Bastion, a game by new founded indie studio Supergiant Games, is an action RPG that covers many bases of what makes a good action RPG and does it quite well. It reminds you, constantly, that a good action RPG has elements of great gameplay, great narration and also a great environment to submerge you in.
Bastion starts you off with no real spoken dialogue by any of the characters directly. Instead, the story is primarily told strictly from a narrator that passively speaks of what has happened in the world. You, known as simply “The Kid”, starts off on a quest to rebuild the world that was destroyed by the Calamity. The story is subtle, maybe even too subtle from the get go but for those listening in and paying close attention the details, a deeper engrossing story becomes revealed and does so at the right times. The pacing of the story is not overly emphasized right from the start, which lends itself well considering the player is most likely trying to understand what is going on, both story and gameplay wise, rather than finding the reasoning or means to why it happened. It’s a linear story with not a lot of surprises that would twist your arm but it is a deep, thought provoking experience that will be jarred into your head for quite some time.
The whole world is told only by the narrator but it is such a dynamic experience due to the fact that he reacts to certain key events and flags that can occur in the game. For example: using a certain combination of weapons will invoke a comment from the narrator, stating how the weapons complement each other. Never does he acts like a tutorial that holds your hand but he will mention something if you seem to be lost. With over 3,000 lines recorded, most likely you will not hear it all on the first playthrough. Heck, the narrator says that The Kid was put on notice when you fall to an enemy… Seth Killian reference? Probably. The delivery is amazing and the written work that Greg Kasavin put in along with the voice of Logan Cunningham as the narrator just makes you want to keep listening and keep going with the game… But that alone does not make this a great game.
Bastion has a very familiar feel to it. The combat and the gameplay is simple to learn and if you have been playing games for awhile, it can be easy and rewarding to master. The combat feels like I’m playing Street Fighter III: Third Strike with a bit of Legend of Zelda with a spoonful of Diablo II. The game rewards you for having a level of finesse by giving you several abilities to not only defend yourself but to so counter if timed proper. Things do hit hard in Bastion but most if not all the damage is avoidable. The only real time it felt like a cheap death for me was when I was moving a bit too fast and ended up facing a turret right in the face and going from full to zero. Though, I guess if I wasn’t trying to blaze through everything, I would have avoided that.
Bastion features various ways to improve your character. There’s the traditional level system but it also comes with the added ability of being able to attach these tonics upgrades to your character which act like perks. These can range from having a health tonic heal you to full or doing more damage when you counter an attack. There are 10 levels to gain and thus you can have 10 of these tonics active when you’re capped out. There are also weapon upgrades which give these weapons an added function or a boost in damage/effect.
Thankfully, the progression of the game does not quite allow you to become a god right from the get go. Because of the capped linearity of the game, you will start off with only a few weapons. As you keep going, you’ll have 11 very diverse weapons in your arsenal. It’s actually hard to say which weapon would be best and that’s a good thing because they all will fit different playstyles. It is a very fine balance that’s hard to achieve. Not only that but each weapon does have different options per upgrade that does not cost extra to change back and forth. Not going to do the numbers but that’s… a lot of combinations and builds.
Perhaps one of the great features I’ve seen in Bastion is the ability to up the difficulty (and rewards). Bastion offers this option but not just in some ambiguous ” hard mode” but rather lets you add in certain perks that the enemy gets. Much like Halo’s Skull System, the Idol system gives you more rewards for playing through the game on a handicap given to the enemies. Wanna go full blown hard mode? Turn all 10 on!
I can’t even begin to really talk about the music and the art. The art is all hand drawn 2D sprites and the music… amazing. Something you’re just going to have to experience when you play the game (and believe me, you will want to buy this game).
