For the past few evenings I’ve been playing Bound By Flame, the new action-RPG by Spiders Software and published by Focus Interactive, and I figured it was time to share my thoughts. Spoiler: So far I’m enjoying myself.
But when you approach a game like this, you need to have realistic expectations. It’s simply not an AAA game. Spiders are the folks who did Of Orcs and Men & Mars War Logs, so if you’ve played either of those you know what ballpark we’re in. To make up for that, it launched at $40 rather than $60. And to help it along even more, I’m playing on the PS4 where there’s really not much like it, yet.
So let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The graphics aren’t cutting edge. The voice acting ranges from OK to terrible, and the dialog itself tries to be ‘gritty’ and just comes off juvenile. When you have the Captain of a Mercenary Band calling an elf “a dickhead” you know you’re in trouble. There’s also some rough spots when it comes to simple things like picking up loot. When a monster dies it drops a nice tidy packet of loot and it can be hard to ‘aim’ at it to pick it up. Skipping through dialog is possible by pressing O when you’d expect it to be X. So stuff like that: rough spots that could’ve used more polish.
On the plus side, the music is pretty good, the combat is challenging, and the crafting system is fun. Aside from the actual dialog I’m liking the story so far (the world is under siege by an undead army being controled by 8 Icelords — you’re part of a mercenary band that sort of reminds me of The Black Company. The mercenaries are trying to keep a group of Scribes alive while they find a way to fight the Icelord. Meanwhile, a fire demon is co-habiting your body.) but we’ll see how well it holds up.
When you start the game your character (which can be male or female and has a handful of skin tones and face and hair options) has two skill trees to put points into: Warrior and Ranger. Me, I’d call them Warrior and Rogue. Warrior is big weapons and blocking while Ranger is dual daggers and dodging. The skill tree will be familiar to anyone who has played an action-RPG before. Each time you level up you get a couple of points to spend on various skills, and as you put enough points into one tree, a new tier of skills unlocks. Pretty early on you get a third skill tree: Pyromancy. That one lets you learn fire-based spells (sorry ice wielders, you’re out of luck…you’ll have to wait for Bound By Frost). You also get Feat points that let you unlock Passive Feats like increasing inventory or gaining additional health.
So you have a lot of skills and not so many buttons on your controller…what to do? Well the face buttons handle basic attacks, and then you can set up shortcuts for L2+Face Button. If you want to access something you don’t have a shortcut for, L1 will open up a radial menu. While that is open the game slows way down..it gives you plenty of time to do what you need without completely pausing the game. R1 switches stances between Warrior and Ranger (Pyromancy isn’t a stance so much as a collection of spells to shortcut) and R2 blocks. On the PS4 the touchpad can also be used instead of the L2+Face buttons but I found that less accurate.
Combat can be really challenging but I found the difficulty to be a bit spikey. I’d be cruising along doing fine and then I’d hit a fight that just kicked my butt over and over again. When that happened it seemed to be the game trying to teach me something. For example one fight was really hard until I remembered I had Traps that I could set in mid-battle, then it became relatively easy. You’ll want to manually save often. There’s an autosave but it sometimes saves right at the start of a battle you can’t escape. If that fight is too much for you you’re going to want a manual save to fall back on.
Blocking (Warrior Stance) is your friend early on, since you can hold a block forever. But don’t get too used to it because some enemies can kick you to disrupt your block and knock you on your ass (fair is fair…you can do the same to them; it’s one of the basic attacks). Solution to kicking enemies? Switch to Ranger stance and spring out of the way.
You’ll be crafting from the very start of the game. Most enemies drop stuff like leather, bone, raw metal and the like. You can use these to craft things like those traps I mentioned, bolts for your crossbow, and health and mana potions. You can also use them to craft ‘mods’ for your weapon and armor, which lets you customize your gear. Do you want to concentrate on doing more damage, or are you more interested in speed and disrupting the enemy? However you want to build your character, crafting can help.
As you play through the game you’ll meet Companions that can accompany you. These are a mixed blessing. You can issue them basic orders like Defend Yourself, Attack From a Distance and Heal Party. They seem to do the basic “attack” command fine but even when told to attack from a distance or defend, they still tend to run into battle, and if you retreat they don’t. The good news is that if they die, they’ll get back up after the battle is over. I kind of treat them as a short-term buff at the start of a fight! LOL
And that’s about as much as I have for you today. I’m only level 10 or so and I’m about to back-track a little to grind some experience and gather some more materials for a blacksmith quest I have (the village’s guards are woefully under-equipped but the blacksmith doesn’t have the materials to make them better gear; that’s where I come in). I’ve already got many quests to do and I’m looking forward to continuing to build my character and take on the undead armies.
So should YOU check it out? Well it depends. If you’re a PC gamer, let’s face it, this will probably be on sale for $20 during the Steam Summer Sale and it’s pretty safe to wait until then. If you’re a PS4 owner the question becomes more tricky. Are you hard on games, or are you the type of gamer who can focus on the good and let the bad parts slide? If you’re the latter, then I’d say pick it up, particularly if like me you were really wanting an action-RPG on your console. Remember though, this isn’t going to show off the graphics capability of a PS4 and it’s not a AAA game. Bound By Flame is also available for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Again, I’d wait for a sale on those platforms since you probably already have some action-RPG titles that you haven’t finished on your pile of shame.
Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of Bound By Flame.