Bound By Flame offers everything we have come to expect from western RPGs – skill trees, customisable equipment, fast-paced combat – and beards. The world is overrun by skeletons (dead walkers), and it’s your job (who else is gonna do it?) to save the world. That is, if you want to. For once, here is an RPG where you don’t have to be a hero in pretty armour.
You play as Vulcan, a powder master mercenary in a dying world. What this means is that he, as a member of a mercenary group, the Freeborn Blades, can make and set fire traps. This is just one of his many talents however, as possessing him is a fire demon, giving him the awesome ability to glow in the dark, among others. It’s up to you to restrict or embrace this demonic power, and the game plays quite differently as a result of your choice. Not only do you gain different traits and abilities but also your appearance changes to match. This goes unnoticed by most of the game’s NPCs, who despite your new demonic presence seem completely unfazed.
I enjoyed seeing these demonic attributes form through the game and it kept me interested through the unfortunately rather short story. The game for me was over in 15 hours, including the majority of the side quests. The quests available to you in game do however change with your choice, so a second playthrough could actually be as enjoyable as the first.
Five different companions can accompany Vulcan, each bringing something different to the table, either the female mage with the gravity defying clothing, the warrior, archer, healer or the guy who looks suspiciously like the things you spend the whole game killing. They behave in combat in different ways, and you can control their behaviour by choosing to give them orders. Your relationship with your chosen ally will change over time based on your choices, and some of them may leave you if they don’t agree with your actions.
I felt it a shame that there wasn’t any kind of customisation regarding your companions. If we had been given the option to assign skill points or traits to them this would’ve added more depth to the game and made the choice of companion more interesting.
Vulcan isn’t entirely dependent on his friends however, and is packing three different skill trees for you to allocate points to upon level up. There are no classes in the game, rather different forms of combat that you can use. The Warrior Stance is active while using two handed weapons such as axes and nasty looking hammers. The Ranger Stance is used while dual wielding, and you can switch between the two stances at any time. The third tree relates to the fire magic that you can use once possessed. It’s worth taking some time to look at the trees before you assign points, as only two of the three can be mastered. By the time you have mastered a tree you will unlock a new skill, bringing an exciting new twist to the combat system.
In addition to this skill tree you also earn trait points as you level up, to give specific passive bonuses to your character. Traits can bestow upon you increased health, critical hit chance or even more chance to use fewer materials when crafting. Traits are unlocked after performing a particular feat, such as killing 30 enemies with fire spells.
The combat in the game is fast paced and depending on the difficulty you choose, can be very challenging. There are a lot of different enemies that you will face, most of them terribly ugly, but fitting into the almost-end-of-the-world theme well. Each enemy requires different tactics to kill, however you’ll soon find that their movements become predictable and you’ll be dodging or blocking before they attack you.
The bosses through most of the game are original and even pretty awesome, though it does feel that at a certain point in the game the creators ran out of ideas. However, even though combat takes up such a large part of the game, it still manages to remain enjoyable.
Various different skills can be assigned to hotkeys for quick use in battle. This really helps to keep the combat fast paced, and allows you to throw a fireball or use your crossbow in the middle of the action. For other skills or items not set to a hotkey, you can bring up a list of all those available to you while slowing down time, giving you the option to down a potion and carry on swinging.
One of the most interesting aspects of the game, to me, was customising equipment as Bound by Flame goes about this in a slightly different way to most. You can equip a helmet, body armour, gloves and boots. However by customising the body armour you can add shoulder armour, bracers and the like. Weapons can be improved by giving them different pommels, guards or even extra blades, all of which give them new attributes, such as an increased chance to interrupt the enemy’s actions or the chance to poison. All of this can be achieved on the move, of course, who needs a furnace with a fire demon possessing you? Once a piece of equipment becomes obsolete, you can recycle it, claiming back some of the materials.
By the mid point of the game you will have amassed more resources than you are likely to use, as every enemy you slay drops some and there are chests around almost every corner. This refers back to my previous point of a lack of customisation for companions. A good secondary use of materials would’ve been crafting equipment for them too.
I enjoyed my time with Bound by Flame, short as it was. I feel that more could have been added to most aspects of the game, and many of you might agree. This makes DLC seem likely, and a good sized addition to the game could make it feel more complete.
This being said, I think most people will find some enjoyment in Bound by Flame, and while it may not be the best action RPG ever made, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to start my second playthrough.