Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Genre: Action RPG
Game Version: Latest version on Steam at time of writing
Very occasionally a game comes along with an idea that’s so simple and effective that it’s surprising no-one has tried it before. Bastion is one of those rare games. The feature, as will probably be familiar to anyone who has already heard of the game, is that it has a narrator. But it’s not the usual occasional fixed story telling narration over the occasional cutscene. Bastion continues the narration throughout the entirety of the game, and it’s dynamic depending on what you’re doing at the time. It doesn’t initially sound like much, but it feels surprisingly fresh and unique when playing. From the first time I started just smashing up scenery and the voiceover remarked “The kid just rages for a while.” I knew the game was something a bit different. And this sort of thing carries on throughout the game, telling the story, commentating on the action and even pointing out your mistakes. It’s one of the key features of the game.
Of course, a single gimmick like that isn’t going to be enough to save the game if the gameplay itself is hopeless. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here. Bastion is an isometric action RPG set in a world that’s just been torn apart by an event known only as the Calamity. You play a character known only as The Kid as he wakes up to find the world in pieces and sets off to the titular Bastion to find just a single old man there, the narrator of the story. Over the course of the game you uncover the causes and reasons behind the Calamity as The Kid sets out to find cores to try to reconstruct the world.
The graphics of the game are simple and cartoon-like but usually interesting to look at. The remaining fragments of the world that you visit are floating in the air and the ground forms itself under your feet as you run along, meaning you never know quite what’s going to turn up next. It’s an impressive effect as pieces fly in from all around to form the levels as you explore them. Each area has its own style and its own challenges to face and the cartoony style doesn’t detract from anything, though it does sometimes feel at odds with the storytelling. Both the narration and the music form a distinctly Old Western feel to everything, which doesn’t quite fit in with the cutesy Anime style illustrations of the characters. It’s nothing that detracts from the game too much, but it does seem to be crying out for a slightly less Japanese art style.
Combat in the game is simple, but builds up to include a surprising amount of depth later in the game. You can carry two weapons, usually one melee and one ranged though you can have any combination you choose. Initially these will be a massive hammer for smashing stuff and a rapid fire dart gun type thing, but there are plenty of other weapons to collect as the game goes by. They each work in an entirely different way and are often fun to use, allowing you to find the weapons that suit you, or to just keep switching them around and experimenting. In addition to this, you carry a shield which can be used to block attacks. It can block pretty much everything, but only in front of you. If you time your block just right, you can deflect the attack back at the enemy to cause them damage. So there’s one button to attack with one weapon, another button for the second weapon, and a third to block. You can also roll while moving to evade attacks. Though there doesn’t seem to be much to this, the variety of enemies means you’re constantly having to think of the best way to utilise the tools at hand and prioritise the threats in order to avoid taking too much damage.
The game consists of many separate levels that you’ll visit to fight your way through to reach a core before returning to the Bastion. The game saves automatically every time you return to the Bastion, but there’s no way to save mid level. Thankfully, you get several health tonics that you can use to boost your health back up when you’re running low, and if you run out of those and die completely, you’re then given a second chance and can revive instantly and carry on without losing any progress. If you die again you’d have to start the level again, but with ways to increase the number of health tonics you can carry and even a way to get you a third chance so that you can completely die twice, I never once had to repeat any levels. This is a relief, but some may consider this to make the game too easy. If you’re one of these people, then don’t worry, there’s ways to make the game harder for yourself using deities, which I’ll mention a little later.
The cores you collect in these levels can be used to upgrade the Bastion, creating new buildings. These include things like a forge, which lets you choose upgrades for your weapons; an armoury for changing your weapon loadout; a distillery for selecting various liquids which have different stat boosting effects and a memorial where you can select Vigils, basically a set of in-game achievements which reward you with fragments if you’re successful in them. Fragments are the games equivalent to money, and it’s essential to get as many of them as you can if you want to upgrade your weapons and obtain new skills. Another building you can create is the Shrine, which can be used to activate various idols representing different deities. They’re not very helpful deities this time though, since they make the enemies tougher in various ways to give you more of a challenge, albeit with increased rewards in return. There are quite a few of these idols that you’ll collect and they allow you to customise the difficulties in the way that suits you.
