Bound by Flame PS4 Review: great action RPG potential in rough packaging

It takes something special for potential to overtake shortcomings, and that notion holds fast in the gaming industry, where even the smallest of faults can deteriorate the perception of AAA titles. Equally so, something so intriguing can sprout from a new venue that yields something as flawed and yet so progressive, changing the name of the game in a different direction. Bound by Flame is that game. Using great inspirations, development team Spiders has taken the best from the best action-RPG franchises and created an idea most invigorating. A few hurdles need to be traversed, but the rewards outweigh the efforts and the future looks bright for such an up-and-coming development team.

No matter what gender, name, or physique is used for the main character, he or she is titled Vulcan. The dwindling mercenary group Freedom Blades is in troubled times, so they’re stuck resorting to guard duty for a ritual taking place in an isolated enclave. As expected, the scenario becomes much more intense than it already is, and they’re attacked by the walking dead led by a monster that looks like an undead gorilla combined with an elephant. As the siege takes place, the guarded ritual goes awry and a demon possesses Vulcan as a result.

The weaknesses of the game are apparent from the outset. The first moments are almost a warning of what’s to come in regards to writing and voice acting. Most actors deliver wet blanket-caliber performances that make Nicolas Cage look good, and the facial movements don’t come close to giving the plot delivery any favorable aspects. Though the writing tends to be brutally dry, incredibly vulgar, or sporadically awkward, there are glimpses of brilliance that almost make the main character feel human and believable. Making good or bad choices also give the story a different feel, even if the outcome doesn’t change as much as it could. Making good decisions always feels good, because no one is getting destroyed; however, making bad decisions leaves a bitter taste in mouth as usually someone important to the story ends up dying. This side of the plot is very intriguing, because good and bad aren’t as crystal-clear as they are in games like Mass Effect, so the consequences for in-game actions don’t quite deliver their full effect until the circumstances appear completely down the plotline. Still, on the story front, the ends don’t justify the means, which is unfortunate for what has shaped up to be one impressive concoction.

What’s also unfortunate is that enemy variety ends up being as repetitive as the combat’s button-mashing. Higher difficulties will require players to execute more combat variety for survival, but memorizing enemy routines comes quickly and the only challenge that comes from battles is against multiple enemies: one-on-one fights are a cake walk while fighting three or more undead baddies has more variables to manage.@page

Fortunately, Bound by Flame does so much so well. Dragon Age fans will see many elements embedded within the combat system. Though the negative is rather significant, the combat system is plagued by the fact that it’s a button-masher. At the same time, the negative is outweighed by the action-oriented focus to actual combat. As mentioned previously, the demon that possesses Vulcan becomes his or her Pyromancer side, allowing Vulcan to wield fire-based attacks and weapon enhancements. The Warrior and the Ranger stances can use magic abilities on the fly as well as lace their respective weapons in flames, yielding more weapon damage for a time. Both the Warrior and Ranger stances have their own attack schemes, but they both end up feeling very different from each other. The Warrior deals stronger, slower swings with a two-handed sword and can parry attacks while the Ranger manages weaker, faster attacks with twin daggers and can dodge gracefully. Swapping between both stances is a button press away, and the Pyromancer abilities can be used at all times. Another vivid inspiration to Bound by Flame is from The Witcher, which features the use of traps and crossbows in order to fell enemies. All of these elements of combat can be accessed at all times through the L1 combat menu, and all abilities across all stances can be pinned to the four shape buttons in real time. Early on, the combat feels very bland and has a somewhat negative side to it as the simplicity of early game arrives. However, higher difficulties and player progression decorate the incessant repetition of combat nicely, averaging the good and the bad parts to combat in a surprisingly enjoyable combination.

Leveling is important to RPG-ers, and Spiders knows how to deliver in spades. Each stance has a leveling tree, and each earned level yields two points that can be entered anywhere across all three stance trees; MMO players will feel right at home. Bound by Flame also rewards players for repeatedly using attacks, weapons, and bonuses as well. For instance, felling X amount of enemies with daggers grants an increase in critical hit percentage for those weapons, and killing X amount of enemies with traps increases trap potency. There’s only a small collection of these, but this collection holds a template that can be enhanced and extended in possible future installments.

Managing equipment is another tactical advantage. Parts taken from fallen enemies and gathered throughout the world can be used to create potions and traps as well as customize weapons; and those customizations grant relative stat boosts that majorly change the game. Compiling all the gameplay elements to the game together make Bound by Flame a major contender in both the RPG and the action-adventure genres as both genres play a major role throughout the game.

Bound by Flame takes into account some of the greatest elements in gaming and adds a few flares and combinations that most developers haven’t attempted. Random brilliance in the story and sheer brilliance in the fundamental combat scheme leaves a pleasant taste for what this talented team of developers might do with the next game. Narrative delivery is weak with random moments of intrigue, but the plot on paper has enough to keep wondering what will happen next. If Bound by Flame is any testament to potential, then Spiders has what it takes to change the gaming industry for the better. All they need is a little bit more in the narrative; this game world could develop an interesting franchise.



The Final Word

Right off the gate, Bound by Flame features a combat and leveling system that shines among the competition, and the crafting side to the game gives RPG fans more than enough to keep them playing. The narrative sees a drop in overall quality, but it's enough to see exactly what developer Spiders has given gamers with its gameplay elements. The future is bright for Bound by Flame.