Bound By Flame Review (PS4)
- Updated: 13th May, 2014
I loved Bound By Flame right up to the final battle. The story may be bobbins but the combat is fun, the dialogue is great and RPG systems are complex enough to spend some time considering options. That last fight though, lets the whole game down.
Vulcan, the explosives expert protagonist, is kind of a dick. It’s hilarious. When not battling swamp monsters and undead horrors, my female character takes no crap from the men in her mercenary company and dishes out plenty to her party members. It makes for some fun moments that add plenty of flavour to the otherwise uninspiring narrative. Upon being possessed by a fire demon of sorts, Vulcan gains the power to manifest flames, becoming the last hope in a decades-long war that has almost wiped out humanity.
The core of the game is great. In combat, you can switch between two very different stances on the fly, each with their own skills tree. The heavy stance allows you to break an enemy’s guard and grants free counter-attacks when you succeed on a last-minute block. You can choose from two-handed swords, axes and hammers, which offer speed, interrupt or damage advantages. The “stealth” stance is more of a fast-response button-masher stance that also has the ability to sneak around and backstab enemies. This one is limited to dual-wielded daggers and grants automatic counters on dodging.
Being the impatient sort, I immediately opted for daggers. They make the shielded enemies much tougher at the start, but once you master the dodge timing, you can take on pretty much everything. Putting points into pyromancer tree will add extra abilities to compensate for the weaknesses in either style but bear in mind that you’ll only be able to max out a single style of combat. Boss battles present huge difficulty spikes so you’ll need every tool in your arsenal to win. Vulcan’s speciality is in building explosives, so luring enemies into strategically placed traps will really help if you’re having trouble.
Whichever style you choose, you’ll have to learn very quickly to anticipate incoming attacks and dodge or block accordingly. You can’t interrupt your own attacks, so swinging wildly will put you at a disadvantage. Each party member has a very different style and you can only bring one into battle, so choose carefully. There’s no point bringing the bow-focused ranger if you’ll need a tank to distract your enemies. You should also know that party members are idiots who will charge into battle with no regard for themselves. I found that the only way for them to be useful was to insist that they be on the defensive at all times.
Without spoiling any of the plot, it feels like the Spiders development team had a grand ambition and just ran out of money. All through the game you’re making decisions that aren’t clear-cut at all. Do you take advantage of a battlefield happenstance that makes your personal goal easier but dooms your friends? Release an unknown woman who swears she will murder your employer? Choices are much more interesting than the straight good or evil options offered by InFAMOUS and Mass Effect games. Throughout each of the game’s three hub areas, you can stroll around talking to townspeople who flesh out the world with their simple statements. Your party members and certain NPCs also have their own side quest ambitions. Complete these and you’ll gain bonuses like permanently increased trap damage or stats buffs.
You’ll trade jokes with your fellow survivors, learn plenty of lore, argue with your demon possessor and generally try to save humanity in your own way. Then you reach the final boss, which you have to battle through three different phases, all exactly the same. It’s essentially a battle of attrition. Bring enough health potions and you’ll eventually win.
[Caveat: I played the whole game on normal difficulty and had to drop it down to rookie for this particular battle because the difficulty spike from all previous fights was absolutely insane. I understand, however, that increasing difficulty level only changes toughness, not tactics.]
At the end of the battle, you make a dialogue choice and the outcome of that choice is completely meaningless. As in, you get a couple of different lines of dialogue and then the camera zooms out at a different angle. There’s no satisfying cut-scene showing the results of your actions. There’s not even an epilogue to match the opening narration. The game just ends. It feels like a placeholder while they build the real ending.
Given that a recent GDC talk confirmed that only a third of gamers actually finish games, I can see why a company might be able to justify skimping here. It’s bloody disappointing for those of us who actually put the effort in, however.
Bound By Flame blends real-time melee combat with some really thought-provoking narrative choices. I sighed at the fan-service concubine bosses, and Edwen’s clothing design that has her constantly on the verge of a nip-slip, but there’s enough in the game to warrant overlooking them. What I can’t forgive, however, is the anti-climactic finale. This is an enjoyable game that presents some interesting ideas and it’s a shame that Spiders couldn’t follow through.