Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 | PS4
Publishers: Focus Home Interactive
You have to admire Spiders' ambitions. They're a small team who want to make big games. Really big games. We're not talking shooters that you can rattle through in a matter of hours; we're talking RPGs with branching storylines, loads of customisation options, a decent story, optional companions, and an engaging combat system. These things don't come cheap, and the amount of effort it takes to craft a 20-25 hour RPG is intimidating.
That's what Bound By Flame is: a fully-fledged, high fantasy RPG on a budget that's a mere fraction of the likes enjoyed by Bethesda's and EA's studios. Made by a team more famous for porting The Testament of Sherlock Holmes to consoles than perhaps for their first stab at a truly expansive title in Mars: War Logs.
At least, that's the idea.
But Spiders are building up the time for their game at a good time. There's a dearth of fantastical Western RPGs right now, and if they can get Bound By Flame out ahead of the likes of The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition, it is to be hoped that the gap in the market might do them some favours. With a while yet to wait until the coming big-hitters make their retail appearances, it's not surprising that Bound By Flame is getting a fair bit of attention, and rightly so.
The game sees you taking on the role of the leader of a band of mercenaries. You can be male or female, and you'll have the option to specialise in a few secondary skills; the game's producer, Walid Miled, was playing through the demo with an explosives and demolitions expert setup. The world has played host to a decade-long war, started by the Ice Lords and their armies of dead walkers and various necromantic monstrosities. Early on in the game, a summoning ritual goes slightly awry, and you end up getting possessed with a fire demon, which bestows some serious magical abilities upon you but also begins to take you over the more you open yourself up to the demon's power.
What little we played of the game seemed solid enough. I don't particularly want to hint towards any sort of value judgement at this point in time, but the combat system seemed robust, with the action centred around light, direct attacks, and heavy area attacks. Your character will be able to switch between two fighting styles on the fly -- a two-handed approach for sundering shields and break guards, not to mention a spot of parry-and-counter action, and a two-weapon style that's more about being a little stealthier and sneakier, using stealth and acrobatic agility to dodge out of the way of attacks and then countering with a swift, roguish backstab.
There are skill trees for both of these styles -- the warrior and the ranger -- and, once you've become a vessel for the aforementioned demon, a progression path unlocks for Pyromancy, giving you access to a range of abilities. Use your fire-based skills too much, and you'll begin to resemble the demon inside. Miled showed us one of the final forms of a player who'd chosen to take the evil, demonic path throughout the game, and the character's armour was replaced by blazing fire, helms rendered useless by long horns. Essentially, your defensive capabilities will greatly decrease as a demon because you won't be able to wear any armour, but obviously your offensive powers will be smokin'!
In terms of customisation, there will be a crafting element in the game, with anything you pick up eligible for upgrades. Better yet, anything that can be upgraded will come with recipes for those upgrades, but you'll still have to go out and find the relevant items and ingredients yourself. The game itself is hub based, with players moving from large area to large area, so it's not truly open world, but there's enough sense of scale and expanse to not feel like you're running down a series of tree-lined corridors either.
Aside from saving the world and trying not to become human toast, there'll be a myriad of other completely optional side quests to get stuck into, and Spiders are once again including a handful of companions that you can choose to have accompany you on your journey. There are five out in the world to unlock, and you can only have two of them with you at any one point, but they might very well come in handy. One, we were told, makes an excellent sniper, while another has the rather nifty ability of being able to control minds.
Bound By Flame is coming along well, adn Miled was visibly disappointed that the nature of the showcase meant that sadly we ran out of time before he could show us everything that he wanted to. It's clear that Spiders are proud of the game that they're making, and that they've aimed high with this title. The influence of CD Projekt RED's work with The Witcher series is heavily evident here, and to be fair, if you're going to take inspiration from anywhere, as a small studio looking to make an ambitious RPG, looking at CDPR's work (particularly with The Witcher 1 -- they're a bit bigger now than they were then) is a good place to start.
The digital focus is important, too. What was started with Mars: War Logs is being continued here: the idea that you can make a sub-£20, 25-hour RPG on a fraction of a triple-A budget, and still produce a quality product. It's probably for this reason that Spiders have looked towards as broad a market as possible, with the game coming to PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and PS4. Miled said that although there would be some improvements when it comes to the PS4 version, Bound By Flame was ultimately a game designed for last-gen consoles. The team haven't ruled out an appearance on the Xbox One, but according to Miled, there are no plans for an XO version as yet because they didn't receive dev kits in time.
In fact, that was actually a statement issued for most of the multiplatform titles at the showcase: PS4, but not Xbox One. Microsoft really needs to sort that out, and fast.
"We're hoping that we'll be one of the only RPGs around on PS4 when the game release," explained Miled. "We're a small company and so there are some things we can't do. We're not trying to directly compare ourselves to the big guys. We're just trying to tell our story and make the game that we want to make and show that you can make these big experiences with a small team. As for Xbox One, there are no plans right now. It might be possible, but Microsoft didn't send the dev kits in time so there's nothing to say on that right now."
Bound By Flame is out on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and PS4 in Q2 2014.