European RPGs have very much been on the rise the past few years, with French developer Spiders embedding itself as one of the more prolific. While CD Projekt RED has leapt great to success in one go with The Witcher series, Spiders has instead chosen to focus on getting to grips with the genre through a number of smaller projects and efforts, and while it hasn't garnered too much recognition so far, it has showcased interesting ideas and plenty of potential. With Bound by Flame, it appears that Spiders is getting into the position of being able to offer a more substantial RPG that keeps players engaged over an extended period.
"Spiders has been steadily growing its RPG prowess and Bound by Flame looks set to be a significant step up for the developer."
Bound by Flame takes place in the world of Vertiel, and sees humanity under threat from the seven Lords of Ice and their Deadarmy. The Lords of Ice are said to have appeared one hundred and fifty years prior to the game's events, using their undead army to quickly defeat forces of dwarves, men, and elves, and conquer most of the land before turning upon each other. Amongst the vestiges left of humanity, there appear to be two significant groups, the Pure-Blades and Red Scholars. The Pure-Blades are a highly professional group of experienced mercenaries, including some of the finest fighters in the world, and are said to have never been defeated in battle since their formation over ten years previously. Since the Red Scholars have supposedly come up with a method of finally defeating the Lords of Ice, the Pure-Blades have been hired as their protection. The Red Scholars themselves are a group of mages, scribes, and scholars that has existed since before the emergence of the Lords of Ice. They have recently built an artifact that is intended to help the remaining humans and elves finally overcome the Lords of Ice.
Players take on the role of a mercenary in the Pure-Blades, with the gender and appearance of their choosing, by name of Vulcan. During the game's beginning, the Pure-Blades and Red Scholars attempt to summon a flame demon in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of war, but naturally, things don't go smoothly. Vulcan ends up possessed by the demon, but now in control of some impressive fire-based powers with the apparent fate of humanity now on their shoulders. This possession offers players an important choice: will they attempt to keep tabs on the power, develop more heroic skills, and retain their humanity, or fully utilise the power at their command but risk furthering the demon's control?
Bound by Flame features companions for the with different battle styles. Players have a varied selection to choose from, although they don't seem to be pushing the most of the standard archetypes out too far. Sybil is a young mage, and daughter of the Head of Scholars, who operates primarily as a back-up spellcaster. Edwen, meanwhile, is a most more aggressive wielder of offensive magic who has seemingly forgotten part of her outfit. She has a particular hatred of the Lords of Ice and is driven by vengeance. Fulfilling the role of ranger is the elf Rhelmar. Happy to switch between using his bow or dagger, he is considered a pariah amongst his people for rejecting a strict policy of neutrality. Warrior Randhal is the last of an ancient clan with a strict code of honour and not above sacrificing himself if necessary. Finally, Mathras is undead, but thankfully not on the side of the Deadarmy. Over three thousand years old, with a high education and refined deposition, Marthras is an expert jouster and fighter. Players will be able to develop friendships, rivalries, and even romance with their companions based on their choices in the story and relationship with the flame demon, with a possibility of them leaving or turning against the player should they go too far down a certain path.
Spiders' efforts so far have followed a real-time, action-based format for combat, with a few stragetic elements, and Bound by Flame continues the tradition. The system is relatively straightforward and unlikely to involve too much in terms of innovation, but has suited previous games well and should do the same here. The game provides different options for players to build, customise, and play their character, which should help a lot with keeping players engaged. Players have three skill trees to invest in, one that focuses on more out-and-out combat, one that focuses more on subterfuge and stealth, and finally one that focuses on harnessing the fire magic abilities granted by the flame demon's possession. Bound by Flame looks set to have a pretty decent number of unique-looking enemies, and the game should provide plenty of variation not just in how they look, but in their behaviour and the tactics needed to bring them down.
The crafting system in Mars: War Logs seems to be a basic precursor to the system used in Bound by Flame, which while not being amongst the most substantial or deep out there, provided some interesting customisation as well as adding another interesting facet to the game. Bound by Flame's system looks to be more substantial in the number of options and crafting items available. Rather than just providing new weapons, armours, items, etc., the system allows players to attach additions and enhancements to their equipment, such as hand guards for swords, or spaulders for breastplates. All the various additions to equipment will be immediately visible on the player in-game, which is a nice touch.
The team is well aware that it won't be able to compete on quite the same technical level the likely beast (and shamelessly lazy comparison option) that will be The Witcher 3. So rather than going for the logistical nightmare that is trying to keep tabs on an open world, Vertiel and the story is divided into hub-based chapters. It is worth noting that Spiders' previous game, Mars: War Logs, suffered from a bit of a disaster with it's initial French to English localisation, going so far as to warrant a complete retranslation and redub (which worked well), but this shouldn't really temper expectations as it looks far more likely to be a case of lesson learned than a potential issue for Bound by Flame.
So far Spiders hasn't fallen into the trap of attempting to artificially attempting to length its games. Previous games have slotted in at around the ten to fifteen hour mark, but the extra effort that's gone into Bound by Flame should result in a decent extension to that time. An estimate of around twenty to twenty-five hours sounds more than reasonable, providing a substantial, but not overbearing, length that other RPGs have benefited from.
Spiders has been steadily, if unspectacularly, growing its RPG prowess and Bound by Flame looks set to be a significant step up for the developer. It remains to be seen just how far forward it manages to take Spiders, but at the very least those looking for a new Western RPG should find plenty to enjoy when the game is released. Bound by Flame is currently due to be released for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Xbox 360 in North America and Europe in Q2 2014.