Sometimes games are noteworthy because they reinvent the wheel; other games simply nail the details. Bastion brings plenty of interesting and charming details while remaining a solid entry into the action rpg genre.
Bastion tells the simple story of a silent protagonist called only “The Kid”. The Kid has slept right through the Calamity, an event so catastrophic that it has sundered all of Caelondia and the surrounding areas. Everyone agreed to meet up at the Bastion if times got bad, and from here the Kid sets off to put right what’s left of the world, and rebuild the Bastion’s various shops and shrines that will assist you in your journey.
What I really enjoyed most about the story was how it let you discover and piece together the history and culture of Caelondia. There is no text crawl information dump explaining what happened in 13th in the year of Pithe. Instead, the gruff and husky narrator, expertly voiced by Logan Cunningham, fills you in with tidbits and details as you explore and collect memorable items from the old world. His comments on everything from your weapon selections to simple tidbits like “sometimes a look says it all” when you attempt to talk to him without any items to discuss really breathes life into the world. You will eventually learn exactly what happened and will be faced with some emotionally satisfying, thoughtful decisions near the end of the game. My only wish was that these could have been incorporated sooner and more fully throughout the game, as the two that you will make occur rather suddenly right at the end.
That isn’t to say that you won’t make any choices throughout the game. The gameplay of Bastion is filled to the brim with them. You start the game with only your trusty hammer, but you’ll steadily add more and more weapons to your arsenal. You’ll have access to everything from long range mortars and rifle carbines to pseudo flamethrowers and spears . You’ll have to whittle your selection down to two weapons in the field, but the sheer variety allows you to mix and match to suit your individual style. I liked to mix it up from time to time, but I always would eventually come back to my ever sharp machete and flame-throwing fire bellows. Each weapon can be customized at the Forge, and every upgrade level is split between two different bonuses. You could, for instance, decide to go with faster reloads instead of increased magazine size for your Fang Repeater. If you change your mind you can always swap between them back at the Forge, and I really liked that you’re given a lot of freedom to experiment with what works best for you.
You’ll definitely need to upgrade your weapons for the Proving Grounds. Each weapon has its own area and task to complete, and you’ll unlock rewards for doing well. First place always unlocks a new secret skill for the weapon so there is certainly incentive to complete the challenges. Don’t make my mistake of continually trying a challenge over and over, always just shy of missing that coveted first place. It wasn’t until I finally gave up and returned to the Bastion that a loading screen tip said I should upgrade to make it easier. My one complaint in the weapons and skill department is that when you find new ones the game automatically swaps them in for what you are carrying. Now often times the weapon you are receiving is the best tool for the job at the time, but it can be a little annoying to break up the combination you had going or lose access to your secret skill because it was tied to the weapon that got booted. Fortunately, there will sometimes be an arsenal later in the level if you really need or want to switch back.
Weapons and skills are not the only elements you need to decide upon. Two of Bastions most interesting and charming features are the Distillery and the Shrine. The Distillery is a great mechanic for taking passive leveling bonuses and giving them an in-game explanation. As you level up you can carry more spirits and liqueur with you, and each one offers a unique buff. Some will even have trade-offs to weigh against their benefits. Is regenerating health on each hit going to be worth it to you if your health tonics don’t heal as well? If nothing else it’s great to enjoy the narrator describe each one as you sample new ones in your loadout.
As much as I enjoyed the Distillery, I found the Shrine that much more intriguing . In Bastion there are no difficulty settings. However once you build the Shrine and start collecting idols of the god you can begin to invoke them. Now the gods are not the kind and benevolent types and each one will bestow bonuses on all your opponents. In return though, you’ll collect more experience and currency. There’s even this meta-game aspect towards it. You might not be concerned if enemies can regenerate if you’re only totting big one shot kill weapons. So you have much fine turned control over making the game as challenging as you wish.
In combat Bastion adds a lot of timing elements to the gameplay. Firing most ranged weapons at a precise moment will unleash a power shot and blocking right before being struck will counter the attack and damage your opponent. You’ll also need to dodge and roll around your enemies, either to avoid their attacks or set up a better position for yourself. You’ll often fight near narrow ledges and, since some weapons kick back, you’ll need to watch your step.
Even little details like how health potions work really make the game feel tight. If you already have maximum health tonics and walk over a potion on the ground, it will automatically heal you if you’ve been hurt or simply turn into experience points if you’re already at full health. It’s such a little thing, but it really stuck with me as being an example of how well Bastion hits on the small stuff.
The icing on all this delicious gameplay cake are Bastion’s amazing audio and visual aesthetics. The games picturesque graphics are gorgeous with everything looking hand painted without dipping into a forced cel shaded look. Sometimes you’ll get a little slow down when there are a lot of elements on screen and you’ll probably fall more than a few times because you’re confused about your footing, but these are problems I’ll gladly accept for how the game looks in relation to its kin like Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale. Your ears are also in for a treat, as Bastion has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard this year. The devs over at Supergiant Games could have easily slapped on some generic fantasy fare, but they instead delivered on a completely eclectic but always surprisingly dead-on music to match the action on screen. There’s everything from blues to blends of trip-hop and foreign tones.
A single play through will roughly come in around 6-8 hours depending on how much you strive to complete. There is some incentive to replay though with new game plus mode which allows you to retain your level and items, and you’ll most certainly want to try the alternates of the end game choices.
Bottom Line: Bastion is an intriguing and eclectic action-heavy RPG with great audio and visuals, and it mixes some interesting mechanics with tried and true gameplay. $15 might be a little steep for some gamers given its length, but this is a game you ought to play, particularly if you care about replayability.
Recommendation: You should absolutely buy it if you are the type of gamer who enjoys replays , but even if you might only play it once I’d still recommend it.[rating=4.5]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.
Justin Clouse wants Logan Cunningham to narrate his life.
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platform(s): PC, XBLA
The games soundtrack is available here.