REVIEW: BOUND BY FLAME / DEVELOPER: FATSHARK / PUBLISHER: FOCUS HOME INTERACTIVE / PLATFORM: PC, PLAYSTATION 3, PLAYSTATION 4, XBOX 360 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Catching onto the ongoing fad for dark fantasy media, Bound by Flame is set in a world on the brink of annihilation. Reduced to a handful of dwindling pockets of resistance, humanity has been all but exterminated by the Ice Lords, mysterious beings commanding the legions of the undead. Humanity is willing to try anything to ensure its survival. So when one mercenary by the name of Vulcan accidentally becomes possessed by a demon of fire, it is seen less as an abomination and instead as their last best hope for victory.
If that description gives you mild Game of Thrones vibes, that’s likely to be intentional on the developer’s part. Sounding like a near-future version of Westeros with less politics and more White Walkers, Bound by Flame seems to be trying to emulate GoT at every turn with antiheroes, blood and endless profanities. Unfortunately this is a poor substitute for characterisation and history, and despite a brilliantly grim visual aesthetic the world soon feels very shallow. This is a problem not helped by severe tonal inconsistency, with everything trying to convince players to take things seriously only to throw goofily cartoonish story elements their way. It’s hard to take any Ice Lord as a dire threat when they have someone called The Chiller among their ranks.
What does make up for the story’s failings is the core gameplay elements of combat and the crafting system. Along with offering warrior, rogue and mage options without the usual class restrictions, combat is extremely fast-paced and surprisingly tactical with no encounter ever becoming too easy. Enemies will happily turn on you to exploit flaws just as fast as you can them, and any skirmish can provide a great challenge. Crafting meanwhile provides all manner of armour and items to customise Vulcan’s equipment, with an extremely broad range of raw materials offering a vast multitude of different modifiers. Modifications can go from basic stats modifiers to additions which change your fighting style entirely.
These elements might have been enough to save Bound by Flame were it not for a number of crippling bugs present on launch, which ranged from disappearing terrain to a problematic quest system. It’s hard to really appreciate how well done combat is when a battlefield mysteriously turns into a bottomless void.
While it certainly has its moments, Bound By Flame might as well be the second coming of Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning - vibrant, bright and exciting, but with an unenticing story and major flaws which hold it back from greatness. Give it a look once it’s on sale, but don’t waste your money on a full price purchase.