There must something so thrilling about works of “high fantasy”. Be it the monstrous presence of powerful magic beings or the intimidating sight of a gargantuan creature, something about this genre has kept it around even to this day and I can’t quite put my finger on it. From books to movies to games, fantasy has done its fair share for each and every medium. The newest fantasy/adventure video game title “Bound By Flame” has just been released and thanks to “Spiders” (the development company not the insects) and “Focus Home Entertainment” I’ve been given the chance to review it. The game, through its trailers, has hyped itself up quite a lot boasting about its brilliant visuals and gameplay style making it out to be one of the best fantasy-type titles of the new generation…well, we’ll soon see about that won’t we?
You are Vulcan, by far the strongest member of a mercenary group called the “Freeborn Blades” (also referred to as the “Pure-Blades” in some cases) and a man/woman who may just be the one destined to save the world from the devastatingly cold winds of the “Ice Lords”…BUT you may also be the one to destroy it. Awkward, right? The land of “Vertiel” has been locked in war with the “Deadwalker” army for far too long so finally a group of powerful mystics called the “Red Scribes” decide that something needs to be done! Hiring the “Freeborn Blades” for protection, the “Red Scribes” journey across the land to an ancient temple wherein which they will summon a mighty force capable of destroying the “Ice Lords” and their seemingly endless army but something goes awry…something always goes awry. A blood red light explodes from the center of the room but eventually settles in the body of you, Vulcan. Feeling something inside, you confront the faction of army attacking the temple and burn them to ashes with a power no human has ever been able to control: Fire.
Soon after that you’re told that a demon has made its home inside of you, lending its powers but also slowly taking over your being. Your quest has changed, now YOU are the fate of the world is in your hands but what if the demon takes hold of you before it you can save it? The story is actually quite interesting though what wrecks it is basically the way it’s written. On paper, “Bound By Flame” seems like one hell of an epic tale…yes, on paper. The game uses as many high fantasy-style cliches as it can which would have been perfectly fine had the writing been a LOT better. It’s a fantastic idea to have fire be the greatest weapon in a world ruled by ice, it’s a fundamental “this beats that” idea that could have been greatly extended upon but instead it was addressed and then nothing else. The characters throughout the game were all very unlikable, even you…Vulcan. There were a lot of dialogue pieces that made little to no sense at all and served to just infuriate me. Though I am an angry young man.
“Bound By Flame” is a video game that plays quite similar to other titles of its type: You’re given missions by NPCs you talk to in safe zones (which are usually camps or villages), you then head to the outer regions of these areas to find certain items, people, monster, etc. Once the mission is done you make your way back to the safe area to complete it and grab your reward. Most of the quests in this game are like this, even the story ones which mostly ask you to seek out certain things or explore certain areas so that your team can continue their journey. Players can chose to ignore side missions if they wish, making the game a great deal shorter than I believe it was intended to be. I quite enjoyed the combat system of “Bound By Flame”.
You can fight in a couple different ways: The first way allows players to wield a two-handed sword while the second way allows you to fight with two daggers, one style being slow but strong and the other being fast but weak. It all depends on the way you prefer to play these types of games. The bad thing, though, is that you tend to just stick with the rogue-like fighting style simply because there’s a “dodge” mechanic that makes it very easy to escape the enemy’s attack. Mixing into those two styles are your demonic abilities. I’ve seen people around the web labeling this the third fighting style but it really isn’t because it can be used alongside one of the other two, making it an extension of a fighting style rather than an entirely separate one. These demonic powers grant you the ability to use fire magic which allows you to do an array of things that you’ll notice quickly decimate the enemy. Things like shooting fire balls and setting your weapons ablaze are staples of this power but there’s much more to it like passive abilities to help you recover health or take hits better.
“Bound By Flame” has some brilliant game mechanics, it honestly does and you have to play it for a fair few hours before you can truly appreciate what exactly it is that is done well. There’s an incredibly deep crafting system throughout the game that has kept me very much interested in the continuation of my playthrough. Obtaining items allows for many things to be done; things like trap bombs, crossbow rounds, health potions, magic potions and so many more things can all be crafted. All these are just throw away items that you anxiously use throughout battle, at least…that’s what I did. What I was more intrigued about is the weapon and armour customization which is done through crafting individual pieces.
