Joe Marchese, Editor in Chief 

New intellectual property is a great thing for gaming. It is both full of promise and exciting for gamers as they get a chance to embark on an entirely new adventure. It breaks up the monotony and is the only surefire cure for sequelitis. However, with new IP comes many new challenges and risk that publishers tend to avoid. That is why you should always applaud a publisher for taking a chance and expanding our gaming choices and we certainly pass on those sentiments to Focus Home Interactive. We also have to commend Focus Home Interactive for taking a chance on Spiders Studios. They are a dedicated team of developers that took a great risk in producing this game. Unfortunately, as much as Spiders’ passion shines through the game, there are a number of issues that prevent this RPG from being the game it should have been.

Bound by Flame follows the story of a solider who his protecting his homeland from a band of necromancers who raised an army of undead soldiers to conquer the world. Your squad is tasked with protecting a group of scholars as they begin incantations to end the battle once and for all. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and demon escapes its confines and enters your body giving you its strength. However, this strength comes at a price. Will you succumb to the demon’s charm and allow it to consume you, or will you fight off the demon’s advances? That choice is what Bound by Flame is all about.

While the premise is interesting, the execution of that vision is a little disjointed. The story is a touch on the flighty side, it still retains enough charm to keep players engaged in the story. However, from a technical aspect, the game is rather sloppy and it seriously hinders the game from developing any momentum. When everything works the way it is supposed to; the game does a nice job, but unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often. To sum the experience up, it is a mix of high-highs and low-lows leaving the end-user with a mixed feeling by the end of the game. Sure there were some set pieces that looked and played great, but there were some frustrating and broken parts of the game that tarnished those memories.

From a graphical perspective, when playing the next-gen version of the game, you’ll be treated to a nicely rendered background highlighting the interesting and visually appealing art design. Vast vistas, sun-soaked landscapes and subtle introductions of color all work together in unison to paint a beautiful world for Bound by Flame to live. However, once you start looking at the individual set pieces and character models and things get a little rougher around the edges. The models tend to clip into themselves when zoomed in or during cut scenes which is where most of the graphical issues take place. Even so, the game resembles a last-gen game with slightly better graphics and performance. If you were looking for the next Killzone or Infamous Second Son level of graphics, this just isn’t to that level.

By design, Bound by Flame is an action RPG. All the combat takes place in real-time and it works similarly to Demon Souls where the game requires you to time your attacks and take a more defensive approach. Your character can take two different “stances” that alter the speed and damage of your attacks. You can take a warrior stance in which you wield a large, two-handed broad sword, war axe or war hammer. This stance emphasizes damage while sacrificing speed and mobility. Your character will lumber around the level, but hit like a dump truck. Then you’ll be able to take a range stances which emphasizes speed and precision. You will wield two smaller daggers, but you’ll be able to dart around the level, dealing less damage but you’ll take less damage too. Once you start playing, you’ll quickly realize that the ranger stance is far superior. Sure the warrior stance deals more damage but you’ll take a lot of damage too. With the ranger stance, you’ll deal more damage over time, and if you sneak up on enemies, you’ll deal extra stealth damage which further tips the scales.

Battle in this game is very fluid and works well most of the time. However, it is sometimes difficult to keep your characters aligned with the enemies you are fighting. Especially with the ranger stance, your character will move around a lot making precision difficult. Even when you lock onto a target, your character will sometimes miss an attack which is frustrating. In addition to that, if you dodge or block an enemies attack right before it hits you, you’ll perform a special attack which does extra damage. This sounds great in theory, but in practice it doesn’t really work as intended. More often than not, when you take on enemies or bosses with a high attack rate, you’ll perform this special attack, but as you are executing it, the enemy will refocus and attack before you finish negating any bonus or limiting the damage you could have done. This was incredibly frustrating and led to many, many extra deaths that didn’t feel necessary in the long run.

The game features a number of traditional RPG elements that should make seasoned gamers feel right at home. For example, once you level up, you will be able to invest points in a skill tree what lets you power up your warrior stance, your ranger stance or your demon powers which comes into play shortly into the first fifteen minutes of the game. You can also power up passive abilities and character stats from this tree. There is also a crafting system that lets you take items off fallen enemies, combine them and add those trinkets to your gear making it more powerful. This crafting system works rather well, but finding the spare pieces you need is difficult and you’ll always seem to be missing the few things you need to make what you want. With every item you can craft pulling from the same pool of resources, you are constantly low on supplies. However, the system works well enough and proves to be one of the high points of the game despite the lack of resources.

Unfortunately, one of the bigger problems in the game is balance. You will breeze through some parts of the game with no trouble at all, then you’ll encounter mixes of ranged and melee type enemies that will punish you over and over again. Most RPGs start you out slow and give you just enough power to be challenging and rewarding. Bound by Flame tends to bounce wildly between being too easy and being overly difficult. It seems the harder the difficultly level you choose, the further the game swings out of balance and playing the game on the hardest difficultly becomes a mix between a cake walk and hitting cement walls.

In the end, Bound by Flame is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have a beautifully set RPG with strong elements that lay a solid foundation for a game. On the other hand, you have a slew of smaller technical and game design-based issues that limit how great this game can be. Things like balance, scare resources, battle precision, and just plain suicidal AI companions hurt the game more than they would individually and the cumulative effect of all these issues leaves a sour after taste to an otherwise decent game. Don’t get us wrong, there is some fun to be had in this RPG and if you have some patience it could even be worth your while. However, if you had high expectations that this game could rival some of the better RPGs out today, you may need to keep on looking.

This review is based on a review copy of the PlayStation 4 version of Bound by Flame, developed by Spiders Studios, published by Focus Home Interactive