Bastion‘s greatest strengths lie in its wonderfully consistent art direction and dogged insistence upon telling its story on its own terms. It is a testament to experimentation in how game narratives are conveyed in its focus on continuous storytelling, rather than relying upon breaking up the flow of the game with cutscenes or similar player control alientating methods; it is playful; it is beautiful. Bastion is very much a missive to the worth of a strong indie scene in the game development community: Bastion is a series of ideas, some more worthy than others, stitched together in a unique way to create a cohesive whole that offers something somehow more than the some of its parts.
The game’s story puts the player in the middle of a colourful world that has found itself the victim of some sort of cataclysmic event that has led to all “human” life being eradicated and the world somehow deconstructed. Upon the player character, The Kid, initially waking up and moving to leave the room in which he has been sleeping, something that sets the tone for the rest of the game happens: the rest of the level reconstructs itself upon the player moving to its current limits: rectangles of paths are raised from the nothingness below the level to their proper positions and the game’s much praised narration starts to describe the actions of the player. That voice – that wonderful voice of molasses and a certain as-yet-unexplained forlorn – guides the player through the game’s world and provides useful hints: its primary function, however, is in explaining the Calamity that has led to the current state of the world and what needs to be done to restore order, as well as providing a running commentary of the player’s conduct. Banks of responses are included in the game to cover events such as defeating enemies, collecting items and falling off the edges of the platforms that make up the levels. This commentary is wonderful, and not carried at all by the quality of the narrator, fantastic though it is: the value of it lies in the feeling of affecting the world that it lends to the player. Formerly insignificant actions, like collecting a bottle that restores hit points, are given an extra layer of context by the narrator’s commentary. Particularly worthy of note is a level late in the game where, rather than commenting on the actions of the player, the narrator is engaged in relating stories of the world prior to the Calamity to another non-player character. This provides the player with an opportunity to learn more about the world without breaking the flow of normal combat, making the narrative delivery wonderfully rich in a world dominated by the game sequence followed by cutscene paradigm.
Bastion plays like pretty much any other action-RPG, with WASD allowing for player character movement and left and right mouse buttons corresponding to differing types of attack that can be leveraged by the player, with Q being bound to a special attack that consumes one of the three black tonics that the player can carry. Evasive rolling and defensive use of a shield, while not deviating from the control tropes of the genre, flesh out the combat of the game, adding an element of skill in the application of their use. The weapons invoked by the right mouse button also have a “sweet spot” for the release of the button in the Power Shot mechanic, allowing for further depth in the combat system. As may be expected from the game having even the slightest of RPG DNA in its systems, experience points are rewarded for the collection of items and defeating of enemies, with the promise of a level-up being delivered after the collection of many of these points. It is worth pointing out that the game, aside from a bar indicating progress between one level and the next, provides no indication of numerical progress between levels: while not game breaking, a true indication of the proximity of a level-up would be appreciated at the all-too-frequent points when the bar appears to be full, but defeating no number of enemies will push the bar over into the next level. Such concerns, however, become less worthy when the player realises that, aside from a nominal increase in maximum health, levelling-up only allows the player to carry more spirits: items that provide some buff or another to the player character. Provision of such a levelling-up mechanic seems somewhat overkill for functionality that essentially boils down to being indicative of how many of the game’s levels have been completed.
Aside from the main story missions, weapon-based challenges are available on the game’s map. In each of these, the player takes up a sole arm and is expected to complete a challenge within a certain time or within certain tolerances of number of uses of a weapon in order to receive items as a reward for meeting the fairly stringent conditions put on these achievements by the game. While these add some variety to proceedings, they are somewhat narrative-flow breaking and serve to undermine a lot of what makes the game compelling, particularly with regard to narration.
Bastion is structured such that, after every story level, the player is returned to the Bastion: a structure that is of great importance to the progression of the story. The player is able to insert Cores and Shards that have been discovered in the story missions into the Monument here and select buildings to be created in one of the six spaces that are available on the platform. The choice presented to the player of being able to decide which buildings go where is somewhat illusory: the same six buildings will always be built and upgraded by the close of the game, given that there are six cores and shards and six places to put things. The buildings on the Bastion are, for the most part, what one would expect from the RPG ecosystem: an Arsenal to change weapons; a Forge to upgrade weapons; a Lost and Found to purchase items using the “Land” obtained from defeating enemies in story missions and the challenge missions; a Memorial for picking up optional side-quests; and a Distillery for choosing spirit buffs to take into missions. The building worthy of note, however, is the Shrine: here, observances can be made to Gods in order to make the game harder by, for example, making enemies regenerate health. In exchange, the player will receive more Land or more experience for their exploits. As well as providing a wonderful level of tailored difficulty, this allows for the player accepting a little more risk for a little more reward: the basis of all compelling gameplay.
Bastion is a work of beauty: wonderful design direction combined with incredibly competent execution of this clear artistic vision. Its gameplay, however, is lifted from any action RPG with very little innovation of its own brought to the table. With that said, the execution of combat is done in a manner that allows it to feel fresh due to the aforementioned design: yes, we are still clicking to fight, but we are doing so in a world the likes of which we have seen nowhere else. An average combat system in an extraordinary world, Bastion is definitely worth a play and definitely an effort worthy of support for its creators.