In a landscape where heavy hitters like Skyrim and Dragon Age serve as social black holes, it can be hard for the smaller role playing games to get noticed. After all, with our save on Oblivion nearing the 150 hour mark (and that's nothing compared to some people), there's only so much adventuring you can do in-between life's other annoying diversions, like going to work, feeding yourself, and washing. In turn, that means that new kids on the block, like the upcoming Bound by Flame have to work that much harder to get themselves noticed - and while it may not be set to rewrite any rulebooks, this is definitely shaping up to be an entertaining adventure.
Set in a typical fantasy land, Bound by Flame takes place in the world of Vertiel, which has been stuck in the midst of a war for many years, as a group of evil ice lords attempt to rise up and take over the world, setting loose hordes of shambling undead, a few frosty ice creatures and some great big cadaver constructions that proceed to slaughter every army they come across. Bound By Flame follows the tale of one particularly unlucky soul, a mercenary hired in a last ditch attempt to rid the world of the icy menaces - and it's fair to say you'll start with his (or her - it's possible to play as either a man or a woman) back against the wall.
Our demo took place towards the beginning of the tale, in a section that worked as an introduction to the combat. Tasked with defending a temple of sorts, whilst the wizards inside summon a fire demon to help the cause, it didn't take long after we'd picked up the controller for things to start going haywire. Played from a familiar third person perspective, Bound by Flame takes a slower and steadier approach to combat, letting you think your actions through before performing them. With a tutorial showing us where to go, our first task was to lay a number of traps around the cliff top in preparation for the inevitable onslaught of icy minions, who, as if by magic, showed up mere minutes later, in the form of skeleton warriors armed with swords, shields and bows. Being a multi-talented mercenary, you have a choice between two distinct fighting styles, and can switch at the push of a button ("real time... weapon change" indeed), with swapping between the more powerful but slower sword 'warrior' style and a speedier dual-dagger-wielding 'ranger' stance being key to your success, depending on the situations and enemies you're facing. For example, you'll struggle to hit an enemy that has a shield by using just your daggers (unless you can somehow sneak behind), but with enough hits, your sword can smash straight through them, wrecking their shield and damaging them in one fell swoop.
Of course, the weedy skeletons were just for starters. Before too long, a humongous corpse-y beast shows up, which signals our cue to retreat inside the temple and see how the wizards are getting on. Traipsing through the stone corridors amongst the fallen masonry, there's plenty more skeletons to take down, including a couple who are largely immune to physical damage from weapons, forcing you to use some sort of firey trap/bomb to kill them instead. In true role playing fashion, there's also plenty of hidden passages to explore, with loot waiting to be discovered in the form of pieces of leather, new swords and shields, and other such equipment the goblins and orcs seem to love leaving about the place. Before long, we reach the wizards, who're in the process of finishing off their demon-summoning ritual – but before we have time to utter "Hey chaps, how's it going?", the demon rushes towards your character, and possesses them instead. Which wasn't exactly what the bearded ones had in mind. The upside of the situation is that you now have some funky fire powers, but the downside is that you're effectively sharing your body with a satanic power, and will constantly be treading the line between human and demon throughout your adventure, depending on if you want to be a "goodie" or a "baddie".
Should you choose to make your way through the game flipping the bird at little old ladies and booting kittens into nearby trees, your moral decisions will soon be reflected in your character, as your dark side will start to take over your physical form. Skipping forward in the game, we're introduced to a version of our character who's long gone down the darker path, with a smouldering black body, horns and glowing red eyes signalling his transformation, along with a couple of evil chillies strapped to his belt for comedic effect (no, really). But it's not just your appearance that ends up changing, as embracing the dark side will mess with your stats and abilities, too – the more demon you are, the higher your fire power and magical reserves become, but at a cost to your physical defence (after all, there's no way you'll manage to get a helmet over those horns).
Of course, it's not all combat and costumes, as there's plenty of traditional role playing to be done in Bound by Flame, too. One section we saw transported us to a mysterious, misty village, where we were free to wander round and chat with its inhabitants, who seemed a bit spooked about something or other. With several options to choose from in conversations, things are far from set in stone, as your relationships with characters will change depending on the options you choose, giving you different quests, friendships, and even romances as you progress.
With more than a whiff of Dragon Age and The Witcher about it, Bound By Flame certainly looks interesting. With a much smaller team at the helm than either of those two epics, then emphasis here is on telling a tight, twisting 20 to 25 hour story-driven adventure than making vast sprawling worlds you can lose yourself in – and in a world where shooters tend to dominate everything, it's a nice change of pace. Due out sometime this spring on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Playstation 4, Bound By Flame is certainly one to keep your eye on if you like your role-playing games steeped in dark fantasy. In the meantime, why not check out the 'EPIC STORY TRAILER' below: