Bound By Flame is an ambitious Action RPG developed by French development studio Spiders and published by Focus Home Interactive. It was originally released in 2014, but the Linux version was released out of the blue earlier this month. Thus far, it's the only title from the developer that's been released for our platform.
I had never played the game prior to it's Linux release, but I do generally like RPGs so I snatched it right up since the release coincided with a big sale. I was somewhat concerned by the potential quality of the title due to the mediocre reviews it had received from the press and on Steam. Were they warranted? Yes and no.
About the Game
The story centres around Vulkan, a mercenary working with the Freeborn Blades group. He's a fairly recent recruit who's official job title with the company is "Munitions Expert". The story begins with the mercenaries guarding a group of scholars who are busy inside a mountain-top temple attempting to complete an arcane ritual in a last-ditch effort to stop the Ice Lords, a group of six human sorcerers who have tapped into some source of power that have basically promoted them to demigods. The Ice Lords have conquered most of Vertiel through the use of undead armies, deadwalkers, the ranks of which only grow with each victory.
The deadwalker army shows up prior to the ritual's completion with a Juggernaut en-tow and drive the Freeborn Blades back into the temple. At the climax of the opening chapter, something goes awry with the ritual and a spirit of some kind infuses itself into Vulkan's body, giving him additional power. This is followed by a great boss fight against the Juggernaut.
From there we follow Vulkan's journey through a swamp; a frozen elven city in the mountains; the keep of an Ice Lord; and finally a short stint in the Astral Plane. Throughout the journey Vulkan will meet several potential allies and enemies, depending on the paths the player chooses to follow.
I played through the game with a keyboard and mouse. The game is designed around being able to use a controller as well, but I can't speculate as to whether the Linux port has proper gamepad support. The game is played from an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective. I never found the camera to be annoying, though as in almost every game of this type you may find yourself having to adjust it to cope with certain situations (or when admiring Edwen's assets).
There are a lot of different ways you can approach combat in the game. You can use two-handed weapons (swords, axes and hammers), daggers, a crossbow and fire magic. Axes are the highest DPS with a good combination of damage and attack speed. Swords are the quickest of the two-handers. Hammers have high damage and the highest chance to interrupt enemies, but are the slowest. There are some stealth elements available for dagger users, though nothing very sophisticated. Dodging is available in dagger mode, whereas the same key in warrior stance delivers a kick that may help throw enemies off-balance. Crossbow bolts have to be crafted or purchased, so I doubt if many players focused much on this aspect of the game outside of specific situations. I can't comment much on the magic system as I only invested points into support skills for my melee abilities. You can also set explosive traps (you are a munitions expert, after all). Traps, like crossbow bolts, must be purchased or crafted. You can pick unused traps back up.
Having played through Shadow of Mordor several months ago, I found some similarities between the combat systems, particularly the ranger combat mode with the dodging. Bound By Flame's system is, not surprisingly, less polished than that of the big budget title. Shadow of Mordor also does more hand-holding in combat (ie. it's easier). There's a fair amount of whining to be found online about Bound By Flame's combat system, but I found it to be pretty decent and, perhaps more importantly, fair. I don't remember dying at some point and blaming a failing on the game's combat mechanics for the death, it was my fault when it happened. I also can't say that I found the game particularly difficult, outside of a few bosses. Early on the game's combat may seem a little difficult, but the developers did a good job of maintaining a fairly level difficulty game for the regular enemies throughout the 10 chapters.
Through the majority of the game you'll be able to have a companion with you. One of my early fears was that if they died, they would stay dead. Fortunately, this is not the case, as they die a lot, and perma-death for them would make the game a nightmare to try to get through if you care about such things. Their AI isn't great but at least they'll try to get out of your way if they're blocking you. They all seem to have pretty unique skills, and they do get more powerful, offensively at least, as the game progresses.
