Bound By Flame (PS4) Review
Ben Sheene / Jul 28th, 2014 No Comments
Despite the PlayStation 4 not even being out a year, there’s a surprising amount of quality games that have been released for it. From shooters to racers to open-world experiences, it’s easy to stay entertained. But what about fans of fantasy RPGs? Where’s the next-gen Skyrim? Where’s the Dark Souls 2 HD remaster? It feels like ages until highly anticipated titles like Dragon Age: Inquisition and The Witcher 3 come out. To fill that empty genre space, Spiders and Focus Home Interactive have unleashed Bound By Flame onto the PS4. However, the game fails to hold up to its lofty aspirations.
A Cold Day in Vertiel
In an age of magic and swords, war has erupted throughout the world. The Ice Lords have all but wiped out the last bastions of civilization with their zombie-like Deadwalker armies. Players are dropped into the action as a member of the Freeborn Blades, a mercenary group hired by magicians and scholars known as the Red Scribes. The Red Scribes are attempting to summon forth a power that could possibly turn the tide of the losing battle. Unfortunately, something goes wrong during the ritual and a demonic force becomes trapped inside the hero’s body.
The game quickly introduces major plot device after major plot device. Unlike similar games, there is no transition from peace to an escalating war. Rather than getting acclimated to any characters or setting, players are bounced around and must pick up the pieces themselves. Who are the Ice Lords? How did they take over the world so easily? What exactly is this demon shouting demands inside the hero’s head? Like any good fantasy game, Bound by Flame wants to establish a deep, fascinating lore that players want to dive right into.
Spiders did an admirable job at crafting a believable world that would work even on page or film. Scores of cool enemies, monstrous bosses, a sense of setting and characters proves everything in Vertiel has a story to tell. Unfortunately, the story begins to suffer from plot holes and poor pacing.
The first act of Bound by Flame primarily takes place in a dilapidated village surrounded by a swamp. A good chunk of time can be spent exploring the same handful of areas and completing side quests. Soon after, the game quickly jumps from act to act seemingly rushing towards a conclusion. Rather than being a tight story, players feel shoved in one direction. Characters have stories to tell but there’s rarely an opportunity to explore the parts of the world they speak of. At times the game might assume information about a character has been revealed and mention it during a mission, even if players didn’t complete a side quest to fill in the blanks. It’s like reading the second book in a Tolkien series with no knowledge of the first book and having some of the pages ripped out.
Lost in Translation
Even a frustrating story can be improved by quality writing and voice acting. Sadly, this is quite a weak part of Spiders’ development. Those who played Mars: War Logs will recognize the successes and missteps. Credit should be given for the variety of writing that went into the game, even if it sometimes goes on for too long, but much of that is marred by awkward and crude dialogue.
Bound by Flame imagines a world where obscenities are used in nearly every conversation for almost no reason. While there are certainly people who love to cuss all the time, it doesn’t make for the most eloquent script in a game. One can only assume that it was meant to give the game a cool edge but it only comes off as amateur. Instead of being game-ruiningly terrible, these jarring moments give some of the dialogue a laughable, B-movie quality.
Connecting to the main character is more difficult because of this. Mercenaries might be foul-mouthed but they should also be likable to an extent. This issue becomes even more glaring with the addition of voice acting. Both male and female voice actors give uninspired performances that yank players out of the game more than the actual dialogue. Playing as a female feels even more awkward because the dialogue is only altered a small amount. Hearing her deliver the obscenity-laden, macho dialogue with little effort is plain bad. Luckily, just about everyone else commits to their roles in a better light.
Considering the French origins of Spiders, these problems make a lot of sense but can’t necessarily be forgiven. The studio’s heart is obviously in the right place but there’s no substitute for quality localization. A better script and higher quality dialogue would have dulled the sting of the inconsistent story.
Bound by Souls
Wielding swords and daggers in the game is the primary method of combat and is intuitive from beginning to end. Inspiration from many titles is obvious, especially from the Souls series. The menagerie of enemies require different strategies to take down but all are felled by enough jabs of steel. Enemy attacks can be parried or dodged and when timed right, allow players to inflict bonus damage. Being possessed by a demon also grants the hero abilities like flaming weapons and hurling fireballs.
The ease and familiarity of combat is contrasted by the immense difficulty of the game. Like Dark Souls, players are going to die a lot. But instead of being a result of smart enemies, players will usually face death from being overwhelmed by enemies that shave off chunks of health with one blow.
Playing on the default difficultly setting yields a tough game with frustrating difficulty spikes. Anything above feels near impossible. The troubling part is that this difficulty doesn’t result from lack of player skill, just unnecessary challenge.
Customize Your Fun
Appreciating enemy design in Bound by Flame is easy enough considering how creative they are. But when fighting the same half-dozen enemies for hours and not trying out new tactics, combat begins to drag. If it wasn’t for the wide variety of customization options, the mechanics would fall apart.
Players are able to craft different parts of their weapons by using scavenged loot. Daggers can gain additional stealth damage, hammers are able to interrupt enemy attacks better and different stat effects can be crafted to those weapons as well. The same applies for pieces of armor. When crafted, equipment also has a cosmetic change. Players might not find this a suitable band-aid for the difficult combat but it does allow for experimentation.
Skill trees and permanent stat boosts add a reason to look forward to leveling up. Because players can switch between the swift Ranger attack style or the brute force Warrior, trying to find a balance between which parts of the skill tree to upgrade is satisfying. Tired of trying to parry and attack with a heavy weapon? Try ducking in and out of combat as a Ranger. Accomplishing certain feats such as taking damage or using health potions will allow players to spend points to unlock permanent upgrades to their character. Potions might heal more, enemies might drop more loot or weapons might do more damage.
At the beginning of the game, players are allowed to customize both the name and appearance of their hero. Despite the limited visual options, Bound by Flame makes it seem as if players are about to embark on an epic journey where they will save the world of Vertiel from doom. But for some reason, every character refers to you as Vulcan, the default name. Like many other decisions in the game, this one feels awkwardly executed.
From the mediocre graphics that certainly don’t scream next-gen to the bad dialogue and voice acting, Bound by Flame trips up a lot. But when it is all said and done, there is still some fun to be had throughout the experience. Perhaps with more time and a bigger budget, Spiders could have turned their vision into the first must-have fantasy title for the PS4. For now, however, we have a game that scratches a certain itch but one that will be satisfied by other titles down the line.
tags: bound by flame , Bound by Flame Review , Focus Home Interactive , ps4 , review , Spiders