2014 has become the 'year of the RPG' in hardcore gaming circles, and with such variety to choose from, smaller titles face an uphill battle in getting noticed. One such niche title is Spiders' Bound by Flame, a challenging Action-RPG that is simultaneously interesting but also undercooked. However, while it's a title that's flawed and not immediately charming, it has some sharper edges that may carve out a niche amongst those looking for more customization and challenge.
In terms of presentation, Bound by Flame presents an intriguing base concept of having gamers play as an individual with a demon trapped inside his body/mind. We're constantly given villainous commentary from this demon, and while it gives a certain color to the proceedings, the script is sadly lacking. Actually, this concept is the only real redeeming aspect of the storytelling; which is devoid of likable characters and it fails in utilizing the demon aspect to its potential. There's a promise of 'big decisions' with this device, but those made by the player feel more superficial and perfunctory. Instead of having us make grey decisions that make us really ponder our approach, we're left to decide black and white things like 'maybe I'll be bad and kill someone this time'.
However, while a poor storyline can be the undoing of an RPG, Spider has crafted a weighty battle system that not only gives players a tactile sense of growth, but a consistently rewarding sense of accomplishment. Mixing impulse and strategy, players need to enter each battle attentive, as even the smallest tussles can end in death. There's a great deal of timing involved, and players are forced to learn the rhythm of multiple opponents in order to be victorious. As well, the three trees of progression (Warrior, Ranger, and Pyromancer), each have their integral traits that fill out the player. While you won't suddenly feel overpowered, there's a careful and well-thought balance to the upgrades that rewards players who put the effort in. Two-thirds into the game, my character felt like a different beast than when I started, and my player skills and overall ability in the game made me feel like a certifiable badass.
Alongside this strong combat and character growth is robust item and equipment customization that encourages the player to dig deeper. As players move from encounter to encounter, they'll realize that they're able to modify and strengthen just about every item they come across. Combine that with a healthy loot rate, and there's a strong incentive for players to investigate their inventory thoroughly. This is a key point, as Spiders has done a valiant job in mixing the combat action with the detailed customization, and they make the effects of this customization felt in subtle but appropriate ways. Overall, the gameplay balance is uncommonly good, and for those that enjoy 'going deeper' in their RPGs, they will find themselves right at home in Bound by Flame.
On the aesthetic front, Spider has created a nice-looking game that's held back by its modest budget. Character models, effects, and environments look strong enough on their own but there's a slight lack of polish when you take things as a whole. Perhaps there's an inorganic veil shrouding the game, but players will notice the game doesn't always hold together visually. Similarly on the aural end, music is generally bland and the voices are serviceable but dry due to the weaker script. It's safe to say these aspects don't enrich the experience, but at the very least they do service it through its 12 hour running time.
Overall, Bound by Flame is sometimes mundane title with a rough storyline and lower grade presentation. However, it offers strong and uniquely satisfying gameplay that gives a lot back to the player in terms of customization and progression. Those looking for more meat and less flash in their role-playing games would do well to check out Bound by Flame.