Bastion

2011-08-29 by . 0 comments

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Bastion was released for Xbox LIVE Arcade on 20th July and on PC via Steam on 16th August, and is one of those games that had been on my watch list. So when I spotted there was a demo available on Steam, I gave it a quick spin. As soon as the demo ended, I was left wanting more and picked the game up the next day.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this game, and it deserves the praise it has been getting. Let me tell you why, and maybe convince you to have a look if you haven’t already…

Narrative

The game’s world has been destroyed by “The Calamity”, leaving a few survivors to explore the floating islands that remain. You play a character identified as “The Kid” by the narrator; there’s no big bang or huge cinematic cutscene to start the game, the Kid merely wakes up after the disaster and starts out for the Bastion – a safe haven designated as the place to go in times of trouble – and it all builds from there.

The game’s narrative is very much story driven, and sometimes feels a little disconnected from the gameplay, but this is never a serious concern and what it does have is well written and interesting. The game’s narrative delivery feels a bit unique – your entire journey is narrated for you, and I mean literally narrated. This isn’t just snippets of arbitrary exposition. I suspect this might be a bit polarising, but I personally think that it really works.

It feels like the narrator is actually telling you a story most of the time, and what he says always feels relevant to what is happening on screen. And not just the big things; changing your weapon loadout will usually result in a comment about them as well many other things, and all of these are clever and well delivered. In fact, there never seems to be any arbitrary exposition at all, and the game eschews cut scenes, massive character introductions and the like. It’s quite an achievement that it works so well.

It’s worth noting that the narrator’s voice is an uncommon choice and might also be polarising – a consistently gruff sound and sombre tone, with an accent I think is from somewhere around the deep south of the US. I personally think it works really well, delivering the story with a sombre gravitas that it really deserves and contrasting against the visual beauty of the world perfectly. Listen to the trailer below if you’d like to hear him.

Aesthetic

Let’s get the obvious comment out of the way first: Bastion is a beautiful game. It is apparently all hand painted and as a result is colourful, vibrant, detailed and visually stunning throughout; this isn’t your typical grey/brown apocalypse.

Everything – the character, enemies, world, objects and so on – are all colourful and well presented. It’s rare that you end up mistaking an enemy for a backdrop, except when the game is doing so intentionally, and it is easy to tell most enemies apart with a glance, so they’ve got that balance right as well.

As you walk around the game, the world forms up under your feet and objects fall from the sky, it’s wonderfully executed and constantly reminds you of the apocalyptic disaster that the beautiful landscapes might otherwise convince you to forget.

"He gets up"

"Find the distillery, next to the arsenal. Tough part of town."

The landscapes here are quite detailed and beautiful

The visual beauty and sombre narrative play off of each other very well. This contrast keeps either from becoming overbearing and does a great job of delivering the correct mood to the player. Layer on top of this a brilliant soundtrack and the game manages to be really quite immersive, particularly towards the end sequences where the story finally starts to fall into place.

There aren’t many games that had me smiling all through the end sequences, kept me smiling through the finish and then managed to get me to sit (still smiling) through the credits, just looking at the few images and listening to the music.

Mechanics

The game is at the most basic level an isometric hack-n-slash action RPG, but it has a few twists that make it a little bit more unique and interesting than that description conveys.

Levelling up grants slots into which you can place passive buffs. There’s no class system here either. You can select any two of these weapons you like, any buffs and any special attack (except those for a weapon you’re not wielding). The game rewards finesse and player skill over having the biggest damage number.

There are a total of 11 weapons, each of which is unique in how it functions, and the player is always equipped with a shield regardless of loadout. Keeping the same few weapons really helps to make them feel unique and important. They never just feel like weighty tools waiting to be replaced by something with an extra +1. Weapons are upgradable too, and like with everything else, these can be tweaked later, so no need to worry about the “wrong” upgrades.

Not much to say, another shot of the beautiful worlds

The forge, where you can upgrade the game's 11 different weapons

The shrine, where you can call on the gods to make the game harder (for bonuses!)

The decision to let you change almost everything mid-game gives the player the chance to experiment while still providing many viable options, and really lets the player build a character that suits their playstyle without risk of getting stuck with a “bad” character.

The enemies are varied and require slightly different tactics, partially dependent on your weapon choices. The Kid is pretty nimble and can roll around to dodge, just don’t fall off the edges (it’s non-fatal, but costs health), and the shield always provides a staple for defence and offence (well timed blocks deflect attacks back against enemies) regardless of your loadout. Combat usually feels fast and fluid, although sometimes a little bit repetitive.

I don’t think the game is particularly difficult if you play it as-is, but if you want to increase the challenge you can use the shrine buildings to invoke the gods – providing buffs to your enemies in exchange for a boost in the XP and currency earnt. There are also “proving ground” levels that challenge you to perform well with a specific weapon in exchange for weapon upgrade parts and special attacks (importantly, neither are vital for finishing the game). It’s a simple pair of additions, but allows you to tweak the difficulty as you see fit.

Conclusion

The game is visually stunning, has a great soundtrack, is story driven with a storyline that is interesting and the narrative delivery feels quite fresh and unique, although it may be a little polarising. Admittedly, the combat can be a little repetitive at times, but it doesn’t become dull over the course of a play through and has depth if you experiment with different weapon mixes.

Bastion is a superb game that I highly recommend. It took me about 8 hours to complete my first run and those were crammed into only two nights because I couldn’t draw myself away.

The game is available on Steam and Xbox LIVE Arcade, and I believe it has a demo available on both too. I highly recommend that you at least try the demo, if not purchase the game. It’s not a huge demo, but it gives you an initial taste of the game that I hope will draw you in to play the full version.

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