The problem for Bound by Flame is not in what it delivers, but what it will generally be compared to. Action RPGs have become quite popular over the last few years, with standout examples like Skyrim and the Dark Souls series, and even less but still very polished titles like Dragon's Dogma. There is a lot of promise with what the development team is attempting to do here, but it does feel like some combination of time or budget constraint forced the team to cut some corners along the way.
Graphics - 7:
Above average visuals, both in the environments and movement of the character models help Bound by Flame to sell its fantasy world. There is a lot of history in this game's storyline, and while some of it feels a bit too glossed over, I generally found most of the ruins and roads traveled through and over to be visually interesting. Of course, with the power of the PlayStation 4 at the team's disposal here, it does feel like a lot of processing power did still go underutilized. Bound by Flame is a nice enough looking game, but it lacks those big 'wow' moments that really stick with me once I put the game down.
Sound & Music - 9:
The voice acting is solid for the most part, even if some of the dialog the actors were given could have been better in places. Sometimes for the sake of 'dark fantasy' it feels like vulgarities were thrown into the speech just to make it seem more adult, and they sometimes felt a little out of place, but that is no fault of the people delivering the lines. The sound effects have a decent variety to them, with some nice examples of noise from other creatures in the environment tipping you off to trouble that may be ahead or behind you - just out of your screen's line of sight. Probably the best component here is an elegant soundtrack that feels every bit the part of a sweeping fantasy epic. Several of the songs stood out to me as I played and are certainly worth a listen at a later time if you are a fan of the genre.
Gameplay - 7:
The combat feels like it wants to be similar to Dragon's Dogma, with the different combat styles (hard hitting warrior, nimble ranger and the additional use of magic and projectile weapons) that actually feel unique from one another. It is pretty easily to slip from one mode of combat to the next if you want, though I found myself doing less and less of that as the game progressed. The way you build the character through the talent tree really lends itself to focusing on a specific style (warrior in my case), so the other methods of combat begin to feel underpowered about a third of the way through the story. The menus can feel a bit dense at times, with lots of information packed into them, but in truth they are easy to navigate and work pretty well.
Combat itself feels a bit like a near miss. There is a distinctive feel to combat, where going toe-to-toe with most opponents really does not work. You need to be somewhat strategic as you will find the greatest success in approaching an enemy from the front or side. I liked that part of it, but even on the easier settings it can be pretty tough going early on before you get the hang of building up your character and equipment. Enemies have a knack for attacking you from off the edge of the screen when using ranged attacks and the controls sometimes latch right into an enemy for combat, and at other times leave you swinging at air. Since you spend so much of your time in the actual combat, it would have been nicer had the actual combat proven deeper and more entertaining.
Intangibles - 8:
The ability to have dialog choices impact some things in the storyline is always welcome. I did not feel they were as deeply affecting to the storyline as say a Mass Effect or Dragon Age title, but certainly better than the superficial lip service that Magus gave us. The points system for developing a character is actually quite interesting, as there is a skill and a perks tree, and some things do not unlock under other requirements are met (kill a certain number of enemies or recycle so many items and so on).
Overall - 7.75:
No one is going to accuse Bound by Flame of being the perfect game, but a good deal of thought and effort clearly went into making it, and the end result is a fun title that was done on a budget, but also sold at a lower price than (retail is $50 instead of the usual $60) most other games. It might not hang with AAA titles like Skyrim in terms of production values, but Bound by Flame still makes for a fun if flawed action RPG worth playing.
Review by Nick