But what about longevity? Any extra stuff to the side? I will admit the Bastion can be a fairly short game, especially if you’re only intending on playing the game through once and put it away. There’s no exploration element, no puzzle solving or even an extra ending for getting “everything.” However, the game is not about that and doesn’t try to be like Legend of Zelda. As such, the game does offer a good chunk of things to do beyond the scope of finishing the game and it’s all mostly stat progression and challenges. With that said though, the game does encourage going through New Game Plus, an element that is in a lot of RPGs which keep your stats and items but starts you over again. To many, I feel that the game will wear itself thin after a second playthrough but those seeking a greater challenge (especially with the idols) will find themselves at home.
Bastion has a lot of strong points that makes it into a great game. I feel that if the game was any longer, it would be too drawn out and I feel that the cutoff point where you would complete the game is just perfect. The presentation is memorable and the message it delivers is quite clear. The only downside is that I feel that the extra side elements to the game could have had a little more to offer but I’m quite content with what I have played. With the impending Steam release coming out later this week, I invite more people to buy and play Bastion. It’s a fun experience that offers so much for a single player action RPG.
This review was based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of Bastion, having played on and off for over 2 weeks and finishing the game in roughly 10 hours. As of this writing, MogKnight has hit the halfway point of New Game Plus with about 6 of the 10 idols active… MogKnight is a soldier he is but he wouldn’t dare try to turn all 10 on… That’s just asking for it right there.
Update: With Bastion now out on Steam for all the PC users to play, I feel that it is right to append this review. The biggest change between the PC and the Xbox 360 version of Bastion would have to be the control schemes. With the PC version giving you more control options with mouse and keyboard, I feel that it is only right to bring attention to this as the options they give you are not only amazingly different but fully customizable as well.
Before I go into the controls though, the PC version does feature 1080p support, compared to the Xbox 360′s 720p max. It also has Steamworks support and no silly DRM.
There are three different control settings, each catering to a different crowd and each actually delivering a fairly different gameplay experience.
Slinger-Style is the default control style for Bastion. It is much like a shooter-style control scheme where you use WASD to move and your mouse to attack and aim. The controls are great for quick and exact aiming but I felt there was one problem: The diagonal movement (like when you hold up and right) is exactly 45 degrees. Bastion, though isometric, is not angled at exactly 45 degrees so you will find yourself moving in a zig-zag like motion a few times. Otherwise, for the go-to control scheme, I found this to be great.
Mason-Style is more focused on mouse movement. Best way to describe this something like Diablo where you click-to-move. It provides a strong analog feel to The Kid’s movement and focuses most of your actions on the mouse. This is a pretty unique control setup and I would say to give this a try if you want a different feel for the game. It feels like your normal PC action RPG but with a few twists.
Trigger-Style is the original controller setup used in the Xbox 360 version. It is what it is and I feel that after playing on the Xbox 360 version for awhile, this would be what I would use.
The great thing about these different control setups is that they are all re-mappable. You can change your buttons to whatever feels just right for you. Combined with the fact that Bastion is already such a great game, I can say that the PC version is the superior version by a long shot. Even Supergiant Games themselves stated that the game was built as a PC game.
With all that said, Bastion is definitely a buyer even on the Xbox 360. If you have not had a chance to check out the original review for it, please check it out and go hit up Bastion on Xbox 360 or Steam. Demos are readily available for both platforms as well. Otherwise, buy this game. You won’t regret it.
Update 2: Wow, that was pretty fast of Supergiant Games to address the isometric issue. As posted on the Steam forums by one of the developers:
Hey everyone, check the sticky topic for details about our latest update. We plan on continuing to update the game on a regular cadence with little fixes and enhancements based on the feedback we’re getting, so thanks again for your support.
One change I wanted to call attention to is a new commandline parameter called -isomovement.
If you’re using Slinger-style WASD controls, we invite you to try this out as follows:
-right-click on Bastion in your Steam library
-click “Set Launch Options”
-type “-isomovement” without the quotes
Then run the game as normal.
Your character’s diagonal movement will now more closely adhere to the isometric perspective.
We’re interested in your feedback on this change so please let us know what you think.