The story in Bound by Flame has a Game of Thrones feel to it, but not in the sense that there is a war between five kings. Instead you should think about the “White Walkers”. For those of you who are not familiar with Game of Thrones, the “White Walkers” are a race of mythical humanoid creatures that possess magical powers, look akin to zombies, and have a history of waging war on mankind. TheBound by Flame counterpart to the “White Walkers” are the Deadwalkers: an army of rotting, deformed, and downright disgusting zombie-like creatures. The Deadwalkers were summoned over 150 years ago by the Lords of Ice, who are hell-bent on conquering the world of Vertiel. The Lords of Ice are a circle of mysterious immortal necromancers who have been successfully leading their legions of undead in the extermination of all other known races.
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.
Character customization isn’t Bound by Flame‘s trump card, but how you decide to play does alter certain dialogue options and presents a drastic change in your appearance; think being extremely evil in Fable for instance. It also offers a solid crafting system that allows you to change the statistics and appearance of various pieces of weapons and armor, so the customization does go beyond just the character’s face.
You don’t have to battle the Ice Lords alone, as Bound by Flame offers a great cast of companion characters that are full of personality. It does offer a story that’s easy to follow and full of light-hearted dialogue, but be warned that it does feature more than a handful of F-bombs and sexual innuendos. At one point in the game, after you’ve killed a boss monster’s concubines, your busty, sarcastic witch companion suggests that the boss will have to start using his hand now.. and that’s when I knew all bets were off. Still, its delivery is comedic and charming on the same level as Risen 2: Dark Waters.
As a mercenary, Vulcan is well versed with many different weapon types. Combat in Bound by Flame allows you to switch between using giant 2-handed weapons, daggers, a crossbow, explosive traps and various fire spells, but much like the character customization, it’s not perfectly executed.
Swordplay seems rather sluggish at times, but offers the ability to block and parry attacks, while using daggers allows for a more stealthy approach. Daggers allow you to prowl around enemies undetected and open up with high damage sneak attacks, but while they do offer more mobility, their overall damage is obviously lower. Using both of these in combination with your fire spells and traps is the best way to deal with enemies, but I never ran in to a situation where I felt the use of traps or crossbows was ever necessary. The options are there if that’s something you’re interested in doing, but if they were absent from the game completely you’d never even notice.
Aside from the general hack-and-slash combat, Vulcan has 4 different fire spells you can use, like bathing your weapon in fire to increase its damage or hurling fireballs at your enemies. I found the fire spells fun to use when they actually worked, but each one has such a long cast time that a majority of my attempts to use any of them ended up being interrupted by incoming attacks.
As you level up, you can allocate points in to three different skill trees focusing on improving your effectiveness with 2-handed weapons, daggers or fire spells. You’re also given a separate set ofCharacter Feat points to spend on passive upgrades like a larger health pool, better chances of finding loot or reducing the materials needed to craft traps and potions.
I really enjoyed the idea of what Bound by Flame offered with its skill trees, but since the game is only about 15 hours long you’re severely penalized for experimentation. For instance, you’re required to allocate so many points in to each tree before you’re able to purchase its main ability — like slowing down time, or summoning a fire spirit to aid you in combat — but since the game moves along at such a fast pace, it wasn’t until the final act that I had finally reached my comfort zone with each attack type and knew what I wanted to do.
There were moments in between where I’d start to like using 2-handed weapons, but had to decide if it was worth investing points in to the skill tree or just putting them in to daggers where I felt more comfortable. I could have also alleviated my problem with fire spell interruption by allocating points in to the Pyromancer skill tree, but again, at the cost of not improving my favored daggers. Being able to reallocate my skill points would have been a most welcome addition, but since there was no turning back, I always did get the feeling that each point earned was an invaluable resource, and I like that a bit.
I do think Bound by Flame would have fared better had it been a longer game, thus offering more time to experiment and more points to earn and allocate, but I wasn’t completely turned off by its shorter length — by RPG standards, anyway. While it does offer decent customization and a decent combat system, what really blew me away was the absolutely stunning enemy design and one of the best musical scores I’ve heard in a game this year.
During your time in the land of Vertielyou’ll run in to gigantic armored guardians, dragons, patchwork concubines and horrendously disfigured undead beings that are almost Silent Hill-like. I was so impressed by the different enemy designs that I couldn’t stop taking screenshots with my PS4. Olivier Deriviere, who you may know from his musical contributions in Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry and Remember Me, completely nailed the atmosphere and delivery in Bound by Flame and I feel that its soundtrack is up there with some of the best in the business.