RPGs have been on the rise and 2014 is going to see its fair share of the genre. Spiders is looking to make their mark on the year with their inspired role-playing game Bound By Flame. The dark fantasy title follows Freeborn Blades mercenary Vulcan as he (or she) sets out on a contract for the aforementioned company to protect the Red Scribes, a group looking to put an end to the Ice Lords’ mayhem. The seven Ice Lords are the reason the world has deteriorated and left Deadwalkers (undead minions) wandering the lands. In hopes of reversing the desperate nature of their world, the Red Scribes perform a summoning ritual. As you might imagine, the ritual goes terribly wrong and it leaves Vulcan possessed by a flame demon, one that wishes to overtake our protagonist’s body and crush any remaining humanity over the course of the journey.
This is easily the most ambitious project taken on by Spiders. The question is, is Bound By Flame an experience that burns brightly till the end or does it fizzle out early on?
As aformentioned, Bound By Flame follows possessed mercenary Vulcan. Vulcan is your codename. You’ll use an underwhelming set of customization options to create your character and give your male or female combatant a name of your choosing, but it means little since everyone will refer to you as Vulcan. The Freeborn Blades are a group of rowdy, foul-mouthed brutes, whose ranks you’ll find yourself amongst. Being a sword-for-hire, Vulcan knows his way around a blade. Your mastery of weapons removes the often found class restrictions found within this genre. The game doesn’t bind you to one fighting style. The two weapon-based fighting stances include two-handed armaments (ex: swords, axes, halbreds) and dual-wielding daggers. You have your common warrior and rogue builds here. Feel free to switch between them on the fly as each encounter requires. The warrior can unlock health regeneration and 360 degree blocking whereas the ranger (as it’s called in game) can deliver deadly backstabs and poisonous cuts. Despite having these options, I found myself using the warrior stance almost exclusively thanks to its more impactful hits and full body defense while blocking.
What it really came down to was picking the lesser of two evils. The warrior stance made combat slightly more bearable than the ranger. This is due to the fact that the upgrade tree for the warrior allowed for better defenses against the game’s relentless enemies. After leveling up, Vulcan can spend points in stance-specific abilities as well as character enhancing perks. These perks can buff the character with upgrades such as extended health. However, the increase is minimal. You will never be an unstoppable damage sponge. Vulcan will see marginal gains from the base 100 hit points. And this is why the warrior stance is most effective. Enemies will become harder throughout the game, sporting lengthy health bars to prove it. This leads to longer-than-necessary battles between Vulcan and the opposing force(s) as they take turns exchanging blows. Combat will become repetitive and you’ll soon find that the formula for all encounters is attack, attack, block/parry, repeat. It isn’t a major issue in the beginning of the game, but later on it becomes a nuisance when battles last much longer than they should and they all start to blend together.
There is a third option, one that can amplify the first two. Having become a vessel for a powerful fire demon, Vulcan has access to fire powers, allowing you to embrace the power provided by your demon. Fireballs can be loosed on foes and your steel can be ignited for extra damage. Giving into the demon isn’t all pros, however, and Vulcan’s appearance reflects that over time.Throughout the game, Vulcan will be given “good or evil” choices, giving the player the option of holding on to their humanity or giving in to the demon’s dark desires.
Sadly, player choice doesn’t give enough meaningful impact to the outcomes of situations you’ll find yourself in. RPGs with branching paths and player choice usually demand two playthroughs to see it all, but Bound By Flame may be the exception. There isn’t enough variance to justify dragging yourself through the sub par experience a second time for some lackluster alternative choices. In fact, the same feeling arises when thinking about the overall narrative. It just isn’t all that interesting. The stiff voice acting, continuous swearing and poor lip sync all come together to further detract from the experience. Bound By Flame can’t seem to figure out its tone. When it tries to be serious, it falls flat. When it tries to be funny, it feels forced and out of place. This is a game with an ambitious vision and a half-baked delivery.Bound By Flame Review,