When you first start playing Bound by Flame, you’re asked to enter a name for your character–a name that is then summarily ignored by the game’s supporting cast, which always refers to your hero by his or her known name: Vulcan. Given Bound by Flame’s shallow similarities to The Witcher, it’s hard not to wonder what the latter game might have been like if you were asked to name the protagonist, only for everyone to call you Geralt anyway. This identity crisis may seem a minor detail, but it is a head-scratcher of an issue in a role-playing game full of head-scratchers, each one more stymieing than the last. Bound by Flame is the kind of game you might hear people describe as having “a lot of heart,” and the game it tries to be is certainly one worth celebrating. Yet by the time this frustrating adventure comes to a close, it’s clear that there’s a wide gulf between the game you just played and the vision that inspired it.
I can’t accuse developer Spiders of not trying. Bound by Flame is an action-heavy role-playing game about choice, and it liberally borrows from the BioWare book of conversation tropes, presenting you with narrative decisions now and again that affect allegiances and spawn conflicts, most of which can be solved only through swordplay. Vulcan is an apt name for the game’s central character. He (or she, if you choose a female avatar) is a member of a mercenary group called the Freeborn Blades, but in the midst of fighting to stave off an invasion of undead creatures called deadwalkers, he finds himself sharing his brain with a growling demon. Vulcan’s mind becomes rather overcrowded as a result, but at least the demon grants him the ability to conjure fire, bringing sense to his mythology-inspired moniker.