Review: Bound By Flame
I really like fire, you guys. Like, a lot. I jokingly call myself a pyromaniac, but I don’t actually go around setting fires in real life. I suppose pyro-enthusiast might be a better term.
So it makes sense that naming your game Bound By Flame is enough to pique my interest. The trailers and reveals weren’t exactly overwhelming in their appeal, but I figured I’d still give it a bash because of the promise of copious amounts of fire.
Bound By Flame (PC [reviewed], Playstation 3, Playstation 4, XBox 360)
Developed by Spiders
Published by Focus Home Interactive
Release date: May 8th, 2014
OS: WINDOWS XP SP3/WINDOWS VISTA SP2/WINDOWS 7/WINDOWS 8
Processor: AMD/INTEL DUAL-CORE 2.2 GHZ
Memory: 2048 MB RAM
Graphics: 512 MB 100% DIRECTX 9 AND SHADERS 4.0 COMPATIBLE ATI RADEON HD 4850/NVIDIA GEFORCE 8800 GT OR HIGHER
Hard Drive: 6 GB available space
Sound Card: DIRECTX 9 COMPATIBLE
Additional Notes: INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED FOR THE GAME ACTIVATION
Where do I begin? Bound By Flame is a game that makes me very sad. And sometimes angry. It’s not a very good game. Let me try to break this down a bit and explain what I mean.
An obvious target is the story and characters. The writing, the directing, the voice-acting… there were several times when a cutscene or conversation was going on that I’d just put my head in my hands and sob out “No, no, no…” while it went on. This isn’t how people talk to one another. And just the voice-acting itself… with a few exceptions, most of them sounded very flat, and whoever was directing them clearly didn’t always give proper instructions on pronounciation, inflection and tone. And if you’re looking for any sort of consistency in how characters behave or act, you won’t find that here. Someone who makes a fairly valid argument for why they’re supporting you one moment, might a few minutes later state that they were never onboard with this folly and have decided to go against you for no other reason than the plot demanding it. On top of that, the main character often flits between seeming like an absolute idiot for not remembering what he/she was told 5 seconds ago, or eerily prescient for stating facts they haven’t even been informed of yet. Not to mention the abundance of spelling and grammar mistakes in the subtitles.
It isn’t all bad, but the few good bits kinda just make the bad all that much worse. That said, I did still come out of the game liking Mathras, because it’s hard not to.
You are actually allowed to pick whether you want to play as a man, or a lady. I don’t think it really affects anything, but having that option is always nice. And the armour designs you wear are all pretty good, as well! So yeah, it did score some good points there. Not enough, but some. Regardless of your choice in character creation, you will always be known as Vulcan, and you will be part of the Freeborn Blades, who are a mercenary group. The world is at war with a large army of undead, and you’re hired by desperate people to do a thing to turn the fortunes. Long story short, you get a fire spirit stuck inside you, and everyone seems to call it a demon, even though they admit they have no idea what it is.
As any RPG these days, you get choices that you are promised will change how the entire game plays out. I could only barely make it through once, so I’m not about to go back and test alternate choices. Out of spite, I picked most of the options I guessed the game saw as “evil”. One of the early choices is whether to allow this “demon” to expand inside you and provide you with increased fire powers, or repress it and keep it trapped. Letting it out seemed like the much more interesting choice, and even gave me some demonic/draconic-looking visual upgrades, and this rather amusing feat/perk:
I liked the wording of that, with wearing helmets now being Forbidden, instead of just saying I can’t wear headgear. In the end it turned out that my choices actually did end up changing what my final choices were. Upon reflection the one I picked felt quite fitting for how I said my goodbye to the game.
The combat though… dear lords… at the beginning you of course get to pick your difficulty setting. Recruit, Hawk, Buffalo or Captain. The reason for those names is the various prominent members of the Freeborn Blades. I started on Hawk (Normal). A few hours in I switched to Recruit (Easy) after screaming in frustration at the screen. I figured I might turn it back up later once I had a better handle on the combat system, but I never did. And even on Recruit some of the later battles really ramped up the frustration, with the final boss shattering any illusions I had that there was some merit to what they had given us. It might have started with a good idea, but it was not well executed.
See, the combat is like a strange mix of Dragon Age: Origins, The Witcher and some more stuff I’m sure. With not many of the good parts from either transferring over, but plenty of the bad. At any time you can hit Tab to slow the game to a crawl and bring up an action wheel, where you can use potions, activate abilities and order your one companion to change between a few different behaviors. You can also quick-slot four abilities. The problem is that the combat is a bit too hectic, and it’s too hard to keep track of what your enemies are doing to use this well. And you have different combat stances and different weapon sets for quick-swapping. Here it’s your stance that determines your equipped weapon.
Warrior stance is for a two-handed sword, axe or hammer, and focusing on parries to negate damage. A well-timed parry will automatically trigger a counter-attack. Ranger stance uses two daggers, and allows you to dodge. A well-timed dodge will automatically cause a riposte to happen. And enemies do a lot of damage if their strikes connect, so you need to parry or dodge to avoid that. In one-on-one situations the system actually seems to mostly work as you’d expect. However, as soon as you’re facing more than one enemy, it is all too easy for them to end up chaining their attacks such that you can’t really do anything. The one that caused me to turn it down to Recruit was against four enemies, all of them quick-striking, who never let up. I had no time to set traps, cast a spell, strike, counter, riposte, or anything, if I let them get close enough to start striking. It was infuriating. And two of them were also archers, so that even if I just engaged the two melee guys and managed to find an opening I would more often than not get struck by an arrow just as I went for it. Sadly my companion was almost no help. I have a feeling that if there was an actual dodge roll in this game, and not just the dodge move that has you jump straight backwards a metre or so, it would be a lot more tolerable.
