Rule number one of any game should always be to make sure you know what your lead character is called. Unfortunately it’s a rule that Spiders Studios seems to have forgotten as within two hours of Bound by Flame the subtitles have referred to you as ‘Volcan’ more than once, instead of the actual name ‘Vulcan’. It’s such a small issue and yet it’s indicative of the game as a whole.
The way the game plays is that of your ordinary action-RPG mixing in combat with character choices but everything seems to be a watered down version. The combat is solid but unspectacular, the characters feel hollow and the world feels limited. That’s not to say that none of them work well, just that they feel lacklustre. The story is non-sense, frankly, but you play as Vulcan, a mercenary who is possessed by a demon. You then get to choose how much of the demon to unleash, with new powers either way. All of this is to stop the Ice Lords, powerful conjurers who have raised an undead army. It’s not particularly original but it’s nothing particularly bad either.
The art style is a little reminiscent of Borderlands with the almost cel-shaded look to the backgrounds. This works fine as you wander round the world but jars slightly with the more realistic character models that come into play any time you start a conversation. It’s almost as if they couldn’t decide on one art style to go with and so used both, the result being that the characters don’t look quite as good as you’d expect on next gen and the worlds seem like a 1940’s Hollywood backdrop just slotted in and likely to fall over at any moment. It also falls into the same problem that Borderlands did in that the colour palette consists almost solely of grey, brown and white.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if everything else stacked up. As mentioned above, the combat does work well. You can switch between warrior, ranger and pyromancer abilities at the touch of a button and each have their advantages. There’s a real lack of range to each as well meaning that almost all battles play out the same way, especially as every enemy has a set attack pattern that takes about 10 seconds to work out. The enemies can take a lot of hits and damage you easily, and you can almost see it working as a tactical battle if they weren’t so rigid. In the end it feels like less of a tactical action game and more like the slowest hack ‘n’ slash you’ll ever play.
Add in to these woes the woefully archaic boss battles and it makes for a rather weak fighter. Almost every boss can be beaten by running around in circles and firing off a few fireballs, but given the low damage/hit points ratio you’re able to deal each one will take at least ten minutes and end up feeling like a chore. Even worse is that fact that two of the major bosses (and several enemies in the game) will get as bored of these battles as you and literally just stop. It should feel like a tense battle of wits but instead you find the boss walking over to the corner and standing there sulking, not even responding to your attacks.
All of this could be at least partially forgiven if the characters were engaging but once again they feel empty. You can take companions with you on your explorations, but only one at a time. There’s little chance to get to know them and no way for them to level up so you never know quite how well they’ll do in battle. As a general rule, they won’t help apart from as bait, and even then they sometimes just hang around and do nothing as they’re attacked. You can even enter a romance with them, though the romance is limited to one line of dialogue, a trophy and….nothing else.
The real shame here is that there are some promising elements to the game. The ability to create items on the fly is a nice addition, with traps and crossbow bolts coming in very handy when facing crowds of enemies. This customisation also extends to the weapons and armour with each being able to add extra features like resistance or greater attack power. Again it’s nothing unique but it works well and is one of the best parts of the game. Similarly the score is actually very well done and some of the best moments are hearing the ambient music in some of the larger battles.
Overall then Bound by Flames is a mixed bag. It feels like it’s trying to be two games at once, catering to two different kinds of people and ends up being not very good at either. It won’t win over the Dragon Age die-hards, even if they do have to wait longer for an RPG, and it’s unlikely to impress action fans either. Ultimately it’s a missed opportunity and if Spiders Studio had managed to be a bit tighter on some of the gameplay, and had got the name of their character right, it could have ended up being a good little game. Unfortunately it’s just too disjointed and loose. Rather than enjoying it for what it is, it left us feeling rather cold.
Final Score: 1.5 out of 5