When I first heard of Bastion, I thought it was going to be just another heavily stylized indie game that was inundated with quirky aspects and problems that the developers either touted as "innovation" or blamed on their lack of staff and funding. And it's not a common thing to say but, I'm glad I was wrong.
Despite it's Diablo II-esque look and concept, you'd be passing over the standout presentation and story. Not only are those two aspects done well, but the rest of the mechanics and smaller details are completely competent, albeit with a few miscalculations.
Bastion follows the story of the kid. That's all we know about him when we start. The entire plot is narrated by a person we later come to know as the survivor. Even when the kid engages another person in conversation, the narrator summarizes what is said without the player ever hearing anyone else speak.
As the player progresses through the story, he learns more about what happened. Apparently, the Calamity was an event that was used to wipe out the Ura. The Calamity backfired and everything was destroyed and shot into the stars. The titular Bastion is a place that was built to reset everything to a time before the Calamity happened. But in order to do that, the kid must find six crystals to place into the center of the Bastion to restore it, but not every character agrees with that decision. Betrayal and hurt are as much themes to Bastion's story as hope and trust.
The kid has his work cut out for him.
On top of the main story arc, there are three wave-based arenas (called Reflections) that the kid can enter to find out more backstory. The first one talks about the kid and his family, the second applies to Zia (a woman of Ura descent), and the final one speaks of the Survivor. These three "side quests" (so to speak) are crucial to anyone who is remotely interested in the story due to the onslaught of information you are given about the protagonists and their origins. I do criticize not making the Reflections mandatory, as I nearly skipped by these pivotal sequences on my first playthrough.
Now a good story is nothing without equally good gameplay; thankfully, the combat holds up well. Bastion plays like a hack-and-slash RPG, where you carry two weapons, whether they be melee, guns or special powers. The armaments feel meaty, but only after they've been upgraded. Also, despite throwing weapons at you the whole length of the campaign, I found myself using the machete and the fang repeater – both upgraded to the fourth level – for the majority of the adventure even though I received them in the first twenty minutes.
On top of that, the kid has access to a secret power that boosts or uses one of your current weapons to do extra damage to foes, usually large numbers of them. Every time that secret power is used though, it uses a black bottle, which you can carry only three of, or five if you have a certain spirit, but the bottles are plentiful.
Another element that factors into the gameplay is spirits. Spirits can be seen as perks, where each one does a certain thing to boost your character abiliites, though a select few have downsides as well. Every time you level up, you gain a new slot for your spirits, all the way to ten. These passive augmentations vary the kid's versatility, but the only one I really needed added two more healing potions to my stock.
Fall off the map and the survivor will commentate over the unfortunate happenstance.
And as every game must include now, there are upgrades to your weapons. Before the kid can enhance his equipment, the player must collect a certain material and enough shards (the game's currency) to purchase an upgrade. There are five levels of upgrades, but it works similarly to Starcraft II where each level contains two options and you only pick one. The difference here is that you can freely switch between two augments of the same level an infinite amount of times.
The two final gameplay elements include vigils and idols. Vigils are challenges that can be accessed via the Bastion's Memorial. These challenges reward the player for doing things like raising 13,000 blocks. What's more, I enjoyed completing each task.
Idols are equivalent to the skulls in Halo. I never used them because all they do is make the combat more difficult, but they do provide shard and XP bonuses when active, so they aren't without purpose – just an extra mechanic that adds some depth to the game.
That is actually one of my few problems with Bastion. It's too damn easy. Every time you encounter a new enemy that was taxing to kill with a previous weapon, you get a new one. Found a flower that closes every time you shoot it? Well here's a fire-spewing bellow that will burn it no matter what. I know there are idols there to make the game harder, but I would have liked a more natural challenge.
The cities float in isolated suspension, but the kid has an unmoving determination to restore these lost worlds.
As for the presentation, I think Supergiant did an excellent job to build a unique world and fill it with all the fantasy and color that it needed. The way the world forms under the players feet is neat, although sometimes it's difficult to distinguish the background from the foreground and you fall off. Luckily the punishment is minor, but it's still annoying.
Other than that minor gripe, the look of the world is consistent, and nothing ever feels too outlandish, but that might just be because of the outlandish-ness of the game itself. Another point is the narrator, who adds to the atmosphere of the game nicely. Although he is slightly cliched, with his gravely voice and his cheesy lines – for example, "There's only one way out of Cinderbrick Fort . . . the hard way." – his pitch and light use of slang suit the game nicely, and I applaud him for recording as much dialogue as he did.
To conclude, Bastion is a wonderful game filled with a rare atmosphere and clever design. Even with a few flaws, and a conservative five-hour playtime, the New Game Plus and challenges make Bastion a purchase hard to not recommend.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: July 20, 2011
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade (Reviewed)