It didn’t take me long to give up on locking on either. It just made it all that harder to get away, and just striking back and forth would slowly shift your position, I noticed. A bit to the left, it always seemed like. Even if I just went in to strike, and then dodged back out when they attacked. It was also very easy to get flanked because of the erratic movements of the enemies.
Putting a lot of points into stealth and stealth attacks actually made the game more tolerable. It was always easier to deal with enemies in smaller numbers, so managing to kill at least one of them before the fight even started helped significantly. I do wonder if fighting in the Warrior stance gets better if you put a lot of points into that. Because when I tried it early on it seemed like I struck way too slowly (even with a weapon the game claimed was fast) compared to my enemies, and had far too little mobility. Again, a dodge roll would have helped.
I will say though, that the leveling was something I actually liked. The skill trees are interesting enough, and the bonuses you get help out a lot. It was often something quite significant, like shooting several fireballs at once instead of just one, or striking more times with a riposte, or having a much larger crit chance when riposting, or making almost no noise or double damage when stealth-hitting someone. And the feat-system was kinda interesting. All feats were locked until you fulfilled its requirements, even if you had enough points for them. But to unlock them you simply had to do something related to it. Kill enough enemies with the daggers, and you can get a feat that ups their crit chance. Brew enough potions, and you can get a feat to need less ingredients to make them. Get hit enough times, and you can make yourself hardier. There are also automatic feats that come from completing quests, defeating a special enemy or making certain choices.
It’s also a neat idea that you can craft attachments and accessories for your armour and weapons to better adapt them to your playstyle, and that would also add a visual change to it. And that you can recycle stuff you don’t need to try to recover some of the materials it was made from. And that you could basically at any point create more traps, potions and ammunition so long as you have the materials. And about half-way into the game you are basically swimming in materials. That can often be combined to make better materials. That the materials actually weigh you down so much is a bit bullshit though. Especially considering how the game just lets you pick up as many as you can find without restriction.
These are systems that would have been great in a better game. But as it is, they just fuel my frustration at the wasted potential. They fucked up, basically. I think I’m out of good points now, so back to the venting.
There is a concrete feeling that there is a lot of polish lacking in Bound By Flame. There are animations that don’t sync up well at all. The attempted lip-syncing when characters are talking just make them look eerie. The AI path-finding is questionable at best, with my current companion often disappearing because they got stuck on some random bit of terrain that you passed. And in the very first area where I first had a companion, they refused to jump down off a small ledge with me, and left me to trek through the swamp alone. When I went back to try a different path that they would hopefully follow me on, they had vanished, only to magically reappear a minute later as I was looking for them. Enemies or friendly NPCs would occasionally get stuck in bits of terrain and become impossible to interact with. This was especially puzzling for NPCs like questgivers that were just supposed to stand in one place. And of course the aforementioned really bad subtitles that I don’t think anyone bothered to proofread.
The worst part though… the worst part… the game let me sequence-break a questline quite by accident, simply as I was trying to explore everywhere. I’m an explorer in these games, I try to go and look at everything before I actually do what the game is telling me. This happened because of a door that they let me go out, but when I went back in, I was put in a different place. A place I don’t think they had thought I should reach yet. So I came across some prisoners and freed them, and then went back to progress the main quest. At which point it listed as one of my main quests to free the prisoners. So I went back, and they were there again, so I freed them again. Which also led again to the follow-up side-quest to free another group of prisoners. And then I noticed this had happened:
I am not sure where your programming goes wrong to allow this to happen, but… this was how it was stuck for the both the main and the side-quest. Both listed the prisoners as freed, but not found, so I couldn’t get the quests completed. I was worried it wouldn’t let me push on with the other main quests, and what was the main main quest, but thankfully I was able to. I did *not* want to have to load an earlier save at that point.
And I would like to state that Bound By Flame has many dumb binary choices. And even the few times it would give me three choices, it was still most likely that I wouldn’t like any of them. The main character is not a very likable person, and does and says a lot of stupid crap, and uses quite a lot of coarse language for no other reason than to seem more mature, or badass, or something. They curse so much it basically loses all meaning, and I kinda stopped noticing half-way in.
I was about to say that the game doesn’t have any romance options, and that I was glad for it, but looking at the achievement list, there are achievements for seducing all your companions, except for Mathras. Curious… I’m going to assume that same-sex relations wasn’t an option, since I basically only used the girls and Mathras, because they had more useful skills and interesting comments on what I ran into. I wish I could have seduced Mathras, though… he was flirting with me! Honest! Put him in a better game, please.
Bound By Flame is really the worst kind of bad game. The kind where you see that they almost managed to make a really good game. To paraphrase mister Croshaw, they could see Port Good Game without a spyglass, but they landed on Cock-Up Peninsula. The good parts just make the bad parts all the more infuriating, and I’d love to just toss the whole thing onto a pyre. I can’t really call it mediocre, because it has glimpses of brilliance mired in a bog of frustration and shit.
Maybe I’m too hard on it, since it filled me with such disappointment and anger. I really hoped it would be good, or at least okay, but it’s really, really not.
[Disclaimer: A copy of this game was purchased by the writer for the purposes of this review.]