I don’t know what it is about these mid-budget fantasy RPGs, but they always aim much farther than their budget is ever going to reach. While ambition is always admirable, in the case of, Spiders’, Bound By Flame, the goal of matching the likes of the Witcher or Skyrim (by essentially taking the kitchen sink approach to RPG development) has inevitably derailed any chance of it crafting its own identity.
Beyond a sense of overwhelming mediocrity hanging over just about every aspect of the game, it is the complete lack of originality that is arguably the most damaging trait of all. By pilfering from all of the major western fantasy RPGs and adding nothing new of its own, Bound By Flames sets itself up for some very unflattering comparisons to the genre’s finest.
It’s not like any particular element of Bound By Flame is completely broken, but then equally, other than a very solid crafting and levelling system, it’s not like the game does anything particularly well either. The combat, visuals, script, delivery, characterisation – it has all been done much better elsewhere.
The characterisation is particularly disappointing. While I am a fan of the more ambiguous characters in the likes of The Witcher and the moral grey area that they inhabit, Bound By Flames’ attempts to replicate said ambiguity fall hopelessly flat thanks to a combination of poor delivery, horrible writing and a largely one dimensional cast. The protagonist of the piece has his moments, but for the most part, his tirade of cursing often sounds like it is from another game altogether. While the supporting cast complain about getting paid, our hero often sounds more like a modern day teen in a bad out-of-time comedy…..it’s strange.
The story too, while competent, is so painfully forgettable and indistinguishable from genre cliché that you’ll often struggle to remember what the purpose of the game actually is. The Fable-esque karma system does add a much needed twist to proceedings though, and while your decision have little effect on the overarching story, they do at least have both a visual and ability based effect on your hero. Rather than just looking a little bit evil, it’s good to see the effects of your decision conveyed in your combat abilities.
As for the combat itself; again, while never remarkable, like so much of Bound By Flame, it’s nothing if not competent. The ability to switch between slow moving sword attacks and nimble dagger attacks is an interesting one, and with each style available on the fly, does allow for some interesting combinations. Once you’ve mastered the dodge / block / attack combination though, things do become a tad repetitive with even the largest monstrosities requiring little more than a rinse and repeat approach to battle.
As always though, while the combat and storytelling aren’t likely to keep you enthralled for long, the loot and crafting system do provide a carrot to chase over the finish line. Collecting and upgrading is always fun, and if there is one thing that Bound By Flame does undeniably well, it’s crafting and loot. It’s a slick, deep system that allows you to upgrade armour and weaponry via collected items and even allows you to make up the difference with gold to keep things ticking along. Like the levelling system, which is equally solid, it is in these behind the scenes moments in which Bound By Flame finally shines. It’s not enough to make up for its otherwise by the numbers development, but it might be enough to keep you invested through to the all too predictable finale.
With its low rent visuals, repetitive locations and painfully predictable storytelling, Bound By Flame falls well short of the games that it so brazenly imitates. The loot, crafting and levelling system however are as good as anything that the genre has to offer while the combat, without ever feeling particularly unique, is certainly entertaining and strong enough to support the more impressive numbers game played behind the scenes. Still, despite these positives, Bound By Flame represents yet another western fantasy RPG that tries to do far too much and one that ultimately delivers an underwhelmingly average experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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