Bound By Flame
Every idea that becomes a finished game shows promise. Somebody usually thought that there was enough merit in a particular concept to make it worthwhile investing time and money into making that idea a reality.
Bound By Flame has a lot of potential. The feel of the game is equal parts Game Of Thrones and Dragon Age with a potentially entertaining premise that the game's hero has been possessed by a flame demon as an accidental side-effect of a magic ritual gone wrong.
Through the game players must wrestle with the choice between embracing the power of the demon and dealing with the consequent loss of humanity or fighting to stay human and deal with the enemy with the strength of a man.
That enemy is the Ice Lords and their undead army of Deadwalkers that has swept through the world from the North slaughtering all that stood before it andf recruiting the dead into its ranks. It all reeks of George RR Martin and it would be fairly entertaining if the game actually felt like it was finished.
While the story is decidedly Game Of Thrones, the gameplay is borrowed from Dragon Age, Dark Souls and Fable. The character is a mercenary called Vulcan who has the potential to fight either as an out and out warrior with your choice of two-handed weapon or a ranger using stealth and a matched-pair of short blades.
After being possessed Vulcan also has the ability to become a Pyromancer using fire magic to 'devastate' his enemies.
Levelling up works in a way similar to Kingdoms Of Amalur or Fable through three separate skill trees. Players have the choice to spend their points on whatever tree they choose mixing their own blend of skills to create whatever skillset suits their chosen style of play.
Combat works pretty much the same whether you choose ranger mode or warrior mode. It's based loosely on the attack and parry system used in Dark Souls. Players can block most attacks from enemies but carefully timed blocks can turn into a counter-attack parry that has the potential to deliver the good old-fashioned critical strike. There's also an interrupt system which means that carefully timed strikes have the potential to interrupt enemies as they are performing their attacks.
The fire magic is accessed using the quick access wheel or even assigned to quick keys to make them much easier to use. Vulcan also has access to a crossbow which is a secondary weapon fired from the offhand.
This leads on to the first of Bound By Flame's many, many flaws. Combat would work in a fairly capable manner if it wasn't for the inexplicable lag in between pressing buttons and Vulcan swinging his weapon. This lag isn't present when you push the block button and it can even interrupt a striking blow.
There's also another problem posed by combat and that is the target lock system. A well-implemented target lock system is very useful. This one is not. When the target lock is engaged the camera also locks in position forcing the viewpoint into walls and surrounding structures completely obscuring the view of the action.
As a secondary bonus the target lock doesn't always aid firing things like the crossbow or the fireball spell. Instead of automatically shifting Vulcan's focus towards the selected target it just alloows you to fire blithely off in whatever direction that Vulcan is facing regardless of whether he's facing his fixed target or not. This raises the potential for wasting mana or crossbow ammunition.
Bound By Flame mirrors Dragon Age in its attempt to make interactions with party members more meaningful. The game is riddled with choices that will affect how your companions percieve you and opportunities to interact with them. There's even potential for romance.
Sadly this too is hampered. The game's old-school dialogue menus, ropey dialogue, wooden voice acting and error-filled subtitles all of which combine to make dialogue a chore rather than the carefully considered gameplay element that BioWare and Obsidian have both proven that it could be.
There are some positives in Bound By Flame. It uses an interesting crafting system that allows players to customize almost every weapon and piece of armour to suit their own play style. Swords have interchangeable guards and pommels which improve their characteristics in combat. Players can add armour suits spaulders, elbow guards and other elements to improve the way they protect Vulcan.
All of these customizable elements also make difference on how Vulcan looks. This also highlights how visually impressive Bound By Flame can be. There are some harsh moments when character models and scenery can look more like an unfortunate jumble of badly merged polygons but there are brief moments of beauty.
Alas these are all-too brief and Bound By Flame rarely lives up to the potential it has. It probably wouldn't have been anything more than a capable diversion until Bethesda's next effort arrives but as it stands it feels like an unfinished mess.
Bound By Flame is out now on PC, PS4, PS3 and Xbox 360.
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