Bound by Flame Review
publisher: Focus Home Interactive
developer: Spiders Games
|ESRB rating: RP
release date: May 09, 14
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Developing an RPG in the west is tricky business, particularly after the success of Dragon Age: Origins. Spiders Studio has stepped up to the plate with Bound by Flame, an RPG that pits the player as a mercenary (named Vulcan, no matter which sex or even name you choose) trying to fight against the evil Ice Lords and their undead army. What’s the best weapon against an Ice Lord? Why it’s fire! And yes, Vulcan--who must be named after the Roman God of the Forge--accidentally gets possessed by a fire demon, so he has the one weapon that can fight back against the tyranny! Huzzah!
I had enjoyed Bound by Flame immensely, but I couldn’t help but see what they were trying to emulate.
Ah yes, love this face. It's perfect!
Obviously some for of native dance.
It’s more than obvious that several mainstream RPGs foot the inspiration for Bound by Flame, including Dragon Age: Origins, Fable 2, The Witcher, Skyrim and Diablo. It’s almost as if the developers decided to pick and choose features from their favorite games, which is both a good and a bad thing. The good thing is that they don’t lean on one or two inspirations too heavily, and what they do lean on, they do it well. The bad thing is that not much of the gameplay is that innovative or original.
Like all of these games mentioned--except for Diablo--the choices the player makes in the game affects the story’s outcome. Some of these choices are obvious, and sometimes they are subtle, such as failing to or opting to not complete certain side quests. The choices of the protagonist also affects how much of the fire demon she lets control her soul, which alters outward appearance, how she is treated, and of course, how the story goes. It’s this aspect that intrigued me the most about the game, and it’s definitely one thing the developer implemented very well and contained the most original thought. It’s a shame that story isn’t the most prevalent element here, but that’s most often the case with, well, a video game, and the story isn’t strong enough to make anyone look past the same gameplay found in several other RPGs.
Like Skyrim, Fable 2, and The Witcher, all combat is done in real-time. Players can slow down the battle when opening up a tactical menu to select a potion, a spell, or to give orders to the companion if there are any. Also like Skyrim, The Witcher, Dragon Age: Origins, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, players can tailor Vulcan to how they want to play with both skill trees and Features. Unlike all of those games, however, the skill trees are very, very simple, typically focusing on the three stances of combat: warrior, ranger, and pyromancer. Players can switch between these stances at any time during combat, so at one moment, Vulcan can be agile and quick, the next she can swing around a massive, two-handed sword, and then opt to fling fire spells.
The Features skills remind me a bit of Skyrim’s leveling, in that the Features will only unlock after the player has done a certain number of tasks. For example, after crafting 20 traps, the player can unlock a Feature that will require fewer crafting materials for crafting traps. In other words, the more you prefer to do one particular thing, the more the game rewards you for that preference.
Crafting is probably one of the most important mechanics I have come across in an RPG in a while. Skyrim, The Witcher, and Kingdoms of Amalur all had big crafting elements (especially The Witcher), but in Bound by Flame, the crafting feels far more accessible and not half as cumbersome. I can craft anywhere, at anytime, and I can craft almost anything I need if I have farmed the right materials. I don’t have to visit a town to replenish my traps or crossbow ammunition or even health potions, because I can just craft all of these things. I can craft my weapon upgrades and recycle unused weapons to craft more things. The only items I cannot craft are the primary weapons themselves and armor. I loved not really worrying about how much gold I had on hand (which was never much) because I could turn scrap into explosive traps and turn my kills into health and mana potions so very, very easily.
Visually, the game is an odd hybrid between the cel shading of Borderlands and the fantasy-realism of Dragon Age: Origins. It’s not ugly, it’s just rather odd. I’d stare at characters standing around in the background and try to figure out what art style Bound by Flame was trying to use. From one angle, it looks like Skyrim or Dragon Age. From another, there’s a definite cel-shaded border around objects that makes them pop out like they would in Borderlands.
Always great to tailor gameplay to your preferences and watch your decisions throughout the game, no matter how small, have an impact on the overall story;
Nothing feels that innovative, as if the developers hand-picked their favorite elements from various RPGs and worked them in.