It’s hard not to compare Bound by Flame to Dragon Age, Fable, Dark Souls and the like but if you’re going to compare this game against those, you may be disappointed. However, taken by itself there is plenty of fun to be had with this ambitious Action Role-Playing game even with all of it’s flaws.
Bound by Flame is a fantasy Action RPG where you take the role of Vulcan, a possessed mercenary who has to choose between his humanity or demonic powers. You have a choice here, if you choose humanity you then have to repel the demon inside. By doing this, instead of receiving demonic powers you will become heroic and wield skills of a true hero. I chose the demonic route and instantly regretted it as I watched all my unfinished side quests get cancelled out. The surprising thing was my choice did matter here in a big way. Instead of fighting with my fellow Mercs, I chose to go it alone and take a boss. While I was doing this, the town I was in was over run by the main antagonists, the Deadwalkers, and eventually destroyed. The story of Bound by Flame is not something that is well fleshed out or explained in the beginning. In fact, even after many hours of playing through Bound by Flame, I still have trouble remembering many of the characters and plot lines. It’s certainly not the worst story that’s been told in a game but it’s not exactly unique enough for me to care or remember anything about it. Most of the characters you interact with are equally forgettable. Most of the dialog is straight out of a B-move and in a way I enjoyed that. I usually found myself laughing at dialog like,”…something in my head zapped me and used my mouth”. It’s so bad it’s good.
The world of Bound by Flame has it’s moments. There were times when I did stop to take in the scenery even if it was surrounded by invisible barriers. For the most part, the world is very maze like. There were times I would get turned around because each area looks like itself. A good example would be the swap area. Everything in the swamp looks almost identical – trees, grass, ledges. If it wasn’t for the map, I don’t think I would have ever found my way out of the swamp. Bound by Flame’s world is also like a maze because of the strict paths you have to walk. There are invisible barriers everywhere even in places where the only purpose they server is to block you from getting to an area without going the “long way” around – open world… this is not. For the most part this doesn’t get in the way of gameplay but there were occasions where the level design impeded my ability to attack or thwart off an attacker. One area that sticks out the most in my mind is in the ice mountain area. There was a puddle of ice water that acted like a brick wall, I could not walk on it. With all the powers of the demon inside of Vulcan, you’d think he’d be able to walk on or ever a puddle. This is one of those moments in games I just shake my head and face palm. Gameplay in Bound by Flame is setup with two major fighting “stances”. The first stance is called “Warrior”, which allows you to wield a two-handed weapon, block, and kick/break enemies block. The Warrior stance is meant to be a powerful attack and therefore very slow. When there were multiple enemies attacking me at the same time, I had a hard time with this stance – It was just too damn slow for me. The second stance is called “Ranger”. The Ranger stance allows you to swiftly, or stealthily, attack with two daggers. In lieu of the Warrior’s kick, Ranger stance allows you to parry attacks. This becomes an integral part of combat if you want to stay alive long enough to hear all the bad dialog in the game. Timing your parry correctly also produces a “bullet time” effect, slowing down the action allowing you to react faster. It’s neat but I had a hard time figuring out if it helped me any. As useful as parrying is, it has one major flaw and that’s the explicit direction you always parry. The parry will move you character backwards regardless of what angle you’re being attacked from. This becomes a bit of a problem if you get backed into a corner by multiple enemies. There were a few occasions I was backed into a corner by my own parrying, which was not a fun time. You also have magic at your disposal which is called Pyromancy and as the name suggests, you command all sorts of flame attacks. To be honest, I hardly used Pyromancy except to engulf my weapons in flames giving them a boost in damage.
The combat in Bound by Flame can be really fun especially after leveling up Vulcan’s skills. I found a nice rhythm between parrying and returning attacks. I found a similar rhythm while playing Dark Souls, though the combat system in Dark Souls is like a refined dance whereas the combat system in Bound by Flame is more of an ironic dance. That being said, there are some issues with the combat. For starters, It’s difficult to tell if your attacks are landing due the inaccurate hit-boxes surrounding enemies. There isn’t that Skyrim “thud” telling you an attack just landed. It’s very similar to Fable or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, though the latter has a much better combat system than the one found in Bound by Flame. I’ve also had a few issues with the lock-on systems. Sometimes it was rock solid, allowing me to thrash a deadwalker and other times it would randomly select enemies far out on the field. Not a deal breaker but still annoying and worth mentioning. And of course what would an Action Role-Playing game be without a skill tree? I suppose it wouldn’t be a very good RPG that’s for sure. Bound by Flames has three major skill trees you can upgrade as you progress through the game: Warrior, Ranger, and Pyromancer. Each of these trees will beef up your skills accordingly. In addition to these main skill trees there are smaller attributes that can up upgraded for things such as more HP or MP. Another RPG element to Bound by Flame is it’s crafting system. Through out your playthrough, you’ll obviously get into a battle or two (or million), which allows you to collect craftable items once you vanquish the deadwalkers. Craftable items range from potions to upgrades for your weapons. You can even craft, craftable items like “Tainted Blood” which is required to craft health potions. The crafting system is a very welcome feature. There will be times when you’re in a battle and you’ll no doubt run out of health potions. As long as you have the ingredients needed to craft what you need, it’s not a problem. This has saved my ass a few times in this game and I wish more games had this feature. In true RPG fashion, you can also have a companion follow you around. Unfortunately, you can only have one companion at a time. This is kind of a weird thing because there are points in the story where you’ll meet new companions and your current companions just… leaves. I wonder what was going through their AI brains when they left,”three’s a crowd, F this noise – I’m out”? I did enjoy playing with Edwin who had a nice sarcastic way about her and Mathras who’s pretty much a Litch (an undead mage) but doesn’t seem to like being called such a thing. The major issue I had with my companions was their uselessness. For most of the game, my companions would wander blindly into battles or forget to heal themselves. A lot of time I’d find them spread out on the ground taking a nap. There were times when the companion would come in handy by serving as a distraction allowing me to attacked from behind. Not exactly something they should put on their resume though.
Visually, Bound by Flame is mostly ok but just ok. Characters and objects are very sharp, at least on the PS4 version, and when the game hits 60 frames per second (fps) it shows what PC gamers are most likely seeing with middle of the road hardware. Bound by Flames doesn’t need to be 60 fps but it definitely would have added a nice polish to an otherwise rough game. Unfortunately, Bound by Flames usually chugs sub 30 fps, which makes no sense other than the dev team didn’t have time or the ability to optimize this game for the PS4. I did notice one thing that I found odd about the visuals of Bound by Flame. It reminded me of Borderlands and I don’t mean it looks cartoony but by a certain effect where objects seemed to be outlined either by a thick shadow or even a line. This effect didn’t bother me or affect game play in the least but it did stick out.