An impressive first try
We all know Bastion is an incredible game. It's absolutely stunning to look at, sounds like Kurt Cobain's voiceless ghost, has an impressively deep number of systems that keep the game evolving on and on. It's an awesome experience and deserves pretty much every bit of the credit it gets. So rather than say what's already been said by pretty much everyone in the industry, I want to give a critical assessment of what wasn't done quite as well because it seems like the flaws, small though they are, were a bit forgotten in the high of playing such a refreshingly new and exciting game.
Let me be perfectly clear. Bastion is one of my favorite games of all time. It holds company with the original Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, Borderlands, and the Half Life franchise.
Much like Portal and Portal 2, Bastion brought much needed originality to the industry. No, a new genre did not spout up from this game. It's not exactly an original game, but none the less was one of the most interesting and unusual experiences I had in the industry in quite some time. It showed that not only could a Downloadable game could be a GOTY competitor, but that a two dimensional game without much in the way of motion cut scenes, without sweeping vistas and Hollywood voice actors could craft one of the most interesting and original stories video the industry has come to see in a long time, and one of the best to boot. With nothing but excellent use of 2D art and superb sound design, Bastion introduces you to a world with more depth than just about anything short of a Bioware/Bethesda RPG.
But it's not perfect.
Acquiring New Weapons
One of the first frustrations I noticed in the game was the way the game forced new weapons onto you, even as you upgraded and perfected techniques with a weapon you had grown fond of, you often had to go through major portions of levels using a new weapon, without a choice (as far as I could tell) to just put it in the ol' rucksack and continue on until you got a chance to try it out and put a few upgrades on the weapon. Admittedly, some of those levels were built to put those weapons to great use, but the only time it seemed like that was particularly true was the level you get the Brusher's Spear. An awesome weapon to be sure, but not really till you've thrown some upgrades on it, because it simply can't compete with a nearly fully upgraded hammer or machete.
For a game that gives you so damn much choice, from the Idols that make the game more challenging in interesting ways; to the variety in weapon upgrades that can give more speed, more power, more range, and entirely to features: it felt odd to be stuck with a weapon I didn't particularly like to play with (the mortar, particularly by the end of that level, wasn't much fun without the very very useful upgrades), especially if I had a certain set of weapons set up in such a way that having this new one totally messed up my playstyle and ended up making the game less enjoyable. A simple "do you want to equip this now?" dialogue would have been nice. I'd have tried the weapons out on my own time, but being forced into it and potentially ending up with kind of a crummy combo wasn't much fun.
I appreciate when games try to get you to mix things up, but at the same time, it'd be nice to have the option to just do that on your own. Generally I wouldn't use a weapon until I had finished the challenge for it, and put some upgrades into it, and maybe tried it on the survival bits. And once I had figured out the weapon's actual application in a normal level, had lots of fun with it! The problem was that a level tailor made for that weapon ended up not teaching you how it'd be useful in a level that was more average by the game's standards, and sometimes it seemed like it wasn't even really the best weapon for the job.
I'm sure most people will chalk this up to me using the same two weapons throughout the whole game. But that's not true at all. I've generally kept to the Breaker's Bow for my ranged, but my melee has changed constantly over the game, and here and there I'd try the other ranged weapons. Spent a lot of time with the Musket, and have been meaning to try mixing things up with the pistols. The issue isn't about my comfort zone so much as the fact that the game has levels specifically designed to challenge your ability to use theme, and the game has a freestyle sort of gameplay space for you to try out and figure out new weapons. I don't see the need to force you to use those weapons for any length of time.
Hit Boxes, Collision, etc.
My next biggest issue is more of a technical one. The hit boxes, particularly on enemies, tend to be pretty not great. I was playing with a Mouse and Keyboard, which maybe has something to do with it, but they give you a cursor, and I actually generally really like games that control that way. The issue came when in order to hit an enemy, especially with a ranged weapon, you had to figure out how the hit boxes differed from the sprites, which for some targets was significant. Particularly anything that was off the ground, like squirts, or the targets you find in a few of the weapon challenges. The Repeater challenge, you'd think would be mad easy with a mouse and keyboard, even without using the lock on. But I struggled with it incredibly, thinking I was just doing something wrong. I didn't bother with the lock on because A) the game does a poor job making it clear that it's not just for blocking (holding the "lock on" key does the same thing as the "block" key, bring up your shield), and B) I was using a bloody mouse, I shouldn't need the lock on. Problem was, putting my cursor on the target and pulling the trigger often resulted in completely missing the target. And I don't mean grazing the target with the cursor. I mean full on the target. Even after kind of figuring out to aim a bit below the target, I still wasn't having much luck. I just wasn't landing my shots. I was doing fine till the last leg of the challenge, after a very very long time of trying, and mostly because I picked up on the easy way to kind of cheese the challenge (don't move on to the next path until you have to, and shoot the off screen targets before you go that way to buy extra time), but at that point I wasn't able to make up for any time I lost when I missed a target.
I'm pretty good at using a mouse. I play at very high DPI/sensitivity because I'm good at being precise, I'm not sloppy. I put the cross hair on the guy and shoot. The target isn't moving, and the spread of the weapon has nothing to do with it. I eventually got used to it and was pretty decent with aiming without letting the game do it for me (the only time I used lock on to aim was usually for the little green eye ball fuckers, and just cause it was satisfying to just suddenly turn and shoot em), but even after a good few hours of playing the game I would still miss attacks that as far as I could tell should have landed if not for the poor job of applying hit boxes to sprites.
But it wasn't just the enemies that were a bit tough to deal with. While the game usually erred more in the way of caution with the level... geometry? I often found that edges were either hidden behind fluff (lots of bushes and the like that you'd roll into and suddenly find yourself falling from the sky. But at the same time, I often found myself falling through small holes that in any other case the game would happily have me rolling over, or getting too close to the edge and just falling anyway.
My biggest issue came however with how ENEMIES react to the edge of the world. Perhaps it's an issue of the size of the enemies and what have you, but there were times that enemies would hover well past where they should seem to be able to, even in cases floating without touching any other part of art other than the backdrop of the level. This was particularly annoying in the pipe dream area where the narrator actually suggests that you lead the scumbags off the edge of the world, but half the time they careened "off" of the level, they just managed to float there and come back to hit me in the ass while I was busy dealing with other enemies. It was stuff like this that ended up being a repeated problem, where as usually if I fell off the world in a shitty way I just moved on so it was never a huge deal, just an annoyance that happened almost every level at least once.
This ended up being one of my most significant issues with the game, not because it was the one I ran into the most, or because it was the worst, but because it was the least nit-picky. The way blocking with your shield works, at least with mouse and Keyboard, is kind of terrible. I don't want to always lock on with my shield when it's so important to face the right direction when blocking and you rarely face a single enemy. I don't know why my cursor isn't the thing aiming my blocking, especially when there is a key supposedly dedicated to locking on and another supposedly dedicated to blocking (they seem to be awfully similar, as the both perform both functions regardless). And hitting a button to switch targets is never good. It never works well, it's too slow to react when you've got 15 enemies on screen, and it's not much fun to deal with.
It wasn't even consistent about cursor bias towards the target it chose to lock on to, sometimes it would get the closest target even if I had my cursor red over another enemy, sometimes it would bias towards my cursor. It was a bit clunky, and I found the blocking challenge to be pretty damned hard because of it.