Shift 2 is improved in just about every way possible
peej about Shift 2: Unleashed
In Bound By Flame you take on the role of Vulcan, even if you pick your own name everyone will still call you Vulcan, so lets pretend it's meant to be his surname like in Mass Effect. Doesn't really help if you choose to play a female though, everyone still refers to you as a dude. Still, you shouldn't really pick to play as a lady as there are some fine beards to choose from in the limited character creation studio.
Vulcan is the powder master for a group of mercenaries called the Pure-Blades, paid to protect a bunch of nerdy scribes whilst they try to find a way to stop the Ice Lords and their undead army from destroying the world. Unfortunately plans go awry and poor old Vulcan ends up with a demon trapped in his head, although this could mean someone finally has the power to take on the zombie hordes.
In gameplay terms your possession comes in pretty handy, you will never need a torch in dark areas because you can choose to turn on your Ready Brek glow and you'll also gain access to pyromancy, a potent form of fire magic. So you can set your sword aflame, throw fireballs and even protect yourself with a shield of burning magic.
There are no character classes in Bound By Flame, it's all about your stances, you have warrior stance for when you want to hit things hard with two handed swords and hammers and ranger stance which involves you wielding fast twin daggers which can also be used for sneak attacks. Levelling up allows you to invest in the skill trees of both of these stances along with your aforementioned pyromancy, but you'll have to be careful what you pick, as you won't be able to upgrade everything.
Bound By Flame also includes a neat crafting system, with a few simple button presses you can craft your dropped loot into anything from more exploding traps, crossbow bolts and potions to new hilts for your swords and daggers to new additions for your armour. These can have differing effects depending on the ingredients you use; for example you can prioritise magical defence or just go for all out damage. A nice touch is that these crafted parts visually alter your armour and weapons, so you can see at a glance what you have equipped.
Combat in Bound By Flame is tough, you will get your arse kicked even at the lower end of the difficulty scale if you aren't careful. Parrying, counter-attacks and considered use of your kick which can open up a foes defence are key, and once you get into the flow of things it's ultimately very satisfying when you take down something large and nasty. A group of difficult foes can get hairy though so you'll be glad you will mostly have a companion there to help you out.
You companions all have greatly differing combat styles, and you can tell them to be more aggressive, hang back, or if they have the ability, concentrate on healing. Throughout the game you will also be able to find out more about them, and if you engage them in conversation often enough and depending on the dialogue choices you make you could end up losing them completely from your party for good or ill.
This is one of Bound By Flame's great strengths, when you are in your conversations or making huge decisions the outcomes aren't signposted like Mass Effect or many other games of this ilk, there is no good or evil markings, you just have to go with what you feel is right, and if you listen to your inner demon enough it could even warp your very appearance.
It's not all a bed of roses though, Bound By Flame is a little rough around the edges, the graphics are a little shonky in places, and the aforementioned beards look a bit like plastic moss. The creature design is fantastic though with some great imagination used. Don't expect open worlds either, this is hub based with each chapter having a base of operations from which you complete your main and side quests before deciding to move on. Voice acting is also a mixed bag with your main character sometime seeming like he has stumbled from Gears Of War such is his uncalled for cussing. There is a genuine wit in some of the exchanges though, notably at the expense of the witch who, as my mother would say, has allowed her dumplings to boil over.
Bound By Flame is an enjoyable experience, whilst not the longest RPG in the world the potential is there for more than one play through, and Spiders Game Weavers have to be lauded for trying to keep up with the big boys in their production values and only fall marginally short. Games like this live or die on their story though, and this is where Bound By Flame achieves magnificently, it's gripping and well told, so if you are in the market for a new action RPG you could do much worse than to pick this up to fill your void.