Beautiful. If I had to describe Bastion in one word, that would be the word I’d choose. Fortunately, I’m allowed a thousand more. On the surface, Bastion is a simple action RPG, where you control a tiny hero from an isometric perspective, kill tons of monsters, and pick up shiny loot. But judging it simply on where it stands among the ever increasing list of Diablo clones would be utterly unfair. You see, Bastion goes way beyond the simple hack, slash and loot formula; the underlying mechanics are simple but its exquisitely crafted world and captivating presentation puts it among the best downloadable titles of recent times. Not to mention it’s also one of the best games I’ve played this year.
Bastion tells the story of a world devastated by an event described simply as “the calamity”, and is now literally shattered into pieces floating above nothingness. You play as a young survivor known simply as “the Kid”, who carries a special object that allows him to travel around the broken world by creating pathways between its broken pieces. At first, he appears to be the sole survivor of the calamity, but eventually comes across others like him, including the wise old man who also serves as the narrator of the game. With the help of the others, the Kid sets off on a mission to rebuild the world, starting with the titular “Bastion”, a safe zone from where the survivors plan to rebuild society. The story begins with a predictable fetch quest-like structure, but soon things take a turn and it evolves into something more.
What really sets Bastion apart from most games of its ilk is that there is barely any voice acting in the game, save for the ever-present narrator. While the constant narration may seem annoying at first, you’ll soon see that it is a necessary part of the game. The voice actor does a pretty decent job and the script treads a fine line between humour and seriousness. Most of the narrator’s comments are scripted, but every once in a while, he’ll say something to complement your on-screen actions. He’ll congratulate you if you play well and pass a quick sarcastic comment if you screw up. If, for some reason, you can’t stand him, fear not, the game allows you to mute him for good, although I’d personally recommend playing with the narration on. Not only is it an integral part of Bastion’s experience, but you’ll also be missing out on key story elements and a cleverly written script.
The story and the narration are definitely high points, but it’s the unique visual style and the sublime musical score that really sell the narrative. The world of Bastion may look colourful and cheery from the screenshots, but after spending some time playing it, you’ll realize that the game paints a rather sombre picture of a world devastated by a disaster. It’s almost hopeless at times, but there is a glimmer of hope at every turn and the narrator’s comments keep pushing you forward. It really does feel like you’re fighting against impossible odds. The diminutive Kid may look like something right out of an old JRPG, but feels like a complete badass when it comes to dispatching enemies.
That brings me to what is probably the most important aspect of any action RPG – the action. The combat in Bastion is challenging and satisfying. It starts out easy, but the difficulty ramps up halfway through the game as enemies start becoming tougher and more diverse. Enemies hit hard and many of them require a specific strategy to beat. Thankfully, the Kid has a number of weapons and tricks in his arsenal. You can equip him with two weapons (melee and ranged) and a special power at armouries found in some levels or at Bastion. Different attacks are mapped to controller buttons with designated buttons for chugging down potions and tonics. New weapons are unlocked at a steady pace and upgrades and special powers can be bought or obtained through exploration. The Kid also earns experience to level up and equip various tonics, which provide constant bonuses. However don’t expect lightning fast levelling up, diverse skill trees and tons of loot like other action RPGs. Bastion keeps its loot and upgrade paths very focused and pretty much all of the equipment and upgrades are useful in one way or another.
You can freely swap out weapons, upgrades and tonics at Bastion. This allows the Kid to be a versatile fighter and not be restricted and stuck with a particular upgrade path. For example, if a particular level is filled with ranged enemies, it might be better to apply a range upgrade to your musket than a bullet spread upgrade. Such flexibility is a welcome change from the usual action RPG conventions, which force players to adhere to specific builds. Quick reflexes and swapping upgrades is key to dealing with the challenging situations Bastion puts you in. Some levels are downright nasty as they pitch you against static defences, tough mobs and mini bosses all at the same time!
If that wasn’t enough, the game also features an interesting risk/reward mechanic. You’ll unlock various idols, which can be ‘enabled’ at Bastion. Each idol boosts difficulty by increasing enemy damage, number or speed, but at the same time provides a bonus to experience and money earned. It’s an interesting mechanic that adds considerable challenge on top of what is already a pretty challenging game. I personally found it difficult to resist switching on idols although that usually resulted in many quick deaths and lots of retries.
Bastion’s main story quest should take you 8 to 9 hours. In addition to the story, you can also hone your skills with each weapon and unlock more powerful upgrades by completing a number of weapon challenges. Earning top ranks in these challenges requires significant skill and patience. And if all that wasn’t enough, completing the game lets you can carry all your weapons and upgrades into a new game+ mode. So overall, there’s more than enough content to go through for a relatively small price tag. Even if you stick to the main story, it’s still well worth the money spent.
Lovely music, beautiful visuals and an engaging story topped by addictive and challenging gameplay – that’s Bastion in a nutshell. It’s right up there among the likes of Braid, Shadow Complex and Limbo; a downloadable title that simply deserves to be played by every self-respecting gamer.