That’s no way to present a dissertation.
Despite a wealth of action games, the next-generation has been surprisingly short on lengthy game experiences to date. Bound by Flame is an action RPG that’s set to change that, releasing today on PC and PS4 – but is it worth the money?
In a word – yes. Fans of RPGs like Dragon Age, The Witcher and Kingdoms of Amalur will find a lot to like in Bound by Flame, even if it never quite reaches to heights of those. Set in a fairly typical fantasy world filled with towers, swamps and fire (unsurprisingly), Bound by Flame takes a more grown-up approach to storytelling, casting you as a warrior with a small band who are asked to protect a kind of monk while they perform an important ritual as a last ditch effort to save the world from an approaching enemy. Of course the ritual goes wrong and you end up with a demon inside you who can grant you some magical power, but at a terrible price as he slowly chips away at your soul. Your character doesn’t start off as a holier than thou type anyway, regularly insulting other characters, swearing profusely and making some of the crudest jokes you’ve seen in a mainstream RPG, but it’s interesting to watch his decay and insecurities rise as the demon gains more and more power over the course of the game.
Dialogue and voice acting is all variable in quality but the freedom that comes with an adult tone has clearly been exciting for the writers and there are plenty of genuinely funny lines across the lengthy campaign. While many of the situations you’ll find yourself in are tropes of the genre, the way they’re handled is consistently entertaining and often hilarious. Early on you rescue a sorcerer from the swamp who happens to be a youngish woman wearing what would be an overstatement if you called it underwear. Rather than passing this off as ‘duh, fantasy’ the characters all constantly make reference to it and how ridiculous it is that she’d be going around wearing something like that. This definitely isn’t a comedy game but the darkly humourous tone helps to differentiate the game from other by-the-book RPGS, which it is clearly among in other respects.
The combat is surprisingly challenging, even on the easiest difficulty setting. In the interests of completing the game before the review deadline we turned the difficulty down after the first chapter but we were never breezing past fights. You constantly carry two weapons and some magic, one weapon will be a slow two-hander, one will be a pair of daggers. Whenever you’ve got the two-hander equipped combat is all about timing your blocks perfectly to parry, and then trying to do as much damage as possible without opening yourself up too much. With the daggers you can even go into stealth mode and the block is replaced with a leap backwards, allowing you to dodge out of the way of most attacks. It isn’t quite Dark Souls but there’s definitely a strong strategic element to the fights and as you can switch between the weapons at will mid-combat there’s always a wealth of options open to you. The magic is less impressive, with the basic spell types all familiar and doing exactly what you’d expect. Upgrades that come with levelling are similarly vanilla, with loads simply improving a parry or critical chance by a percent or two giving no real sense of an upgrade once you get back to fighting.
As an RPG of course gear is a big issue and there’s plenty of different types to wear with huge amounts of models and animations to go with them. A lot of gear is often the same level within a chapter so you’ll find tonnes of side-grades, giving you actual options when it comes to choosing what you want to wear, rather than going straight for whatever has the most defense/attack. You might want to build a set that lets you parry easily, or maybe one that stops you from being interrupted. All of the gear can be further modified with craftable slots, adding bonuses to each item.
Graphically Bound by Flame isn’t going to win any awards but the art style is solid and seems to alternate between the more realistic rendering of the Witcher in some areas to the more cartoony Kingdoms of Amalur in others. Enemy types may be few and far between but they’re generally pretty inventive and the larger enemies look mightily impressive for some of the more substantial fights. It’s not a graphical showcase for next-gen but there is a leve l of polish that pervades through the game and little things like the lack of true load screens as you walk around different areas within the towns is quite an achievement, even if it’s quite subtle. Loads are hidden behind doorways but the animation is so smooth you never really notice the pause.
Overall Bound by Flame is a good game. There’s very little that really stands out about it, but the combat is solid and challenging, the story is interesting, the graphics are done well and the dialogue is a real strength with hundreds of brilliant lines. It’s not going to be an RPG that’s remember fondly for decades but for those starved of a decent length game for their PS4 it’s easily going to scratch that itch. An incredibly solid game and the beginning of what could be a very exciting series.