The Fire Fizzles Out
Spiders’ Bound By Flame could have been something great. Every show we saw the game at had us believing this could be the studio’s breakout RPG. But at those shows, we only saw the game… we never played it. That should have been our first warning. Bound By Flame is a generic, poorly designed, and almost offensive experience that I would only recommend ever picking up when it’s $5 or less during a Steam Sale. And only then if you have a morbid sort of curiosity about bad games. I played on the PC version, with both the mouse and keyboard and the Xbox 360 controller. I was provided a copy by the studio for review purposes.
GAMEPLAY – 4
Bound By Flame is about as generic as they come. There are some interesting ideas to the story: a world on the brink of destruction, a band of mercenaries clinging to life, and you the hero possessed by a fire demon that can either help you save the world or see it to ruin. But that’s where the interesting parts stop. Your character, a man or woman named Vulcan (even if you change the name at character creation, everyone still calls you Vulcan), is a potty mouthed, sarcastic, “edgy” sort of hero. You can tell that Spiders was hoping for him to be charming, but in reality Vulcan and his terrible one liner jokes just come off as forced.
Seriously, when you first hear Vulcan drop the F-Bomb, it’s a funny occurrence. But when it and other swear words work their way into the game’s regular conversation every few minutes it just seems out of place and as though the studio was trying way too hard to make BBF a “mature” game.
The RPG aspects are well represented, but not perfectly integrated. Once you are possessed by the flame demon after the intro, you have three skill trees and several trait trees to level up with points as you progress. The problem is twofold. The skill trees (one for your two-handed sword, one for your dual-daggers, and one for your fire spells) end up encouraging spreading points across all three and it’s quickly apparent that the additional bonuses you receive do little to ever make you feel more powerful. Secondly, the traits are supposed to be your main way to increase things like hitpoints and mana, but even when you boost these you never feel like you can last in fights longer, or seriously devote all of your gameplay to magic use. For having the power of a flame demon inside you, you sure can’t use his power all that much.
If only the rest of the game was this epic.
Even if Bound By Flame’s story, visuals, and RPG bits and pieces felt like generic “gritty fantasy”, I was hoping that its action combat would make up for other shortcomings. Not so, I’m afraid. The biggest detractor to the game for me was when I realized just how poorly executed the combat was. It sounds great on paper: swap between the two-handed warrior, the dual-wielding ranger, and magic use at a moment’s notice depending on what you’re up against. You can parry or dodge with the click of a button, and time slows down when you execute a proper counter. But all this is tossed out the window when you realize enemies can and will just swarm you, interrupt your actions, and kill you whenever you face more than one or two at once (which is often).
Throughout the entirety of the adventure, BBF’s combat became about exploiting the game’s combat and design. You learn quickly to block or dodge pretty much every two seconds, only going in for one or two hits at a time. You strafe around boss enemies, waiting for an opening, and then strike when you can. If you get hit (which always takes 1/3 or more of your health) you use a potion or strafe some more until health recharges. Every fight is an exercise in patience, not a fun raucous battle. The game’s combat leaves you feeling frustrated with how clunky and unbalanced it is, and just making your way through Bound By Flame’s dozen hour campaign will test your patience.
There is a fairly decent crafting system in place, through all of this. You’ll collect materials through the game’s world which can be used to craft explosive traps, arrows, new armor, new weapons and add-ons to your arsenal. Of all the RPG facets, this is probably Bound By Flame’s strongest. It was very nice to see my upgraded armor and weapons take on new looks with each crafted bonus.
You have companions to bring with you throughout the game, but they’re fairly incompetent. In early stages they can hold their own, but even when you use the game’s basic order system to tell them to be less aggressive, they’ll still wind up dead through most fights. Still it’s wise to bring Sybil the healer along just in case she stays alive long enough to heal you. The interactions between you and your companions can be funny, but really I’m left wondering why they were included at all because they’re often so useless in the game’s previously mentioned frustrating battles. They’re there to likely add to the game’s narrative, but with terribly laughable voice acting and dialog, there’s little connection to be made.
Your demon buddy is actually the coolest part of the story.
But what about the story? Well, as I said at the outset, there’s a promising narrative to be found but with generically bad enemies (the Necromancers are essentially ripped from Game of Thrones’ White Walkers) with names like The Chiller… all hope that Bound By Flame’s redeeming quality would be its story is tossed out the window.
AESTHETICS – 5
The visuals in BBF are at first pleasing, until you realize that characters’ mouth movements are synched badly like a Japanese Martial Arts import, animation is stilted and choppy, and textures and geometry bugs are all over the place. On top of that, for an RPG that claimed to have an open world, all you really get in Bound By Flame is a series of narrow corridors with the occasional open room. Exploration is for naught as the entire game feels narrow and cramped. The music and sounds are as forgettable as the voice acting, though I will say the UI is pleasant and never gets in the way of the action.
Points are also taken off for the blatant sexist approach towards the women in the game, which is odder still considering you can play a female Vulcan too. One of your companions complains early on about her rather brazen attire, but never bothers to change. There are strange scenes that Bound By Flame tries to imply a sense of “steaminess” that just come off as head scratchers due to bad animation and poor voice acting. Bound By Flame is in a way a lot like 80s fantasy movies, where the muscle bound sweaty warrior was always rescuing the beautiful buxom blonde damsel. Only… it’s not charmingly cheesy here.
INNOVATION – 5
There’s nothing new here, but nothing terribly stolen either. The game tries to present moral choices that matter in the story’s outcome, but we’ve both seen that before and the story and characters are so uninteresting that you wind up not really caring either way. I’m usually an “goody two-shoes” sort of player, but I went with the evil path in Bound By Flame, because growing horns was appealing to me. It’s nice that doing so meant I couldn’t wear a helmet and reap its defensives rewards, but that’s about as innovative as the title gets. And even that we’ve seen done in games like Fable before.
LONGEVITY – 3
For a game that claims to be the studio’s most epic and sprawling RPG yet, a 12 hour campaign (not counting the many times you’ll die and have to redo battles) is hardly epic. This is a game you’ll finish in a few sittings, and won’t have much reason to play through twice unless you really want to see the alternate good or evil ending.
VALUE – 5
We can say this: at least Bound By Flame’s not going for $60 on Steam. At $39.99, the RPG might be worth it for you if you’re really, really in need of a new adventure. But I’d suggest waiting until June’s Divinity: Original Sin comes out if that’s the case. This is one you’ll want to wait for a Steam sale on, folks.
POLISH – 5
There aren’t a whole lot of game breaking bugs in Bound By Flame. But you will see your surroundings disappear due to some graphical error. Combat, as mentioned in Gameplay, just feels unpolished and woefully tested. Animations are all over the place from fluid to choppy. Voice acting is terrible. Cut scenes are out of B-Movie territory. In my opinion, if you’re going to try and make a AAA RPG to rival games like The Witcher, you better be damn well sure you can match their level of execution. Bound By Flame feels like a budget title through and through, and despite an impressive opening level the game never gets any better.
Bound By Flame sounded promising every time we saw it... but so do most games. What we ended up with instead is an RPG trying to be as great as its inspiration but never coming close. Poor combat, poor story, and poor acting, all serve to make this "epic tale" one you'll want to skip. Do not buy.