Although heavily inspired by other games, Bound by Flame developer Spiders sets the bar on next-gen systems with the first action RPG. Even if it doesn’t get everything right. The conversations and dialogue choices feel like a Bioware title, and the combat system has been enhanced since last years Mars: War Logs, to an almost The Witcheresque level.
At the outset of the game, you are provided minimal customization options for Vulcan, the mercenary with the potential to save the world from the Ice Lords and deadwalkers. Although you are given the option in providing a name, you are still referred to as Vulcan. Think of the name you chose as a file name for saves and nothing more.
Bound by Flame is hard. You’ll die fast and you’ll die often, especially in the first few hours of the game. Completing the game took just a shade under ten hours, even with completing (or failing) every side mission in the game. The tutorial does a great job at introducing the combat mechanics spread across the three distinct class trees; warrior, ranger and pyromancer. Much like their previous title, combat revolves around parrying and blocking regardless of what stance you are currently using.
The warrior stance allows for massive two-handed weapons to be yielded, allowing you to interrupt enemies with a kick. The agile ranger stance replaces the kick with an ability to jump back to avoid any incoming attack as well as enter stealth mode. Attacking unsuspecting enemies in stealth mode provides a boost in damage, but without one-hit kills or takedown, I found it utterly useless as nearby enemies would be alerted to your presence instantly. The pyromancer skills can be used on either of the stances, allowing you to toss a fireball at your enemies and power-up your weapon with additional fire damage.
Bosses require precision and patience, as a single wrong move and you’ll be dead before you blink. Don’t even bother trying to run away if you get in too close either since attacks will gravitate towards you, usually knocking you to the ground. Even normal enemies can be dangerous in small groups, especially if you aren’t watching your health. Speaking of which, there are only a handful of enemies throughout the game, so get used to facing the same thing multiple times, especially in the final two areas. The final boss fight however is my first rage induced encounter on the PlayStation 4, requiring cheap tactics to complete the game.
Companions follow you around the fairly linear environments one at a time. They do awkwardly vanish during certain cutscenes or entering a town. Worst of all, the companions are ultimately helpless in combat, dying well within the first 30 seconds of the majority encounters, regardless if you are facing multiple normal enemies or a single “tough” enemy. Without spoiling any of the narrative, the two magic users in the game are capable of using crowd control, temporarily disabling a single foe and even turning them against your enemies. This comes especially useful in some of the boss fights, although no companions accompany you during the final boss fight.
There isn’t any type of progression or advancement for the companions, but you are able to loosely control their role in combat. They can be set to use their special ability, attack from a distance, or even get up-close and personal. Don’t forget to open a dialogue with them as they have a lot to say regarding current situations, even allowing you to accept quests and romance – at your discretion of course.
As you level up, you gain points to advance in all three of the skill trees on top of earning feats. Each skill has multiple progression levels, allowing for multiple points to be assigned to further advancement within those particular skills. Feats must be unlocked before they can be activated.
Outside of the typical massive hammers, axes, swords and daggers, placing traps saved me on numerous occasions. Traps aren’t instantly placed, but if you have a free second, it is easy to bait an enemy into the radius of the trap to deal out massive damage. Crafting takes place on the fly, allowing you to combine components to create health and mana potions as well crossbow bolts and an endless supply of traps. If you find yourself short on certain components, even these components can be crafted by using other components.
The majority of weapons and armor pieces allow for additional crafted parts to be added, changing not only the visual style but stats as well. Crafting a new guard or pommel for a sword can provide resistance bonuses, additional damage, critical hit percentage and more. At first glance, chest armor pieces appear bland, but after adding lion heads for shoulders, a poison pouch to the belt and spikes coming out of the front, Vulcan looked ready to take on the Ice Lords.
Combat feels flexible thanks to the equipment management system, allowing you to customize weapons to your own playstyle. I have a soft spot for high damage output, so I loaded my two-handed sword Dragon’s Tear (best weapon design in the game) with additional damage, making it the strongest sword I found. On the other hand, when I was in the mood for bashing deadwalkers to bits, I purchased a gold plated hammer with a bright green gem socketed in the middle. I customized it to have increased weapon speed and fire damage. Regardless of what weapon I was using, I made sure my mana was always full before every encounter. Opening up with a pyro spell to set my weapon on fire provided a surge of increased damage. Without it, damage output on any weapon felt too weak even against normal enemies.
After watching the credits roll, I was disappointed to find a lack of any New Game + option of any kind in the game. The autosave saves right before the final decision in the game, allowing you to see what happens to the world with the other choices, but that is about it. The final decision is dependent on the choices made throughout the game regarding the demon inside your body. If you embrace the demon inside you, your appearance will alter completely with dark horns and a fiery complexion. For a game that has trophies focusing on maximizing skill trees and romancing all of the companions, I was upset to learn that I have to replay the entire game from scratch.
In the end, I wish there was more to Bound by Flame. I adored the crafting system and have come around on the combat system once I mastering the act of parrying, but I still wish there was more. Spiders has turned down the swearing in the game (compared to Mars: War Logs), but Vulcan has his/her outbursts for no good reason. The game is dialogue heavy, and provides a ton of backstory on the towns, the people and the quests in the game; just don’t look at the characters while they speak.
Note: The Bound by Flame review was written based on a promotional review copy of the game.