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August 9, 2011

Review: Bastion

Posted by on Aug 9, 2011

Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning. Ain’t so simple with this one.
Now here’s a kid whose whole world got all twisted, leaving him stranded on a rock in the sky.

If I told you that was the narration for the opening sequence to a game, would you get excited? You should, because that’s exactly how Bastion starts. It’s a live action RPG available on Xbox Live Arcade for about 2000 Microsoft points (that’s about 30 wampum beads for those of you who like made up currency, $15 for those who do not), and it is excellent. Editors Note: As of August 16th, Bastion is also available for Steam.

Bastion shows that in the world of multi-million dollar blockbuster games like Modern Warfare 2 (which is honestly just so-so), a great game can be made that retails at a much lower price point. All it requires is a little innovative thinking and playfulness. The result is a game that’s intriguing, fun to play, and supremely casual. This isn’t Oblivion, which more resembles a garden out the back of your house – requires constant tending and you’re never quite finished with it. No indeed, Bastion is more like a game of pickup basketball – you play it when you feel like it, when you have a moment to spare, and you enjoy yourself when you do.

The World

Ground forms up under his feet as if to point the way. He don’t stop to wonder why.

The Bastion resides in a colorful world that floats in the sky – when you walk towards a place where there is a path, it comes up in pieces underneath you. It’s a really cool dynamic – you are never quite sure where you can go, since you can’t see the way before trying it. Some of the paths are broken and fall beneath your feet as the force that holds them together weakens. Everything is splattered in hues of green, red, yellow and blue. It’s as if the world itself is alive – which is interesting, because ‘The Calamity’ just happened and you appear to be the only survivor.

The Story

‘The Calamity?’, you ask. Who knows. One of the best parts about Bastion is the curiosity of the story: Skyways run across the sky connecting regions of a now-broken land; stone statues of people stand where they were when the Calamity struck. Your job? To travel across the world, bring back the cores so that the Bastion can grow stronger and rebuild itself, and find any survivors. It’s not a terribly complex story, but what sells is it the narration. You feel the tired world and the loss of what existed before the Calamity, thanks to the brilliant narration. I’ve been sprinkling quotes in here because it’s just so good. To really do it justice, watch this video of the first five minutes:

The Gameplay

Finds his lifelong friend, just lying in the road…. well, it’s a touching reunion.

Your lifelong friend is your trusty hammer, the first of 8 weapons you can have. Bastion is at heart a live action game – you smash your way through your enemies as fast as you can. Most of the world is destructible too, including the walls on the sides of the path that prevent you from falling off. If you do fall, you’ll get returned to the level with a minor loss of health. As you fight your way through the world, defending yourself from Gasfellas – the inflated angry denizens of the post-calamity world – you find new weapons and upgrades for your existing ones. You can carry two weapons in addition to your shield at any given time, and there’s a variety of ranged and melee weapons to choose from. The tactics you use will vary based on the weapons you choose – the repeater gun forces you to stand still while you fire, while the Breaker Bow is powerful but slow. This helps keep things fresh and interesting, since a change in weapons essentially changes the way you fight. You also choose one special skill that can help get you out of tight situations; your options depend on the weapons you have chosen.

The gameplay is fast too – in fights you’re often significantly outnumbered and have to dodge around enemies before they hit you. Timing is important: well-timed blocks do critical damage, and so do some weapon strikes. There’s a sense of urgency which fits in well with the collapsing world.

All in all, Bastion is an excellent game, and a prime example of how impressively an inexpensive title can stand shoulder to shoulder with the major blockbuster games coming from EA and Activision. I honestly find Bastion far more fun than something like God of War – the latter might be fancier, but the former was made with passion.