Ever feel like there’s a little devil on your shoulder telling you what to do? It’s one thing if he’s telling you to eat that second slice of cake, but it’s another thing entirely if he’s talking you into ruling the world with a fiery fist. Bound by Flame takes this personified conscience up a notch and features a mercenary possessed by a meddlesome demon. And like most action RPGs, the choices you make here--whether you listen to said demon's advice or try to snuff him out--claim to shape your adventure. Just don’t expect to run wild with all that power. Like your demon, the game makes you believe you’re calling the shots, but you’re not as in control as you may think.
Being possessed by a demon isn’t such a bad thing, especially when it grants you godlike power. And protagonist Vulcan, a lowly mercenary, needs that power if he's to lead his caravan of soldiers in a battle against undead creatures known as the Deadwalkers. Themes such as corruption, treachery, and greed are all explored here, providing Vulcan with a sense of conflict throughout his journey. The story is by-the-numbers--there’s a war going on, and your goal is to put an end to it--but it's an adequate excuse to set off on an adventure packed with tough but engaging enemy encounters.
Bound by Flame's world is rich in history and personality. You'll travel to icy kingdoms and trek through dark caves and dank sewers, fighting some impressive-looking monsters and listening to a haunting soundtrack that brings it all together. In addition to main quests, the game is peppered with various side missions that further expand its story and provide even more insight as to the conditions of the people. Quests don’t take long to complete either, and most can be done in tandem with your other missions making them easy ways to score bonus experience and equipment.
The action-heavy combat is Bound by Flame's greatest asset. It's a rewarding experience that allows for lots of customization, as you're free to choose your tactics when engaging an enemy. Do you attack head-on with your sword, parrying blows and striking when their guard is down? How about sneaking from behind and stabbing enemies with your daggers? Or why not just burn them all with magic spells? Vulcan isn’t limited to a specific class, so you can level up any skill you want and customize combat to your liking. Completing optional quests and killing bad guys also rewards you with items used to create better weapons, armor, and items necessary in battle. The thorough crafting system isn’t just for aesthetic purposes either, as it gives you additional room to plan your strategy by mixing and matching different buffs and perks at any time.
What’s great, too, is that combat always keeps you on your toes. Enemies know how to fight back, so you need to pay close attention to their moves and exploit their weaknesses whenever possible. It’s fun--and super useful--to run behind foes and kick them to the ground before pummeling the hell out of them. This feels awesome when you pull it off during a tough battle, but the bad news is that they can do the same to you--and once you’re down they’re quite merciless. Even at its lowest difficulty, Bound by Flame is tough, forcing you to learn from your mistakes and go into battle prepared for a beating. Even simple battles can feel like epic encounters, and bosses become a test of your skills. If only your AI companion were as smart as the enemies he or she will help you fight. Don’t count on him or her saving your life; a handful of set orders can be issued during combat, but you’ll find that allies aren’t very smart and are mostly there to distract enemies while you do all the work.
Though Bound by Flame's combat is great, its illusion of choice is not. At first your demon “friend” seems like a catalyst for making bad decisions. It'll chime in during during a conversation to express its disdain if you decide to help out some poor soldiers or agree to take the safe route towards an enemy’s base. But opportunities to side with him don’t come that often, and when they do, they don’t make much of an impact on those around you. Really, the biggest decision you'll make determines whether or not Vulcan maintains his human appearance or transforms into a demonic creature with horns and a smoldering charcoal-looking body. The role of the demon’s influence on you kicks off to a great start and is an interesting concept, but feels too underused for most of the game.
Bound by Flame itself is very linear, too, and when you do get to make one its rare decisions, the outcome feels anticlimactic. Your path only differs slightly during some objectives and simply affects which companions you have at your disposal. Further, the plot builds up a lot of tension around whom you will confront at its conclusion, but it lets you down when your 15-hour journey comes to an abrupt close.
If you go into Bound by Flame hoping to play a choice-laden game where every selection you make slowly shapes the world around you, you’ll be greatly disappointed. While you do get some say in how things play out, the outcome will no doubt be the same and your decisions don’t seem that important in the overall development of the story. It’s the rapid-fire decisions made mid-battle and the rich customization options at your disposal that truly let you make the game your own. You do have a demon on your side, after all.
This game was reviewed on PC.