There isn't as much enemy variation as one might hope. If I had to guess, I'd say there are about 15 different types of standard enemy within the game. I believe this, along with almost all of the other drawbacks of the title, ultimately was a budget issue. The sword-and-board undead were the most annoying for me, as daggers (my preferred play style) were pretty ineffectual against them and they were quite resilient against two-handers as well. I'm guessing they were probably susceptible to the fire magic I didn't possess.
The bosses, on the other hand, are pretty impressive and a couple ramp up the difficulty quite a bit without being unbeatable. Some of them get recycled as standard enemies late in the game, but by that time you're more powerful so dealing with them is easier.
I do not believe there is any randomization to the world. Once you complete a thorough playthrough, the reasons to replay would involve choosing a different story arch and/or playing a different gender. The area maps are static but they do encourage exploration by having semi-hidden treasure in several locations within each map.
The game underutilized its potential in this area. The primary objective of the game is to stop the Ice Lords from eradicating humanity, with the underlying story being the fight for dominance between Vulkan and his inner demon. The problem is with some of the writing, and the rushed feeling in the last several chapters. Vulkan comes across as bi-polar. One minute throwing out insults and the next being all squishy and borderline emo. He's very edgy.
There are a lot of dialogue options with NPCs and companions, and its all voice acted. The voice acting ranges from blech (Sybil) to quite good (Blackfrost). Most of the people you'll be talking to, in addition to at least the male Vulkan, will fall into the 'fair' range. One of the highly annoying parts of the game is that when you're ending a dialogue, Vulkan feels it is necessary to say that he's ending it, and this keeps you in the dialogue for an extra 5-10 seconds while he does so.
On the good side of things is that the game will change depending on the decisions you make. I can't speak to the extent to which it does after a single playthrough, but I've read enough to know that your available companions and potential enemies will change based on these decisions. There are also three endings, at least one of which can only be reached depending upon the path taken through the game. Vulkan's appearance also changes throughout the game, anywhere from subtly (new facial scars) to drastically, depending on how much control his inner demon obtains.
Now to the bad. I will not go as far as to say that the game is unfinished, because it isn't. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that after chapter 5 or 6, the developers ran out of money and had to get the product out the door. There are some voice acting lines where the person read the wrong thing, went back and corrected themselves and it was still put in the game. Sometimes (particularly close to the end) what's being read and the caption do not match. There are also some gaps in the story, where Vulkan seems to learn something about someone without us being let in on the secret. Like the combat, the story is lacking polish, but more so.
I'm happy to say that despite the slipping quality control as the game progressed, the final boss fight kicked it back up a notch and was presented very well. Minor spoiler follows, not story related:
Spoiler, click me
Make sure you have plenty (20+) of traps and a ton (100+) of crossbow bolts if you're not proficient with fire magic.
I played through the game on an i7-2600 with a GTX 960 and 8gb of ram. Drivers in use were 355.11. I use a peculiar gentoo install that is running kernel 4.2.3 with gentoo patches. The game is pretty and the port seems to be pretty decent. There were minor armour clipping issues which I'm not sure were present in the DX version. They were only noticeable to me during cinematic close-ups. I played at 1920x1080 with everything on high except for shadows. With shadows above low, my framerate was typically 25-30fps. On low, it stayed near 60.
Sound was good and whatever environment audio system they used seemed to work very well. The music itself could use more variety. Again, they saved one of their best tracks for the end boss battle. Sound effects were good and lent themselves to the immersion while playing.
I did not experience any stability issues with the game. Over the course of an 8 hour play session last night my memory usage went from 3gb to 4gb.
In my opinion, Bound By Flame is a pretty good game that could have been really good had the developers been able to spend more time polishing it and perhaps fleshing out some of the assets, such as additional enemy units and a larger musical score. It's story is hit and miss from an RPG perspective. It won't leave you thinking about it after you're finished playing it. It has some small charming moments, like when I sent one of my companions on a fedex quest rather than doing it myself. I think if you enjoyed Shadow or Mordor or the Witcher 2 you'll like Bound By Flame. After spending 32 fairly enjoyable hours playing through it, I certainly do not regret spending the $5.99 it cost on sale.
Bound By Flame on Steam
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