by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Pure cosmetics, (cont.)
In between the thing that passes for a story is the combat, which actually has plenty of promise at the start. There are three main styles of combat, which the game encourages you to switch between when the situation changes. There’s a warrior style, which focuses on slow, powerful attacks and blocking; a ranger style, which specializes in quick attacks with a pair of daggers and stealth; and a mage build, which uses pyromancy for offensive and defensive purposes.
At first, it’s fun to switch between the three styles, yet it became apparent quickly that there is very little depth beyond what is initially presented. The warrior’s slow style feels clumsy, and as enemies become quicker and harder hitting as you progress, the clumsiness becomes a burden. Daggers on the other hand are extremely quick, yet it is difficult to deal with multiple enemies at a time when you’re rapidly changing targets. In the end, it became a matter of which style was less frustrating to use as I progressed through the game.
Magic can be used at any time, regardless of what style you are currently using. Not that it matters too much, because magic is implemented rather poorly in the game. While it is fun to light your enemies up with a fireball, the prohibitively expensive cost of mana means that you had better keep a large stock of mana potions available for use if you want to use pyromancy regularly. Unfortunately, those potions are difficult to come by and I limited myself to using one potion every several encounters so as not to waste materials crafting them constantly.
Which brings us to another major issue with the game: statistics. When you level up in Bound by Flame, you gain skill points which can be invested into one of the previously mentioned combat styles, as well as feat points that are used to gain perks such as increased health or more experience from kills. As a result, you do not actually gain health or mana from levelling up, instead gaining it from choosing perks. This caused me to have an incredibly low health and mana pool throughout the game, a pool that I could not increase because I had already chosen all of the health and mana related perks. Fights become incredibly difficult later because enemies deal more damage while you still have low health and defense in comparison. Prayer and health potions are a must as a result.
Preventing damage then becomes the primary concern, which results in the same pattern of attacks being used in order to survive a fight. Attack once or twice, then block or dodge. Repeat until the fight is over. Nothing ever changes beyond that, and enemies rarely stagger when you hit them. Meaning that they are still able to hit you with an arrow when you're stabbing them in the chest. But, you do have a recovery animation whenever you’re attacked by enemies, meaning that when enemies surround you, your health drops before you have a chance to properly dodge or block. I had to lower the difficulty to the easiest setting solely because I was constantly dying during basic encounters with two to three enemies. Playing on a higher difficulty is far too painful to produce any enjoyment.
Aesthetically, I thought that the enemy designs were great through the first half of the game, with creatures that looked interesting and original, not bogged down by standard fantasy fare. In the latter half, I repeatedly faced the same undead enemy types over and over that seemed to be pulled from the standard undead fantasy basket. As for the visuals themselves, the game isn’t the prettiest RPG in the world, but neither is it bad in any way. It just screams average, which compared to the rest of the game is actually a welcome relief.
As of writing the game also features a number of bugs that are widespread enough to continue to dampen what little I like about this game. Characters have disappeared in the middle of cutscenes, alongside an entire environment in one particular case. The camera, when locked on to an enemy, often goes through the environment, preventing the player from actually looking at what is going on in game at the time. Compared to everything else, the bugs are minor, but they aren’t helping.
Bound by Flame could have been entertaining. It could have been a good action RPG with a promising combat system. Thanks to a bland plot, poor dialogue and a very frustrating combat system, Bound by Flame is just disappointing.
Interesting gameplay concept, some cool enemy designs.
What passes for a story, frustrating combat system, bugs.