French developer Spiders unleashes their fourth role-playing game and the first to be released for PS4, Bound by Flame. While no one would confuse a title from Spiders with a AAA release, their earlier genre entries showed a lot of potential. They took chances, were ambitious, handled their dark themes well and worked the conventions of the genre with skill despite being held down by some questionable design choices and obvious budget limitations. Most of these phrases can not be applied to Bound by Flame.
The world is dying. The seven Ice Lords and their Dead Army have almost completely stamped out mankind. The majority of those who remain have all but given up. Vulcan, a mercenary with the Freeborn Blades, is protecting the last remaining group summoners who are trying to call up some supernatural help to push back against the tide. That doesn’t go as planned. It goes as wrong as could be expected in the situation. Vulcan finds himself sharing his body with a flame demon. Which is a stroke of luck since, in case you hadn’t guessed by their name, the Ice Lords are not fans of fire..
Standard fantasy set up. That’s alright. This can be overcome with a strong script and solid voice acting. Spiders failed to give any of the cast personalities beyond that of “complete jackhole”. When the characters aren’t tossing out bad snarky jokes, they spew fantasy drivel that’s punctuated with vulgarity. There’s nothing wrong with vulgarity on its own. I use it all the time. There is a problem when it is so heavily shoehorned in every fucking line, when it’s the only way the writers try to show how dark and vicious this world is. While it is constant, it is still not enough to make up for the fact that almost every name is a bad pun. All your companions have a fairly dense catalog of stories to tell you if you ask but none of it really adds to their character, except maybe lead you to hate them more, or is other than dry filler. While your decisions in dialog will actually affect the game world, everyone is fairly oblivious to these changes. There’s an even bigger problem with some of the writing in this but I’ll get to that later.
The voice cast is… terrible. They deliver their lines in the most perfunctory manner and fail to even bring a sense of urgency or personality to the characters. The Captain of your mercenary band does heavily channel Sean Connery, and it’s a terrible impersonation but at least the actor tried. Failed, but tried.
Character creation is only cosmetic. It doesn’t matter if your Vulcan is male or female, it changes nothing. It doesn’t matter if you change the characters name, everyone will constantly refer to you as Vulcan. There are only six options available for each category.
Bound by Flame is an action RPG, Vulcan slices and dices through the legions of the Dead Army. There are two fighting modes to switch between. First is Warrior Stance where you wield two handed swords, which deals greater damage and can block almost any attack. There’s also Ranger Stance where Vulcan uses a pair of knives, can sneak up on the undead and is more nimble but takes considerably fewer hits. A successfully timed block in Warrior Stance or dodge in Ranger slows down time allowing you to get a couple hits in. In either Stance you can summon pyromancy skills to give you an edge. Each of the three combat options has it’s own skill tree allowing you to refine them to your own play style.
While the combat at the core is a solid experience, Spiders couldn’t leave it at that. The lock-on function is all but useless as to which enemy on screen it will lock on and follows no decipherable rules. The majority of your companions go down insanely fast. The environments are crammed with enemies that surround you, all of whom don’t just have a bag of cheap attacks but who can pretty much juggle you like a ball at any time. Every hit you receive is also an interrupt so half the combats you find yourself not being able to fight back or knocked flat on your ass being pummeled. Vulcan is slow to get up. Very, very fucking slow.
Saving the worst for last. The dev team seems to hate women. Powerful women especially. The only companion Vulcan picks up who is not completely useless is Edwen. She is first found in captivity and scantily clad. While at first the game makes comments about it’s inappropriateness for fighting, they never allow her to put on something more, you know, armory. Which could have made for some alright gags on the genre. Bound by Flame doesn’t really go there. Instead every other character is constantly making sexual references to her, telling you that she’s not to be trusted for no other reason than how she is dressed. They seem to completely forget that she joyously cut out your employer’s heart while laughing giddily. Nope, that’s all fine but how DARE she dress like that? There’s no mention that she’s strong and obviously psychotic or that she’s the only option worth travelling with and they’re a little jealous. She dressed like a slut so you totally can not trust her. Yeah… they say exactly that… repeatedly. Ok, Spiders is a French developer, let’s excuse it because of cultural bias (we shouldn’t but for argument’s sake we are going to). So how do we write off the overtly sexualized Concubines or the boss fight that ends with a cutscene where Vulcan chokes her to death while grinding on her?
Right. You can’t. There are some good ideas in Bound by Flame but there’s just no way to recommend it. The fights are endless and boring, the enemies are all cheap, the gameplay is broken, the script is shit, the voice acting is painful to hear.
Bound by Flame- 3/10