Bastion is a Well Crafted Experience with Beautiful Art Direction
The Xbox Live Summer of Arcade for 2011 officially kicks off with Bastion, the premiere title from developer Supergiant Games, and sets a high benchmark for the upcoming games in Microsoft’s summer downloadable line-up. Bastion offers fast-paced strategic combat, incredibly beautiful art direction, a healthy amount of customization, and one of the most memorable narrators in recent memory. It seamlessly combines all of these traits into a fantasy action RPG that players won’t forget anytime soon and easily ranks as one of the best downloadable games released for the platform to date.
In Bastion, you are dropped into the boots of a silent protagonist known only as “The Kid”. After waking up from a world shattering disaster known as the Calamity that has killed just about everyone and left his home in ruins, The Kid seeks refuge in the Bastion, a safe haven which acts as the game’s hub. From here, it is up to you to travel to the broken remnants of the once proud city and collect crystals cores and shards that will make the Bastion whole so the civilization can start over.
The actual story isn’t particularly ground breaking as having to restore a place to it’s former glory by collecting various items is something seen in tons of games and the few twists are pretty easy to see coming. However, the standard story is elevated in the way that it is told. Strong writing and the delivery of the narrator, who is always describing the events unfolding on screen, breathe new life into what would otherwise be a by-the-numbers plot. There is also a healthy amount of back-story to uncover for those who want to know more about the world of Bastion, all of which is worth seeking out, and two endings to see, which encourages a second play through.
The combat is simple to grasp using two primary attack buttons, each of which controls one of two weapons the Kid can have equipped at one time, which include a hammer, a spear, dual pistols, and a trusty bow just to name a few. Every weapon is effective up until the end and can be upgraded multiple times using items you either find in the world or buy at a shop, so experimentation is encouraged. You can also perform a dodge roll to avoid incoming attacks, put up a shield to block or deflect projectiles, and use a damaging special ability that is activated by drinking a potion, which varies based on what weapons you are carrying.
While the controls are easy to understand, don’t think that means the combat devolves into mindless button mashing. Combat in Bastion requires quick reflexes to get out of the way of incoming attacks and lay into an enemy while he has his back to you. Keeping your distance and playing defense is an effective and advised strategy, as charging in blindly swinging your weapon usually doesn’t end well. The game is challenging, but never unfair, constantly providing you with health potions and giving you a few extra chances should you die in combat. Another aspect to keep an eye on is your footing. The world of Bastion is in disarray and accidentally falling off the edge of a platform is a constant hazard. Thankfully, the penalty for falling is minor, only costing you a small amount of health. Unfortunately, one rare, but still annoying occurrence is the game failing to put you in a practical location after falling, resulting in a loop where you watch as your character falls off the world multiple times with no way to prevent it. It’s an uncommon issue, but an issue nonetheless.
Most of the time upon returning from a stage you’re given the chance to renovate the Bastion by constructing a building. At first, building an arsenal or forge has the most immediate benefit, allowing you to swap out and upgrade your weapons respectively. But as you progress and level up from combat, you’ll want to build a distillery, which lets you equip tonics for each level you earn that provide passive abilities like extra health or a higher chance for critical hits. One building in particular, the shrine, does the most to change gameplay, as it lets you activate idols, which make the game significantly harder, much like the skulls from the Halo series. The rewards for overcoming this enhanced difficulty are worth the effort, but turning on idols is only advised for those who are looking for a real challenge.
Upon completing the six-hour adventure, you unlock a new game plus option, allowing you to replay the story with all your experience, weapons, and upgrades. Since it’s impossible to reach the maximum level or unlock everything your first time through, jumping into a second run through is encouraged. There are also three combat arenas that have you fighting numerous waves of progressively harder enemies. This seems like a standard addition, but surprisingly it’s in these arenas where Bastion provides a good amount of its back-story. After each wave, the narrator gives you a piece of a characters history. The only way to hear everything is to press on through to the end. It’s a clever device and gives you incentive to overcome the increasingly difficult odds.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing Bastion is the beautiful hand painted art style. This is a game dripping with awe inspiring detail with every inch of the environment lovingly crafted, bringing life to a world with equal parts beauty and destruction. The bright colors contrast the bleak setting the game creates perfectly. There is nothing that looks quite like Bastion. One minor issue is that occasionally objects in the environment will obscure your vision of enemies, but it usually doesn’t get in the way of gameplay all that much.
Adding further to Bastion’s sense of style is the sound design. The narrator delivers the excellent dialogue perfectly, commenting on almost every action you take. If you dally for too long or fall off the world often, the narrator won’t be afraid to poke fun at you for it. He’s a constant presence and never gets irritating to listen to. It’s hard to envision Bastion without the constant voice of the narrator guiding you along. Then there’s the soundtrack, which, like every other aspect of Bastions presentation, is excellent. Each song compliments the atmosphere and the few songs with vocal accompaniment are delivered beautifully. Bastion is a remarkable looking and sounding game all around.
Bastion is an achievement on many levels. It’s has great action that will keep you on your toes, has plenty of things to do for completionists, and impresses with it’s amazing art direction and sound design. As a flagship title for Supergiant Games, it cements the developer as one to keep an eye on. Bastion is a remarkable title and there’s no reason you shouldn’t add it to your Xbox Live Arcade library.