Is it hot in here?
Bound By Flame, from Spiders Studio and Focus Home Interactive, is now available for PC, Xbox360, PS3 and, most importantly, PS4. While it may be true to say that this action RPG is not setting the world on fire, PlayStation 4 owners who are looking for an adventure in a high fantasy setting would do well to step into the slightly scorched boots of Vulcan, the hero of Bound By Flame.
So, there is an evil bunch of ancient wizards known as the Ice Lords who, for no other reason than being evil, are systematically killing everything that lives and destroying the world with their army of undead. So far, so fantasy. The player takes on the role of Vulcan, who can pleasingly be either male or female. Vulcan is a trap specialist working for the Freeborn Blades, a mercenary group who are still holding out against the dead walkers.
As the player enters the game, the Freeborn Blades are charged with protecting a group of scholars as they perform a ritual that may well bring about the end of the Ice Lords. It is here that the player, as the group come under attack from the undead, will learn the basics of combat.
Bound By Flame has no classes, rather giving the player the option through skill points to specialize as they wish. However, the player can choose from two different stances in combat – Warrior or Ranger. Warrior is all about swordplay, while Ranger is more about stealth and wielding two weapons. The player is able to switch between these two stances as and when they want, adjusting to the situation on screen, and each stance comes with its own attacks and abilities.
The combat can be slightly ungainly and quite repetitive, with players easily falling into the trap of repeating sequences that work for whatever enemy they are facing. While the basic attacks are mapped to the face buttons, the player can pull the trigger and a secondary set of abilities/options becomes available. These can be set by the player to allow use of their most important skills. All of the players abilities, changing stance, or even taking a potion, can be found by pulling the shoulder button. This slows down time and brings up a wheel with all of the options on, such as firing a crossbow or setting a trap.
Anyway, as you can imagine, the scholars’ ritual goes horribly wrong and results in our hero playing unintentional host to a flame demon, which kind of makes Vulcan the last hope for saving the world, by default. It also gives the player access to some rather nice flame-based abilities.
Leveling up will reward the player with skill points to spend in one of three skill trees relating to the Warrior stance, the Ranger stance and the newly acquired flame magic. The player is free to assign as they like, but are encouraged to spread the points between each of the skill trees for maximum effect. Assigning a point to a skill will inevitably unlock further skills along the same path, although the player will never be able to max out all three paths.
Players will also earn Trait points which can be assigned to passive abilities. Some saving up may be required as they increase in cost as the game progresses. But it is here that the player will be able to increase the amount of loot they carry, along with the all important increasing of health and mana (required for casting magic) as the player will not instantly increase in these things as they level up.
So Vulcan and his toasty lodger, along with the Freeborn Blades and various other hangers on, begin on their journey to remove the threat of the Ice Lords once and for all. Along the way, side quests will be picked up and worked through. The reality is that there is not a lot of variation in the missions, both side and main, in Bound By Flame, with the majority being fetch quests. However, the wanderings will also have the player meet up with their companions, a varied group of characters who not only bring some much needed support to combat, but also some interesting conversations.
By interesting, I mean childish for the most part. While the voice acting in the game is passable, the actual script itself is certainly questionable. Bound By Flame is obviously trying to be a mature RPG in a similar style to The Witcher, but unnecessary swearing, immature one liners and an almost offensive attitude towards women leave the game feeling more like a teenager trying to act grown-up.
An interesting mechanic is the way the game deals with crafting. The player will come across a huge amount of seeming rubbish as they progress through their quest, either taken from fallen foes or found in chests. These items can be used to craft potions and the like, or to add embellishments to already equipped weapons and armour, adding bonuses and even changing their appearance.
Changing appearance is something that the player may well come across as Vulcan struggles with the demonic entity inside. Players will have choices to make through the game that will result in the demon gaining more power over them, and changing their appearance to suit. These choices change the gameplay to some degree, and will give players the encouragement to revisit the game for another playthough, assuming they enjoyed it the first time around.
Bound By Flame may not feel like a next-gen game. It is rough around the edges and visually not particularly impressive. The story is unimaginative and the combat is repetitive. However, as the first action RPG on the PlayStation 4, it fills a nice gap in the market and overall is not a bad little romp. While it may only be filling in until another, more accomplished example of the genre comes along, Bound By Flame is entertaining enough to scratch the action RPG itch for the time being.