Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bound By Flame (Xbox 360) Review

You will spend a lot of your time in Bound by Flame running around the maps, fighting enemies and talking to people.  It is an RPG, after all.  Playing as a mercenary operative codenamed Vulcan, your job is to protect a group known as the Red Scribes as they prepare a ritual to help defeat the advancing Ice Lords and their zombie army.  After an unforeseen complication, you must figure out how to coexists with a demon living inside of you and hopefully save the world.

Besides the main quest, there are of course several side quests you can do.  All quests (main and sub) are clearly marked on the map.  I like that so I can complete all the side quests before moving onto the main quest (that's my preferred method to games).  The dialogue is pretty standard for RPGs nowadays, and allows you to choose different responses for many situations.  The graphics are decent, the voice acting was done well enough, and there's even some good humor in the writing.

Combat is very important in the game.  You have to pay attention to the enemies around you, since a few solid hits can do you in.  Fortunately, blocking at the right time will deflect the attack and let you counter.  It's thankfully not just sitting around and hitting the counter button, either.  You can be aggressive when there's an opening, and have to pay attention to the enemy's attacks to dodge or counter at the right time.  You have two main attacks at your disposal, a normal attack and a circular attack.  The circular attack is stronger, and can be charged to hit a bigger area.  I didn't use it much, as there wasn't much time to safely do so.  While weaker, the normal attacks can get the job done, so I mainly stuck with those.

You also get a warrior stance for heavier weapons, a ranger stance for quick movements, a crossbow for ranged, magic and traps to take on any encounters you face.  Heavy weapons, consisting of two-handed swords, axes and hammers, are stronger and can occasionally interrupt a foe, or knock them down with a critical attack.  The range stance has twin daggers, and allows you do jump backwards to dodge attacks.  While not as good as an actual dodge, timing it just right also results in a counter attack.  I very much preferred the ranger stance, since the quick movements and easier dodge made encounters less threatening, especially in one on one fights.  I felt the sword and hammer were too slow, and the axe just performed better for me.  The warrior stance is more suited to fighting multiple enemies, since you can upgrade the block to cover your entire person.

Once you have access to magic, there are four main fire spells you can cast.  There's an area one, flaming orbs that increase your defense while they last, a basic fireball, and the ability to put flame to your blades.  Magic can be hard to use, since the spells have a small cast time which leaves you vulnerable.  I leaned toward the fireball spell and the fire weapon.  The fireball was good for a ranged attack to soften up the enemies, and the fire weapon made physical attacks stronger for a time.  With a few skill points, the cast time is instant, so it was easy to use and not lose health.  The crossbow is also good for a distance hit or two, but since ammo is scarce, you shouldn't over use it.  Similarly, traps are great for larger groups.  Use them sparingly unless you have lots of materials to make more!

Crafting is done from the menu, with no need to go to a specific place to do so.  Potions, crossbow bolts and accessories for your weapons and armor can all be crafted.  It's easy to see what you need to make stuff, and the whole process is fairly intuitive.  There's also lots of accessories that you can add to weapons and armor.  New hilts, blades, shoulder pads and more will not only change the stats of the piece of equipment, but its look as well.  Extra armor, weapons and even the added accessories can be recycled, which will return some raw materials to make more things.  Sure, you can sell extra stuff, but you might as well get some more materials for them.  The whole crafting system is really useful, so use it as early and often.

Every level, you get two skill points to place in any of the three trees.  The trees correspond to the Warrior stance, Ranger stance and Pyromancy.  They progress just how you would think, with the warrior skills affecting the heavy weapons, the ranger tree with stealth, and pyromancy for magic.  The tree is laid our very well, and you can see what abilities affect which skills, and what you need to advance.  While those trees are pretty standard, I liked that they also added feats.  They are much more varied than the skills, and can affect drop rates, health or magic pool, or even non-combat functions like playing a sound when near a treasure chest.  Everything was well explained, but I would still appreciate being able to 'respec' and allocate my points in a different way, even for a fee.

The game isn't quite as long as it would seem.  There are three chapters to the game, and a first run through the game will run around 15-20 hours.  You'll obviously get more time out of the game if you explore and do every side quest you can.  Since fights can get challenging, there's a good portion of time spent retrying parts of the game over again, trying not to die.  Different weapons and play styles make encounters easier or harder, and most fights are very unforgiving.  Make sure to learn block and dodge time, and pay attention to the enemies!  A one on one or two on one fight is easily managed, but fighting four enemies at once is remarkably more difficult.  The companions will help (some more than others), so make sure to take one when you head out.  There's also two endings, if you want more incentive to play again beside achievements or trophies.  The achievement list is a standard one, from killing x amount of guys with different weapons, finishing on the different difficulties, romancing your companions and fulfilling side quests.

Bound by Flame is a fun game.  While fights can be difficult, it was not a result of the controls.  Saving often is the key to avoid lots of frustration.  While the game autosaves a lot, it is still best to do so yourself.  For some strange reason, you only get 10 save slots, but it's manageable even for a save fiend like myself.  If you like action RPGs, I'd recommend playing Bound by Flame.

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