Alongside the main story levels, there’s also a challenge level available for each of the different weapons that you find. Each weapon works in a different way and you have to master them in order to get 1st place in these levels. For example, the fang repeater is an extremely rapid fire gun but can’t be fired while moving, and the level for this weapon has a large number of targets that line a path that’s continually disintegrating behind you. The level for the duelling pistols concentrates of your ability to shoot quickly, while the level for the Breaker’s Bow concentrates on power and being able to take out all the enemies with the fewest shots you can. These additional levels are often fun, though if you don’t like a particular weapon, they’re never compulsory. If you are successful with them, you do usually receive a new special skill in return though.
So the voiceover provided what I expected of it. It was well acted, it told the story, was often funny and actually helpful in letting you know whether what you were doing was useful. The gameplay turned out to be much better than I thought it would be, which I didn’t expect even after playing through the first half hour of the game. That was a pleasant discovery, but not something that I’d ruled out. What I didn’t expect to encounter were a couple of moral decisions at the end of the game that are very effective. They may be the only decisions you make in the game, but they’re particularly well done, and not as easy to decide as they may sound if they were described to you without the context of the game. Obviously, I’m not going to do anything so spoilery in this review anyway. I may put that in a separate article at a later date. But I will comment that one decision led to a particularly beautiful moment that was the sort of thing that it never even crossed my mind might occur in a game like this. The whole thing is very well made.
There are two control schemes available in the PC version. You can plug in a gamepad and use that, or you can stick to the standard keyboard and mouse controls. This control scheme uses the keyboard to move while using the mouse to target and attack enemies. It works very well for the most part, though there are a couple of weapons that are noticeably more clumsy to use with the keyboard and mouse controls (the Brusher’s Pike can be awkward to get going in the right direction for example, and I found the trial level for the War Machete to be virtually impossible until I discovered the defend key also worked as a sort of auto-aiming key too.)
The game isn’t perfect of course. As mentioned earlier, the character design just feels at odds with the rest of the design, though the levels themselves look fantastic. And while I said that the choices offered at the end of the game were brilliant, it does emphasise the lack of choice earlier in the game and the fact that the story only really got going quite late in the game. But the gameplay is hard to fault, and the flaws are really quite minor considering the strengths of the game. It can easily last about 10 hours, which frankly is longer than most big budget major label games these days. (I’m considering starting a new scale to measure the length of games. Considering that the average modern Call of Duty game is the shortest unit of gaming known to man, that would be the base unit of measurement, with a Call of Duty game being 1 COD in length. This would make Bastion around 3 CODs in length, an absolute bargain at the budget price it’s sold at.)
Oh, and I’ve still got songs from the game running through my head. The music is so good that I’m genuinely, for the first time ever, considering buying the soundtrack to a game.
Save System Review: The game saves automatically every time you return to the Bastion. The levels aren’t too long and the game isn’t too difficult, so it wasn’t really a problem.
Graphics: Very good colourful environments, though as I’ve mentioned a couple of times already, I think the character design in the cutscenes is a little off.
Sound: Amazing soundtrack and brilliant voice acting from the narrator gives this game some of the best sound I’ve heard in a while.
Bugs: None that I encountered.
Gameplay: The combat is a lot of fun once you get into it, especially considering the number of weapon combinations you can take with you, each working in a different way. The game is also highly replayable, since you can start a new game with all the weapons and upgrades you’ve already acquired in the previous run through the game, with the scope to up the difficulty using the Shrine. There’s even some slightly altered dialogue during replays, just to keep things interesting.
Storyline: A fairly simple storyline, especially at the beginning, but it does build to quite an impressive conclusion with a surprisingly tough choice to make at the end of it.
Arbitrary Final Score:
Is this the last Bastion of colour in gaming? "The kid heads over to the forum to discuss the game."