Review: Bastion (Xbox Live Arcade)

It’s typical, really. You leave town for a few days, and everything falls apart.


What follows is an adventure across scattered, shattered landscapes, as you try to put the pieces back together again. This would be a relatively solitary affair but for the talkative, hard-boiled narrator, who not only explains the storyline, but actively comments on your actions and mishaps. His constant chatter add personality to the proceedings, and even helps foster a real sense of connection between you and your character, The Kid. Which is no mean feat, considering that said protagonist is both nameless and without voice.

The setting is wonderfully inventive: post-apocalyptic settings are hardly unusual, of course, but I’ve never seen one with such a wealth of imagination and colour as the one on display in Bastion. Every new area is a pleasure to explore, allowing you to discover sumptuous new sights and sounds (the music is fantastic throughout), even as you learn more about the world that existed before the Calamity brought about its collapse.

Of course, wonderful graphics aren’t everything. Bastion has been compared to Japanese-style action RPGs, so as someone who doesn’t generally enjoy that genre I was worried that Bastion wouldn’t be able to hold my attention for long. The comparisons are understandable, with Bastion fulfilling several of the standards expected of that genre – you direct a hero with a variety of weapons to unlock and level up across a large world, viewed from a fixed perspective. But it turns out it has something that games like the Mana and Zelda series lack: a decent storyline, and combat that isn’t mindnumbingly dull. Which, it turns out, count for a lot.

Where the aforementioned games seem content to use their enemies as little more than speed-bumps, Bastion throws hordes upon hordes of enemies at you, each requiring different tactics to defeat. The eleven weapons you unlock are very distinct, and highly customisable: each can be improved up to five times, with every step along the way offering two different options. So you might choose to have your bow penetrate multiple enemies and knock them back, or have it deal heavy damage to a single opponent, poisoning and stunning them. Experimentation is encouraged, and any upgrades can be altered without penalty. Finally, to help you learn how to use your weapons (and your shield, which is crucial to your success), each has a proving ground associated with it: a map which will test your abilities with the weapon, rewarding skilful usage with further upgrades.

Oh, and the game allows you to pile further challenges upon yourself. Many RPGs force you to level up in order to get past certain sections; Bastion opts for the opposite. If you want, you can comfortably blast through the game without trying to earn extra money or experience, but should you want more challenge you can invoke any of the gods of the game’s pantheon: each of which makes the game more challenging in their own, unique way. Every god invoked increases money and experience earned, but makes the game considerably harder – particularly if you choose to invoke multiple gods at once. This, combined with three dedicated combat stages (all with their own online leaderboard) adds a surprising, competitive element to the game, and demonstrates just how seriously the developers have taken their combat engine.

To be honest, that would probably have been enough for me – a satisfying combat engine and gorgeous graphics would be enough to carry me through most games. But, as it turns out, Supergiant Games also know how to weave a narrative. There is the occasional cut-away to still images of events, but the vast majority of the plot, backstory and exposition is told to you as you play by the aforementioned narrator. A technique which, it turns out, manages to be both unobtrusive and effective. The narrator is himself a character in the game, and the entire conceit has a satisfying pay-off come the end of the game. The tale itself is surprisingly well-crafted: bittersweet and surprisingly uncomfortable, there are situations where you’ll question your actions, even as the narrator explains why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Despite featuring a tiny cast of characters, the game deftly builds up their relationships and pasts, building up to a fantastic finale – one I’m not about to spoil. Suffice to say that the ten hours or so it takes to finish the game are well worth it – and should you be worried about that not being enough gameplay for the asking price, know that there are good reasons to want to start anew. Like many games of its ilk, completing the game unlocks a “New Game Plus” mode, which starts you off with all the experience and equipment of your previous game, while offering a few new tools and gods to invoke. But even if you’re only interested in the story, there’s reason to go back: there are irreversible decisions you have to make in the game, and it’ll take a strong will not to want to go back and see what you could have changed.

There are a few niggles which give away that the developer is a tiny, four man team. The loading screens can be a bit on the hefty side, and there are some issues arising from the game automatically switching your weapons whenever you pick up a new one, but these are such minor flaws in the face of what is such a genuinely brilliant game that I can’t see why you’d let that put you off. This is a beautiful, epic game more than worthy of your money. Buy it already.


2 Responses to “Review: Bastion (Xbox Live Arcade)”

  1. 1 Eric 26/07/2011 at 7:29 pm

    Great review. I am playing through “New Game+” right now and loving every minute of it. This is just an awesome game all-around, and I am glad that it is getting a lot of recognition.

  2. 2 Yann 26/07/2011 at 7:39 pm

    Yep, it’s heartening to see the game getting picked up on by so many outlets – one of the advantages of being a) a Summer of Arcade title, and b) absolutely gorgeous, I don’t doubt. The fact it’s bloody good probably didn’t hurt either.

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