Overall - 70%
The raw nature of the dialogue, the impressive depth of the companions and their personalities, the artistically impressive and varied environments and the typically over-heroic culmination of the story combine to deliver a package that somehow forces you to forget the downfalls and just enjoy a basic, old-school RPG experience that tried too hard at being something it isn't.
The quest of the avid RPG player is one that knows no end. We’re constantly in search of the next fantastically immersive experience provided by the iconic genre but seldom do games deliver. Spiders Studios’ and Focus Interactive’s Bound by Flame hopes to deliver as one of the first truly exciting RPG titles to launch on next-generation platforms, but is it a flaming success or a dying ember?
In traditional RPG fashion, Bound by Flame begins with a brief introduction to the main protagonist accompanied by a brief insight into the troubles that plague the world of Vertiel. As a victim of demonic influence, you’ve become an incredible weapon in the fight against the evils that plague the land, but that power comes at a price. As the protagonist you’ll find yourself in a constant struggle as you fight the tug-o-war urges of good and evil that rage within. Through its many chapters, Bound by Flames promises an epic storyline supported by detailed characters, fully voiced NPCs, and the ability to alter the future of Vertiel with just a few choices.
That right there is what convinced many people to purchase the game come release. Games of old, like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Dragon Age, proved that gamers love the ability to choose and the consequences that come with that privilege. However, despite their age, they both delivered a better system than the Possession element used in Bound by Flame. As you progress through the story, you’re presented with a variety of choices that impact both the physical appearance and abilities of your character while also having influence on other elements within the story including one of the three final endings. If you offered a player a deep enthralling fantasy experience with the ability to shape the world as they see fit, they’d snap it up in a second. Sadly however Bound by Flame doesn’t deliver with a convoluted system that left me guessing after each choice. Do I need to check my Possession level again or was that another hollow choice? Even when making decisions that could be seen as nothing but evil, I found the demon within gently resting as I remained untouched by his demonic prowess.
This false illusion of freedom is a strange element that seems to always be lurking in the shadows. The seemingly versatile character progression system boasts three extensive trees each with different potential applications in battle. However, unless you invest practically all of your points into the Ranger stance and set your blades on fire every battle, you’ll find yourself eating dirt against some of the most basic enemies in the game. The illusion persists through many elements of the game with rather suspect stealth mechanics, linear exploration plagued by invisible barriers and various choices that seem to have little or no impact at all on the game.
Combat is another element that falls victim to the predictable linearity that plagues the game. The myriad of progression options constantly dances in the shadows of the restrictive behavior of the AI, resorting combat to little more than spamming a dodge button before unleashing an attack at the opportune time. However, despite all of these problems, the combat still left me feeling satisfied. Sure I was hitting dodge 30 times in a battle against three enemies but even while drowning in repetition, I was strangely captivated by the difficulty caused by the lack of options. It’s not something I hope to catch on but many of the limits, even those that seemed accidental, actually aided towards creating a difficulty that manages to challenge while not being frustrating at the same time. I felt robbed that the other progression paths seemed painfully useless at first glance but once I accepted it, it quickly became a slight downside rather than a bleeding artery.
Practically every other element of the game follows the same peculiar emotional path that appeared in the combat system. The crafting system felt little more than an afterthought than a fully fleshed out feature. I spent the vast majority of time crafting simple consumables to increase my chances of survival and the apparently deeper level of crafting was just as simple. Enchanting the equipment I did possess quickly lost any real value as I was equipping new pieces, maxing them out and then replacing with another piece just moments later — I never really feeling the need to collect the materials. But again, despite the lack of any real substance, the customization benefits provided by the dozen or so enchantments you can discover did at least make it have some sense of purpose.
Almost every feature introduced during my experience fell short. Just as a tutorial revealed the enchanting system, I discovered its lack of progressive options. As soon as the presence of the good and evil system appeared, I was left confused. When the additional ability paths opened, I was quickly introduced to its true linearity. Every feature felt just a tiny distance short, but after I realized it wasn’t what it was trying to be, I was enjoying myself at every opportunity. As conflicting as some of this article is, it’s something you would have to experience to fully understand. I set my bar high, Bound by Flame didn’t make it, yet I leave the game behind me with positive memories.
Bound by Flame took me on a journey that I will remember for many years. It attempted, and failed, to deliver on many traditional elements of the RPG genre but there’s a certain level of charm that seemed attached to every inch of the game. I felt disappointed that the inner battle between good and evil played a very minor part for the majority of my adventure. I felt the combat wasn’t responsive, the lip syncing immersion breaking and the side-activities almost non-existent in variety. But somehow I still enjoyed Bound by Flame.
The raw nature of the dialogue, the impressive depth of the companions and their personalities, the artistically impressive and varied environments and the typically over-heroic culmination of the story combine to deliver a package that somehow forces you to forget the downfalls and just enjoy a basic, old-school RPG experience that tried too hard at being something it isn’t.