By Tyler Lubben / May 19th, 2014
|Title||Bound By Flame
|Publisher||Focus Home Interactive|
|Release Date||May 9, 2014|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Mature|
After fighting giant bugs, blowing up waves of robots and murdering countless minions, I felt like I wanted to come back down to earth again. I wanted to play something a bit more classically-inspired, and it seemed to me that a great way to do that would be with a little high fantasy. I went into Bound By Flame almost completely blind, having only seen the odd ad for it here and there leading up to its release. I have to say, it was certainly a breath of fresh air compared to what I had been reviewing recently, though whether or not I’m pleased to have played it is another story. Let’s have a look.
In Bound By Flame, you play as a mercenary named Vulcan. Your company, the Freeborn Blades, is hired by a band of mages to protect them while they perform a certain ritual intended to help them combat the Ice Lords, a group of powerful necromancers set on destroying the world. During the game’s prologue, the Ice Lords’ Deadwalker army attacks the temple where the group is holed up, forcing Vulcan to fall back to the inner sanctum where the ritual is being performed. At this point, something goes wrong with the ceremony, and a fire demon is summoned. As it has no corporeal form, the Demon’s spirit enters Vulcan’s body. With the fire magic and enhanced physical abilities he received from his recent possession, Vulcan may now be the only being capable of turning back the seemingly unstoppable undead horde. However, he must also fight the constant pull of the demon trying to take over his mind.
Prior to the game’s release, everything showed Vulcan as a man with a pretty thick beard, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a (fairly barebones) character creator. Here, you can choose Vulcan’s sex, face and hair style. There are only five or six options from which to choose in the latter categories, but it’s still nice to have at least a little control over it. You can also change your name if you wish, but people in the game still refer to you as “Vulcan,” so I didn’t see much point in it. Once that’s done, you’re thrown into the game proper.
Bound By Flame’s gameplay is a third-person affair, with players exploring environments and fighting enemies with a fairly simple combo system. Vulcan uses three main weapon types: strong, slow weapons like swords and axes, more DPS-focused daggers, and crossbows. Regardless of the weapon, standard melee attacks are delivered with the Square button, while faster combo hits are performed with the Triangle button. Triangle can also be held down to charge a stronger multiple-hitting combo, but be careful not to be attacked in the process. As Powder Master for the Blades, Vulcan is not only talented with a blade; he also uses explosives to their full effect, and can lay mines for his enemies to walk into. You can also access your different abilities, fire magic and items by tapping the L1 button, which will slow down time, allowing you ample opportunity to decide your next action.
As I just mentioned, Vulcan has three different ways of fighting – strong heavy weapons, quick daggers and fire magic. Each of these implements of death has its own skill tree – Warrior, Ranger and Pyromancer, respectively – to make you more efficient with the different weapons. Throughout a playthrough, you’re given enough points to completely fill up one of the skill trees, with a modest additional amount to supplement your repertoire from the other trees. Most of these abilities are passive, granting you stat increases and bonus damage, though the highest ability of each tree grants you a new ability which can give you a huge advantage in battle. Additionally, every level-up gives you a point that can go towards a variety of Feats. These give a several different bonuses, such as permanent stat increases, gaining extra experience in battle or making potions restore more health and mana. Most are locked at first, but performing certain actions will give you access to them. For example, you’re initially unable to access the max HP upgrades, but, after you’ve been hit a certain number of times by enemy attacks, this Feat will become open. This is a great way to craft a character that best suits your play style, but this isn’t the only way to get the most out of your avatar.
I’ve said multiple times in the past how I’m a huge fan of the monster-hunting genre – Monster Hunter, Toukiden, Ragnarok Odyssey and the like – a major element of which revolves around collecting materials from fallen enemies and the environment to craft more powerful weapons and armor. Imagine my audible squee’ing when I discovered that this was also a prominent mechanic in Bound By Flame. As you are out on your adventures, you’ll see various shiny objects strewn about. Interacting with them will yield basic materials, like metal and leather. After defeating enemies, they will often leave behind a satchel containing materials they were carrying. You can then access the Crafting menu from the Pause screen. Just about anything you might need in the game can be crafted, from health and mana potions to explosive traps to weapon and armor upgrades. You can even combine the materials you’ve found into other items which you can use for more powerful upgrades, or sell them to merchants for gold. While you can’t craft your own, each piece of equipment you find or buy – weapons, chest armor, gloves, boots – can usually have at least one upgrade applied to it, noticeably changing its appearance. Helmets can also be equipped, but I never found one that could be upgraded.
Honestly, I could take or leave the designs of the enemies that made up the game. The early Deadwalker enemies were boring – just weapon-wielding zombies – but things picked up a little before too long. In the jungles that make up the second chapter of the game, you get away from the undead for a while, and, instead, take on the area’s indigenous wildlife. The tutorial chapter was good at holding your hand in terms of combat, but that ends pretty abruptly here. Against the very first enemies I encountered in the jungle, I was pretty well trounced. You may be able to get away with spamming attacks in other games, but, even on Normal difficulty, Bound By Flame has you playing much more defensively if you want to be successful. Blocking and counter-attacking are incredibly important if you don’t want to get wiped out in every fight. Fortunately, most enemies have obvious tells when they’re about to attack, so countering was easy. I was a little disappointed to find that, by the end of the game, I was mostly fighting zombies again. While the game tried to throw a few different enemy types at me in the final hours, it felt like they were just giving the same undead folks different weapons. There were a couple interesting bosses to fight along the way; I just wish the standard enemies had as interesting designs as these setpieces.
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