Bound by Flame is a rather frustrating affair, as developer Spiders gives gamers a product that is adequate almost across the board, with areas of untapped potential to be found everywhere. From the combat and crafting, to the characters and story, there is not one area that really soars above the rest and moves this past being a mediocre release. You can see where the developer has some good ideas but struggled to bring it all together to give you an excellent game.
The first aspect that underwhelms is the story. You begin the game and learn of the army of Deadwalkers, led by the Ice Lords, who are trying to enslave all of man and elf-kind. You take control of a “powder-master” nicknamed Vulcan, who is under the employ of the Freeborn Blades. After a mixup during a magic ceremony led by the Red Scribes, you now have a demon sharing your body as you continue your fight to hopefully defeat the Ice Lords one day.
The story is not overly unique and is really let down by some lackluster writing and characters that do almost nothing to help further the story. In fact, most all of the characters feel void of emotions, leaving you with empty shells droning on about absolutely pointless things. Making matters worse is that to even turn in a quest to someone, you must navigate through pointless dialogue to find the dialogue line that allows you to complete it. The game also gives you the ability to choose different dialogue paths at certain points during the story but you never feel the true weight of these decisions.
Adding to the lack of story is the lack of areas to explore. There are only about four main areas to navigate through your extremely short playthrough of the game. Each area offers up quests to perform and through these quests you can get some backstory for the game, if you can make it through all the pointless dialogue in between.
Outside of the story, things get a little bit better when you get into the combat. Combat is based around three different skill trees: Warrior, Ranger, and Pyromancy. The Warrior tree has you wielding a two-handed weapon and is all based around hitting things hard and blocking incoming attacks. You can also use this stance to kick through enemy shields to lower their guard and strike. The Ranger stance is all about speed as you quickly strike with your dual daggers, dealing damage quickly and jumping back from incoming attacks instead of blocking. This stance also gives you the ability to go into stealth mode and sneak up on an enemy for a high damage attack.
The last tree is the Pyromancy and gives you control over the power of fire. This could have been a cool addition, however you are only granted four spells that you can use right from the beginning. You never gain anything new in this tree, only powering up the current four spells. In fact, all three of the different skill trees are underwhelming and do very little to actually put your character down a specific path. Even my character with all his skill points on the Warrior side didn’t feel any more powerful.
In general, the combat just feels like it drags on throughout every fight. The boss battles end up being overly redundant, as you basically dodge/block and then attack, and then repeat those steps over and over until their health bar finally depletes. Making this matter even worse is the fact that your attacks seem to carry very little weight to them, while the people you face hit like a ton of bricks. It seemed like no matter what I got my level to, I was still getting out-damaged by whatever creature I was facing off against. They try to fix some of this with the ability to add points into ‘feats’, giving you things like increased health and such, but it never really makes a difference.
What possibly could have saved some of the game and extended its playability is the crafting system, but like everything else, it leaves much to be desired. Bound by Flame allows you to collect materials from dead enemies or the environment and then combine them with your equipment to improve it. Adding these to something like your weapon will allow you to change the look of the item and add more damage. Try it with a breastplate and you will find yourself adding shoulders and changing the entire look of your armor. Adding to your weapons and armor provides boosts such as increased damage or poison resist. The problem here is that the game is so short that you won’t find nearly enough time to upgrade your armor the way you want it, and there really isn’t enough time to find that many different pieces of armor before the entire show is over. The exclusion of a shield is also a funny omission, as you have a warrior stance that blocks.
Visually, Bound by Flame is early contender for ugliest PS4 game and it really has no competition. The character models are laughable and there isn’t anything in the game to really scream next-gen graphics. The worlds you find yourself trudging through are unimpressive and dull, with the only real bright spots being some of the main bosses looking rather cool. Things don’t really improve on the audio side, as the voice work just doesn’t cut it and it’s made worse with the rather odd syncing on the voices and the mouths of the character never really lining up with the audio.
Bound by Flame is an RPG that has a few good ideas that are never fully realized, leaving gamers with a rather empty experience that never picks up any sort of steam. The combat is adequate, but never does anything to elevate itself. There is a false sense of customization and a crafting system that while interesting, is extremely limited. Add in the bland story and lackluster characters, and you just have one underwhelming experience. It’s not the worst game to pick up and play, but it is a game that doesn’t feel complete and might have been rushed to the table. Rent it if you must, but I am hard pressed to advocate that anyone purchase this mess.
Review copy provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.