy has more than enough opportunity to get at least one free hit on you, and if you're fighting a small group or a powerful boss, this can be fatal. On top of that, you can be knocked down again, before you've even stood up, meaning you have to wait even longer before you can fight back or heal yourself.

The combat is decent, but getting knocked down all of the time gets old, fast

Throughout the game, you will be aided by an NPC follower. There are a number throughout the game, all with different abilities, be it the power to heal, black magic, or just sword or bow combat. None of them are that great in combat, so besides the healer, they're mostly interchangeable, depending on who you like the most. You can give them orders through the in-game tactical menu, but even this isn't that important.

As you kill enemies, you will receive both experience and item drops. Experience lets you level up, giving you the ability to upgrade your basic skills, letting them do more damage or gain a secondary effect. You also gain so called "feat points", which allow you to gain various passive abilities from more health, to increased ability with specific weapons, to getting more drops from enemies. It can be hard to notice a difference as you level up at times, with some abilities improving your character in such minor ways.

You can also improve your character through crafting, which uses items you find lying around to improve the weapons you use, or to make more potions or crossbow bolts. Most weapons and armour come with extra slots, allowing you to add these bonuses, assuming you have enough materials to make the wanted upgrade. Should you be lacking some however, you can upgrade more common materials into stronger, rarer ones. Failing that you can even make the lowest forms out of your own money, somehow.

There are definitely no complaints about the visuals

The game looks and sounds fantastic. Visually, the world is stunning, and the character models are equally impressive. The soundtrack is great from beginning to end, and some of the music is absolutely beautiful. The voice acting can be fairly hit and miss however, with some characters receiving much better performances than others. Add to that a very variable script, and you occasionally get a laughably bad line. The biggest complaint is that the lip sync is fairly poor when a character is talking, but it's not detrimental to the core gameplay, so it can be ignored.  

All in all, Bound By Flame is far from a bad game. The gameplay is entertaining and fluid, the environments and soundtrack are both fantastic, and there is a good amount of content. A good playthrough is likely to take around 20-30 hours, and for those who want to see everything, there is a bit of an incentive to replay thanks to the story choices. It is a fine addition to the ever-growing catalogue of Fantasy RPGs.


by Mike Aitchison

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