c_rakestraw's Bastion (PC) review

"You did good, Kid."

A small slab of land rests suspended in the sky; a young boy sleeps peacefully, unaware of the cataclysm that's transpired around him. You press a key and -- "he gets up," says a deep, male voice. You start walking toward the small archway to the left the boy's bed. As you do, the ground begins re-forming beneath him. He keeps moving, not stopping to think about this strange phenomena. That mysterious voice, commenting on his every action as if spectating right alongside you, the player, guides him forward, his trusty hammer in hand.

And thus begins your journey to the Bastion.

"Smart," "imaginative," "magical." Words that distill the experience Bastion harbors. It crafts an intriguing tale of a world gone wrong, a world-shattering event known as The Calamity plunging the world into disarray, and the kid who's going to fix it. Chronicled by a mysterious old man, Bastion sets out to regale a heartfelt story of hardship, wrapped in the intricate mold of a hack-and-slash role-playing game. In this voyage Bastion succeeds, having created an absorbing, compelling world set against an enthralling narrative.

It all began when The Calamity struck. Everything -- from the cities to the wilds -- gone, now but mere shadows of their former selves. Few survived, the young protagonist -- referred to as "the Kid" by the narrator -- one of the lucky folks to come out unscathed. He travels to the Bastion, a safe haven where everyone was told to meet in the event of a disaster. There, he meets an old man. He tells the Kid all about the Bastion. Apparently, its power is locked, kept dormant until the world's cores unite. According to him, bringing the cores together activates the Bastion, supposedly delivering the world from its cruel fate. So the Kid sets off to search for cores, maybe find some other survivors along the way.

The Kid fights a couple of gasfellas. They don't move very fast, but they attack hard.
In Bastion, the entire story is told through narration. The voice of the narrator is the only one you'll hear, the only company you get on this lonely trek through the wastelands of Caelondia. As a storyteller, he eschews the long-winded diatribes so common in games dense with exposition. He tells this tale in a terse manner, wasting no time in getting straight to the point. Though brief his sentences may be, they're still rife with back-story, exploring many different facets of Bastion's world and its inhabitants. Listening to his reflections on the old world greatly flesh out the setting, revealing a rich history to indulge yourself in should you choose. The majority of his speech, however, pertains to The Kid's actions and those of the environment, announcing everything that occurs on-screen, scripted or not.

Interesting fact about Bastion's narration: its reactive. Do something out of the ordinary (say, go on a destruction spree) and the narrator will comment on it. Minute details like that may seem of little importance, but acknowledgement of your actions grants immense gratification. It gives the impression that you're actions carry some actual worth. Because the feedback you receive stems from actions you'd never think would be noticed, hearing the narrator talk about them feels much more rewarding a way of making you feel like you're dynamically participating in this world. Most of the game's events are scripted, but the speech isn't. It feels organic, unpredictable. Almost as if the narration were being pumped directly to you from the actor.

Bastion displays itself from an isometric viewpoint, presenting a grand panorama of its graciously crafted world. A living tapestry of shattered beauty, the lush, imaginative, frontier-era fantasy landscape depicts itself with loving, hand-crafted detail. Watching the world form before you, fragmented lands rebuilding themselves to a semi-normal state, continuously awes. To get a glimpse at what the world was like before catastrophe struck -- it's a remorseful moment. Walking down the dilapidated, empty streets of once heavily populated cities, the narrator lamenting the poor souls who didn't survive the Calamity, while a soft, almost melancholic theme hums quietly: it really drives home the tragedy that's befallen Caelondia, urging you onward to complete your quest.

