Bastion is a benchmark in game design. Unlike most indie games that focus on making one aspect of gameplay really polished, every facet of Bastion is finely tuned, well developed and excellent. This melds makes for addicting and challenging gameplay, while the narration is one of the best examples of storytelling in the medium.

Bastion begins with the end of the world. The vagueness of not knowing who you are, where you are or what is happening instantly intrigued me. A narrator, later revealed to be another survivor named Rucks, reveals bits and pieces of what is happening as the silent protagonist known as “the  Kid” progresses. At the end of the first level, the kid is transported to the Bastion, which was made as a safe house in case of tragedy, such as the calamity that triggers the events of Bastion. The Kid’s job is to travel to other locations around the world to collect their cores to bring the Bastion up to full power.As the game progresses, the plot will slowly come into focus. Themes dealing with racism are explored, and there are even points of ambiguity open to interpretation. These are all welcome because they are just simply presented, instead of being over-the-top to hammer the point, as if to say, “do you get it?”

The first level and almost every main level after follow a routine. You arrive in the new territory, fight enemies, pick up a new weapons and abilities – ones specifically helpful for the current level – and fight a boss at the end. Even still, Bastion never gets boring from repetition; the components making up the game don’t allow it. Easily the most enjoyable of these components is Ruck’s narration. He tells the entirety of Bastion’s story, and he tells it well. Not only are his lines well written, witty and meaningful, but also his deep, sultry voice really aids in bringing life to a world that is dying. Very little of the game is actually played without hearing Rucks speak, since his dialogues are activated by progressing through a level or performing certain actions.

Bastion’s actual gameplay is a basic overhead action-rpg that is easy to pick up, but difficult to master. There is a main attack, secondary weapon, shield, dodge and special attack. One of the best parts of Bastion’s gameplay is that it lets you play how you like. Bastion initially makes you try every weapon, but eventually you will find what you like and stick with it. The hammer I started the game with was too slow for me, so I switched to a knife that did less damage, but had considerably more speed. I also kept my secondary attack as a ranged weapon at all times, but could have used the hammer there if I wanted a little more oomph every so often. Likewise, one could play with just ranged weapons.

Bastion relies heavily on a few mainstay enemy types, but throws in some area specific opponents with different weaknesses and strengths to keep combat fresh. Bastion habitually floods the screen with a near-frustrating amount of enemies, making strategy important. It is easy to fall prey to the temptations of clicking really fast to eliminate the on-screen threat, but this got me killed more often than not, or at least reduced my stock of healing potions – of which you’re only allotted a few. Dodging is useful, but the best defensive tactic is using the shield. If activated at the right time, you perform a counter that turns the attack back on the foe. And when all else fails, activating a special ability with black tonics (also allotted only a few) will take care of especially difficult situations.

Bastion also features various other items for equipping to the kid to enhance his abilities. After the distillery is unlocked in the Bastion, various spirits can be applied to the kid, which give him different passive abilities, like magnetic attraction for items or increased chance for critical hits. Every level gained for the kid unlocks a new spirit slot, as well as increasing health points.

The shrine system in Bastion helps separate it from other action-rpg’s that have similar features, and is actually one of the best parts of Bastion. The shrine allows the powers of the gods to be invoked, which will increase the amount of experienced and money gained, but also increases the difficulty. The first available god’s power to activate increases the speed of opponents, but others will have more challenging consequences like enemies reflecting attacks or dropping grenades upon death.

Activating many gods reaps great benefits, but also brutally increase the game’s difficulty. When experimenting with the shrine, I decided to activate about half of them, and for a time, I received noticeably more rewards. However, the increased toughness in the enemies got to the point where I would die in just two or three hits, and I would need to strike them more often to kill them. It’s a trade off, but it gives you the choice of playing at the difficulty of your preference.

Going with the theme of choices, Bastion has extra story and upgrades available from side missions and challenges, known as “proving grounds”. Even though the side missions are voluntary, I consider them to be essential to the game. These missions not only increase experience and money, but also provide much needed insights for the supporting cast and the Kid. The side missions send waves of enemies with short intermissions between. Throughout the level, Rucks will go through the history behind a character.The proving grounds serve as a great way to further upgrade weapons or gain new spirits and abilities. Each weapon will have its own side level accessible on the world map that’s designed to test your proficiency with each weapon. Goals range from smashing a room full of junk with a hammer to shooting targets with a long ranged weapon, while fighting the clock as well. These tests are not easy. Some I quickly mastered and acquired all three tiers of rewards, while others I gave up on, knowing the second or third tier rewards was simply beyond my skill . Thankfully, it never felt like a punishment, and Bastion still finds a way to provide the materials for weapon upgrades outside of the testing grounds.

It isn’t necessary to talk about the music in every game, but it would be a disservice not to praise Bastion for how wonderfully the music is scored. If I were to classify the overall feel I get from the soundtrack, I would say it combines the sensibilities of a frontier western and science-fiction world. Additionally, it perfectly captures and conveys every feeling the game is communicating. Sad moments of the game have a sad song attached. Boss fights and other urgent situations have a track that definitely made me feel anxious and excited for the battle. Nothing is out of place; it simply just fits with the rest of Bastion’s spot-on design.

I simply can’t get enough of Bastion. Plunging back into Supergiant Games’ world, even after I’ve completed the game, is just as enjoyable as first booting it up. The gameplay, story and music by themselves warrant checking the game out, but when combined into what Bastion is, I can’t recommend this game highly enough.

 

 

Bastion: Review
Pros:
  • Outstanding presentation
  • Accessible and deep gameplay
  • More than the sum of its parts
Cons:
  • Nothing worth mentioning
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