Bastion Review

It seems that in this day and age of gaming, it’s the indie and arcade games that are really paving the way forward with interesting gameplay or story mechanics. Bastion, developed by Supergiant Games, is certainly one of these games.

On the surface, Bastion is a Diablo-esque, hack-and-slash RPG that offers a diverse range of weapons and skills customisation. However, there’s a lot more under the surface that offers both an enjoyable and incredibly beautiful experience.

Supergiant Games
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Arcade), Steam PC (reviewed)
Single Player
Release Date: (Xbox 360) July 20th 2011, (Steam) August 16th 2011
Release Price: $14.99 USD for Bastion or $24.99 USD for Bastion and soundtrack, 1200 Microsoft Points on Xbox 360

Upon starting the game, one of the first things you’ll notice is how vibrant and colourful everything is. This is continued throughout the whole game and; even in the darkest of places, the hand-painted backgrounds are simply glorious to look at. With over 40 lush environments to see, you’ll be spending as much time taking it all in as you will finishing the story. These hand-painted artworks are shown piece by piece as the world literally builds itself around you, floating up from under your feet, seemingly out of nowhere, and different parts of the environment can be blasted into a thousand pieces. The enemies are nicely varied and each has its own interesting features, though many look very similar and you’ll tend to see the same 10 or so of them throughout all the locations you visit.

The story is fairly straightforward, as with many RPGs. You, known only as the Kid, awaken alone on one of the few remaining pieces of the old world to find that it has been destroyed by an event known as the Calamity. Without further guidance, you set off on your way to a place called the Bastion which is, as the name suggests, a last defence for when the world is in strife. Once there, you’re instructed to collect Shards to build up the Bastion to its full glory, with each shard located in a separate map and each map located in a different part of the world, from swamps to old cities.

While the collection of Shards makes up the majority of the story arc, there are also challenge areas which are split in to two sections; weapon challenges and monster challenges. Weapon challenges are specific to each weapon, and unlock once that weapon has been discovered. Each weapon challenge offers three separate prizes depending on how well you do, and the prizes are items generally used to upgrade the weapons further. Monster challenges, accessed by items located at the Bastion, are used as a narration tool to give further background information about the Kid and the world he lives in. These all start with the Kid being knocked out or passing out and having to take on 20 waves of different enemies while the narrator gives the background story. I found these to be incredibly interesting as the Kid is somewhat of an enigma and these help to flesh him and the world out quite a lot.

As you progress through each map you’ll find more weapons and can outfit the Kid with any two of these at a time. So you might choose to use a machete in one hand and a shotgun in the other. Or a war hammer and dual pistols. Each can have their damage, accuracy and other special features upgraded at the Bastion by using Fragments (bits of the old world before the Calamity) which are dropped when you kill an enemy or destroy the environment. These are also used when purchasing spirits, which offer special buffs to the Kid, or in the Lost-and-Found building to purchase items to upgrade your weapons.

The controls are fairly typical of this type of genre, with a basic layout and simple combat system. Using a reticule to aim and a left or right click for their respective assigned weapons, dodging with the space bar and blocking with shift, it’s not hard to master. Unfortunately, it seems like this was a simple port from the console to the PC. Running along the often slanted roads in the isometric view, I found myself having to do some awkward finger twisting with the ‘WASD’ keys that, had I been using a controller, might not have been so difficult. It was also awkward that the Kid dodges in the direction held on the keyboard or when blocking targets the closest enemy rather than where the reticule is aimed, which would have made more sense. Overall though, the controls are easily adjustable and simplistic enough to cause little to no problems (besides occasionally falling off the side of the world).

Where the game really drew me in was in its soundtrack. It is, quite simply, stunning and it’s clear to see why the decision was made to sell it packaged with the game or as an entirely separate purchase. From the old west in the Bastion itself to an Indian tune during combat, Bastion‘s influences seem to range entirely across the globe. Not only that, but all songs intertwine perfectly, as though it were one continuous soundtrack.

Alongside the soundtrack, narration plays a huge role in the flow of the story. The game incorporates a unique feature known as ‘dynamic narration’ and this was a great choice on the part of the developer. The wise old man you meet in the Bastion, Rucks (voiced by Logan Cunningham), gives a running narrative as you continue on in the story. Not only that, but at times he’ll make a passing comment specifically relating to your play style. For example, during one particular encounter he commented on the fact that I had been using the same gun the whole time. It’s the little bits like this that really help to make the game come alive and make the story feel as though it’s your own.

While it’s not often I’ll play through a game and really take the time to sit back and take in the beauty of what I’m looking at, this ended up being exactly what I was doing during my play through of Bastion. It’s obvious that a lot of time and dedication were put in to both the hand-painted art and music by the development team. As well as bringing me more deeply in to the story, it caused a real sense of childhood wonder reminiscent of a parent reading a bedtime story to a child. At times, Bastion felt like a lonely place to be and I felt that some sort of multiplayer inclusion might have helped to broaden the games replay factor a little. However, with the use of the narration, and fairly linear story, it’s understandable that no co-op was included. For the first release from Californian game developer Supergiant Games, Bastion proves to be an incredibly enjoyable action role-playing game with a rock solid soundtrack and fantastic art work making it a well recommended purchase.

* Bastion was reviewed on Steam, but is also available on Xbox 360 via Xbox LIVE Arcade. The Steam version has extra inclusions over its Xbox 360 counterpart, including 1080p Resolution, Custom-Tailored PC Controls, is DRM-free and Steamworks Enabled.

7.5 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.

Steam Screenshots & Artwork

Xbox 360 Screenshots