If there’s a genre which has so far been overlooked on the new generation of hardware, it’s RPGs and, on a more granular level, action RPGs. Whilst coming to PS3, 360 and PC, Spiders’ Bound by Flame is looking to launch this spring and capture the attentions of action RPG fans looking for something to play on their PlayStation 4.
Set in a fantasy world, and leaning on some of the many ideas which tend to feature in that genre, a long war for Vertiel between the forces of good and evil is coming to a head. Seven Icelords and their army of undead creatures have pushed the human forces back time and again, with humanity now on the brink.
So desperate are they that a group or Red Priests are willing to try and summon a fire demon, hoping that it will decide to help them in their fight for survival. Except it goes wrong, the summoning takes an unexpected turn and your character, Vulcan (though not like in Star Trek), is possessed. Imbued with fire powers, the fate of the world now rests on your shoulders.
Though your name is Vulcan, you can customise your character quite heavily. You can pick Vulcan’s gender and alter his or her appearance to start off with, as armour and weaponry alter Vulcan’s look as you progress, but there are also plenty of choices to be made that will alter how your character will play in combat.
At its heart, there is a simple but effective combat system, allowing you to switch between heavier, slower weapons and a much faster twin blade approach that deals less damage. Locking on helps to keep you focussed on a particular enemy and get the timing of your attacks, blocks, dodges and counters right, but you’ll often be facing larger groups of mixed enemies.
Depending on what you’re up against, you’ll need to switch between the two, even in the middle of combat. You’ll want broadswords and axes to break through shields, for instance, but spritelier enemies might see you forego blocking and turn to the use of twin daggers and dodging attacks.
But wrapped around this are other elements. Wielding the lighter daggers, you can enter a stealth mode when still undetected and get a critical strike when you attack. You might add a ranged weapon to your arsenal or make use of the crafting system to create mines, potions and bombs which you can assign to quick buttons for easy use in combat. These can add another tactical layer to certain encounters, like having to defend for an oncoming horde of undead.
When you think of those undead foes, you likely picture rotting corpses that have been reanimated, but there’s a lot more to them than that. Yes, you’ll have plenty of human-sized enemies, but there are almost much larger and uglier beasts that have been brought back to life by the Icelords and set upon the world. Then there are the fantasy enemies which you’ll encounter that have little to do with the Icelords at all.
Perhaps it’s a good thing, then, that Vulcan’s been possessed by this fire demon. It grants you various fire powers as would befit a powerful pyromancer, but these come at a cost. Dive too deep into their use and your body will gradually transform to reflect the demonic influence, as it gains a greater hold.
It adds a third skill tree to choose from as you level up, with Pyromancer joining Fighter and Ranger. With Fighter making your heavy weapon fighting more effective and Ranger giving you more options for a stealthier approach and a faster battle stance, you’ll have to decide whether to spread your skill points across all three or focus on a particular avenue and aim for the most powerful ultimate abilities.
As well as this, there will naturally be all manner of items to pick from, whether it’s finding yourself a lovely big hammer or picking some shiny new armour to protect you in battle. You’ll be able to upgrade these too, using schematics that you find to improve your favourite sword and its stats, for the kind of player that simply loves to dive in and really optimise their load outs.
Over the course of your journey, you’ll come across and add companions to your ragtag band, who will join you in battle with complimentary abilities. More interesting is how Spiders will be trying to integrate these into the game’s story, letting you uncover their individual histories and even letting you try to engage in a little romance.
It’s an intriguingly ambitious aspect to the game, and one which could help to get people’s attention. There’s a solid and well grounded combat system alongside quite a good looking fantasy setting and the fairly by-the-numbers storyline, but by adding in touches like the demonic possession altering Vulcan’s appearance and the companion interactions, it has befitting of a blockbuster title that makes this one to keep an eye on. Action RPG-starved PS4 owners in particular.