Moving through the carnage-ridden paths of Bastion takes some care. Very rarely do barriers surround the edges of the world. One misguided roll sends the Kid hurtling down the abyss, landing back on solid ground with a few bruises. The WASD-key combo for movement feels limiting, eight-directional traversal at times seeming less-than-optimal. On diagonal pathways in particular, you have to swap between vertical and horizontal input constantly to create a semblance of proper traversal while crossing angled walkways. Annoying, but the solidity of the overall control layout compensates for its quirks.
 Kid takes aim at a pecker, the bird completely oblivious to his presence. Taking those pesky birds down's a snap with the Carbine.
In combat, the mouse accounts for attacks and aiming. The cursor acts a reticle, the direction its facing determining where the Kid strikes, the left- and right-mouse buttons deciding which weapon he uses. Under the frenetic conditions of battle, the mouse and keyboard combo hold up well. All the important functions -- using health potions, dodging, interacting, etc -- place themselves in easy reach, preventing you from fumbling about perplexedly. The manual aim the mouse offers brings an extra layer of skill to the proceedings, though the handy auto-aim from the Xbox version still finds itself here, regulated to the shift key, which also brings up the Kid's shield, in the event that things get too hairy for manual control.

Bastion's combat remains simple on the surface, boiling down to clicking furiously to bring down foes quickly. The strategy needed to fight back effectively, however, staves off monotony. Your adversaries, ranging from hooded, humanoid figures with ghostly bodies wielding pickaxes, to massive flora that spews flurries of tiny spiked spores from its maw, do not hold back. They attack relentlessly, mercilessly, doing everything in their power to over-power you. Charge headlong into battle and defeat won't be far behind, the enemy's vast numbers instantly engulfing you. To survive, you need to employ strategy. Not immaculately, of course -- the game moves far too fast for careful, elaborate plans.

You need to be able to think fast on your feet. Reacting to sudden changes in the environment (the ground can sometimes break away) and the movements of enemies is crucial. Because once embroiled in combat, you don't get many chances to stop and calmly assess the situation; you can only concern yourself with staying alive. The hectic atmosphere of battle especially manifests itself in the arena challenges, where you're pit against twenty increasingly difficult waves waves of adversaries. In those instances, it's pivotal that you select a strong weapon combo. Any mistake can spell disaster.

The Kid amasses a wide arsenal of weaponry over the course of Bastion, from swords to guns. He can only carry two weapons at a time and one special attack to use in conjunction with one of the two, forcing you to carefully consider which two to take. Though each has its pros and cons, no wrong choices can be made. Literally any assortment works. Like to go for the direct approach? Take a hammer and machete then, tearing and smashing creatures and objects alike to pieces quickly and efficiently. Or maybe you like to keep your distance, in which case a bow (or a rifle) and a couple of pistols would do nicely. The key to their versatility lies in the upgrades, which allow you to extensively customize them to your liking. Focus on increasing damage dealt, crowd control, reloading speed, whatever -- the choice is yours. Again, there are no wrong choices.
 Pincushions: the Wilds' own sentry system.
Upgrades can only be assigned at a forge, which can only be found at the Bastion once you've built one. Upon returning with a core in hand (the Bastion acts the hub), installing it into the Bastion's center causes the place to restore itself, granting you the choice of one new establishment. An armory, a shop, a forge, a memorial (where upon you can earn fragments -- the new currency -- for completing certain conditions), a shrine, and a distillery (where you can spec out the Kid's stats and passive abilities) are your choices. You'll build them all by default, the choice lying in the order they're built.

The shrine is the most interesting of the bunch. Here you can invoke idols of Caelondia's deities, which enhance the game's challenge by increasing the damage enemies deal, making them drop bombs upon defeat, or letting them randomly deflect attacks. For activating them, you earn more experience points and fragments. The more you activate, the higher the percentage of extra experience gained. When playing through the game a second time with the new game plus benefits (all your progress from a previous play-through being carried over), the modifiers grant a welcome additional challenge.

After you finish Bastion, you're likely to want to go through it again. No specific reasons why (well, nothing I'm about to spoil, at any rate); only that you want to keep playing this spectacular title. Everything comes together so well. The storytelling blending seamlessly with the gameplay, the frenetic pace of battle delivering a constant, enjoyable struggle. That this is Supergiant Games' first creation says a lot about the studio's talent. For anyone to create something as well crafted as this is an achievement all its own; that it was done by an up-start team of seven is even more astounding.
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