Example: A sword is made up of the blade, the guard and the pummel, each of which can be individually crafted and placed on a weapon to give it specific stat boosts making your weapon unique to your character. There’s also a very nice leveling system in the game that awards you points which can be used in a number of ways to upgrade your character. Combat-wise there’s three different skill trees that you can climb; one representing the heavier fighting style, one representing the lighter fighting style and the last representing your demonic powers. I could honestly go on all day about the game mechanics of “Bound By Flame”, it is by far my most favored aspect of the title and even though certain aspects of it were lacking (though only minor) I was able to look past them, instead focusing on the positives of it.
The game forced me into having a mild form of bipolar disorder; every five or ten minutes my views on the visual caliber changed drastically. While traversing through different environments or in combat, it is clear that this game looks brilliant. The character and enemy models have some well-animated, fluid movements and the application of dynamic lighting/shadowing really made the game actually seem beautiful. The hole-filled shadow cast from a high-rise canopy makes you truly believe you’re trekking through rainforest-type territory and I often sat there in awe, reveling in the beauty of the environment but I was quickly taken away from that with quick cuts to cutscenes that look nothing like the fantastic example of next generation animation I was just a part of. This game somehow featured cutscenes that looked worse than the actual gameplay which is something so strange seeing as video games have always operated in the opposite way.
I found myself wishing for more, let’s say, “gravitas” in action sequences or dialogue-centric cutscenes. Characters didn’t seem to be animated quite as well as you would hope from a game being released on the PlayStation 4. During high-tension scenes, these characters barely moved, barely reacted and barely seemed real at all. “Spiders” clearly didn’t utilize the same kind of technology that a great deal of video game development studios are using now; the lack of facial animation really takes you away from what the characters in the story are actually saying. There was no use of motion capture, there was barely any implementation of cinematic techniques…it was just flat and really, really disappointing. It was nice to see some great design work within the game: The monsters, the weapons, the armour, the environments, they were all so well-designed and, mostly, well-animated…too bad the rest of the visuals couldn’t keep up.
The soundtrack for “Bound By Flame”, I have to say, was extremely impressive. It wasn’t that each track was brilliantly composed to the best of the musician’s ability, it could have been for all I know but what impressed me the most was just how well it fit in with the vibe of the game. The orchestral, creeping, Gregorian chant-style musical tracks definitely had their place in “Bound By Flame”, they worked well to bring a sense of urgency to every pivotal battle and even to some of the more impressive cutscenes, though they were few and far between. What really ruined the audio aspect of the game, for me, was the lackluster and inconsistent voice actors that were meant to “give life” to these characters.
Robin Atkin Downes lends his voice to the male Vulcan and he is, by far, the greatest voice actor to appear in the game even though his lines are absolutely atrocious. Each and every single character has a different way of speaking and a different accent to go with it, which seems awesome until you actually experience these differences and come to realize; they’re severely out of place. You, Vulcan, have a normal American accent and a seemingly normal way of speaking…for modern times. In fact, Vulcan drops the “F-Bomb” many times during idol conversation, so much so that I’m actually surprised the NPCs didn’t just walk away mid talk.
Most of Vulcan’s dialogue is more suited to a game like “Saints Row” rather than a fantasy title set in a medieval-style world. By an hour into gameplay you’ve already come across at least four weirdly inconsistent accents: You’re American, your Captain is Irish/Scottish, there’s a Witch who is English and a villager who speaks like a stereotypical “redneck”…it’s hard to take a game seriously when developers have just thrown in whatever they can like some sort of mixed bag. The best character voices in the game are the ones that actually belong like the demon living in your head and even that guy can’t get it entirely right!
I tried so very hard to like this game. I really did. There were times when, though frustrated, I wouldn’t bring myself to put the controller down for too long knowing that as soon as I turned off the game I wouldn’t return to it so I stuck with it for hours on end. There are clear problems with this game and they began before you could even really get into the game; having the choice to choose your character’s name and then having each and every character still call you “Vulcan” is a clear mistake on the developers’ part. Glitches in a lot of cutscenes, difficulty levels fluctuating for no apparent reason, terrible voice acting and a story that seems only half there.
Thankfully the actual game mechanics were done well, I thoroughly enjoyed besting an enemy, especially when I got good enough to run rings around them but, even then, I couldn’t just overlook everything “Bound By Flame” had trouble with. I got the feeling that the game was rushed out of development, I’m not sure why but I can’t help but think of how good this game could have been had the development team taken more time to fully flesh it out. Fans of fantasy games will most likely enjoy “Bound By Flame” if they give it a shot but with games like “Skyrim”, “Dark Souls” and “The Witcher” available…well, this just falls to the wayside
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