Bound by Flame Preview (PC)

Having cut their teeth on RPG development with the interesting but ultimately flawed Of Orcs and Men, studio Spiders are coming back to the genre with Bound by Flame. After a snazzy reveal trailer released last month caught my attention, I recently got my hands on a preview build.

As mercenary Vulcan you're the first line of defence against the undead minions of the seven Ice Lords, supernatural beings who want to destroy all life. In the section I played, our hero was fighting his way through an ancient mountain fortress in order to reach a sacred ritual chamber. The plan was to awaken a powerful fire demon to battle the forces of the Ice Lords. I could see nothing that could possibly go wrong with that plan. Surprisingly enough, something did, and Vulcan now finds himself possessed by the fire demon, struggling to maintain a fragile grip on his humanity.

The developers are promising several companions, some only available to the demon Vulcan

You've got two weapons to master from the off, a two-handed greatsword and a pair of daggers. Your greatsword is a battering ram, slow-moving put packing a heavy punch. Block at the right time just before an enemy attack lands and you can riposte with a mighty swing that does extra damage. Combined with kicks that disrupt enemies and knock shield-bearers off balance, it's for moments when sheer power is required. Dual-wielding daggers, meanwhile, is a slightly more subtle approach. When you're not being watched you can slip into a stealth mode while wearing them, your next attack from the shadows registering as an automatic critical. Rather than kicking enemies back, you dodge instead. Like blocking with the greatsword, this can be timed in order to counter with a devastating strike.

It's a much less flashy system than you'll find in most action RPGs, rewarding careful movement and tactical strikes rather than spamming abilities. Each weapon has a light and heavy attack, and you'll need to get used to timing sword thrusts and knowing when you have enough space to unleash your powerful heavy strikes. That's not to say you don't have backup options beyond the two basic weapons. You've got a hand crossbow for ranged strikes, as well as explosive traps you can set down to control the battlefield. Both can be added to button short-cuts for ease of use, as can life-saving health potions.

This big guy is bad news, as you might have guessed

When you start adding in fire spells from your demon powers, the similarities to The Witcher 2 's combat become even more apparent. Both are about timing, about knowing when to strike and when to fall back, when to deliver that deadly special move and when to make space for a healing potion. I only got to play a short, low-level encounter, but it's promising. Hopefully those demonic abilities will round things off nicely. I was shown a glimpse of a fully demonised Vulcan, and boy does it look fun. Similarly to the original Fable , your features change the more you allow the demon to control you, your skin turning to ash black and a pair of impressive horns sprouting out from above your glowing ember eyes. In this form you'll do more magical damage, but you'll be slightly weaker physically and unable to wear helmets for obvious reasons. Worth it? Hell yes.

The enemies I faced in my time with the game were almost all undead-themed monstrosities. There were some fairly typical skeletons and zombies as sword-fodder, but I also saw ghosts, lumbering hulks with powerful smash attacks and pesky archers. Rounding things off was a gargantuan, tusked flesh golem that served as the section's final boss. Spiders are promising a wide variety of enemies to fight, with lots of different tricks up their withered sleeves. The key to good combat is variation, and it seems like the game's roster of foes will provide that.

Most of the gear you'll be handling when you go into battle will be hand-crafted. Crafting is a major aspect of Bound by Flame, fittingly for playing a mercenary who survives by his own ingenuity and skills. Bombs, traps, potions and crossbow ammunition can all be created from scraps and resources you find while exploring the world. So too can weapons and weapon pieces. Say you've got a sword with three upgrade slots... do you want the hilt that gives you a bonus to damage, or one that improves your chances of a critical hit? Not only is this a welcome perk for humourless stat min-maxers like me, but each item you change also alters the appearance of the item. It's the same with armour.

Rumble in the jungle

Spiders seem to be tempering ambition with practicality. Bound by Flame isn't some mega-budget blockbuster, and the studio knows it. Instead, they're focusing on making a game that's fun to play, with some cool mechanics and ideas. It feels like a rugged, lively B-movie alternative to the triple-A franchise giants like Dragon Age and Skyrim. I don't mean that to be patronising either, there's some real creativity and enthusiasm at work here. You'll visit several hub towns during the game's 25 hour run-time, and although I only saw the opening dungeon, the developers are promising that there will be plenty of varied locations to visit and a wide range of enemies to fight.

Story-wise I'm more interested by the concept of demon possession than the end of the world undead invasion stuff, because frankly we've seen all that before. Spiders are promising multiple endings (who isn't, these days?) depending on how much of your humanity you're willing to sacrifice, although quite why you'd elect to remain human rather than turning into a flaming, horned monstrosity I've no idea. Bound by Flame will be out sometime in the second quarter of 2014 on PC, and if you've got room in your life for another epic fantasy tale it's worth keeping an eye on.

Most Anticipated Moment: Letting loose with some pyromancy powers as a fully-transformed fire demon.


By LukeDion1987 (SI Core Member) on Jan 28, 2014
It looks like they will still use their old engine...
But still I hope this game will be better than Of Orcs and Men.