By Drew D. / October 18th, 2018
|Original Release Date||July 20th, 2011|
|Platform||PC, XBox One, XBox 360, PS4, Vita, iOS, MAC, LNX, Switch|
Since the time of their first game debut, Supergiant Games has acquired an impressive reputation from game developers and indie gamers alike. Their origins stem from former triple-A developers that wanted to break into the indie scene and the culmination of their first development efforts was Bastion. Simple gameplay paired with pure style, Bastion impressed from the start and continues to do so. It’s no surprise Bastion almost instantly made Supergiant Games a recognizable name in the indie community and placed the studio on many gamers’ radars.
The story of Bastion begins right after the end of the world. An earth shattering event, called the Calamity, has decimated most of the population and has literally torn the lands away from the world, rendering them to large pieces of floating debris. You play as the Kid, one of the few survivors, and explore these floating isles for anything, be it survivors or answers. Almost immediately, you find your way to the Bastion, a central hub with its own secrets. You also meet Rucks, who serves as both guide to the Kid, as well as narrator for the game. Through him, you learn that the Bastion is not only a refuge, but can serve other purposes, one of which could perhaps provide an answer to the Calamity. To restore and empower the Bastion, the Kid has to explore what remains of the now floating lands to collect Core and Shard crystals.
Bastion’s story is memorable and remarkable, from its detail to its style of narrative. One major aspect of its storytelling is finding out about the Calamity in regards to its cause and consequences. Another is the story focus through individual thoughts and feelings of the few people you meet during your playthrough, rather than a wider, or encompassing, perspective. The Calamity has affected the whole world, yet it’s through the eyes and emotions of a select few that this story is told. That striking contrast serves the narrative for the better, as it makes the Calamity personal and I found myself wholly immersed in the struggles of these characters because of this approach. Hearing their recollections and seeing their points of view adds depth you wouldn’t get from a more distant approach. As Rucks, our narrator, talks about the history of Caelondia, the Ura, and their previous war, it’s his narration style that adds grit to the conflict, as well as feelings of remorse and disappointment as the story unfolds. Then there’s the narration itself, as it’s presented reactively. Everything you do as the Kid is remarked upon by Rucks. Rather than him guiding, it’s up to you to move first, and then that elicits a narrator response. The reminiscing style works incredibly well, as it fits with the historic tones of deep-seated hate, loss, and regret.
Story wise, the one aspect I felt could have been stronger is in regards to the Bastion itself. The only details we receive are that it possesses some sort of power and that you can build facilities on it. We also learn it’s powered by Cores and Shards; their pursuit the heart of gameplay. It’s never explained how the Bastion actually functions, though. The game is named after this component, so more detail in regards to it would have been appreciated. Instead, we are expected to simply accept it for what it is, “Where everyone agreed to go in case of trouble.”
With this individualistic style implemented for storytelling comes opportunity for impressive characterization. Rucks is a fantastic character, with his rough and tumble style of speaking. He’s like a cowboy plucked out of 1800’s Western America. His persona and speaking style gives the entire game a beaten, weathered tone. He’s also full of knowledge and experience, so for him to serve as narrator is not only fitting, it’s memorable. Zulf, an Ura native you meet fairly early, is equally noteworthy. His pain is palpable and his actions later on are understandable, even agreeable. Although it’s mentioned that every survivor has lost something, Zulf stands out because he previously had the most, so consequently, he lost the most. Among the characters themselves, opinions and thoughts clash and differ. When presenting them with Mementos found throughout the game, they each give a personal response, for example, where Rucks would give a regretful response of a particular item, Zulf may give an indifferent response. Or, if Zulf shows disapproval, Rucks may show sympathy. Their unique perspectives bring life to these characters. Then there’s the Kid, your silent hero. Similar to such heroes as Link or Samus, the Kid speaks through action, willing to do what’s necessary. Although we do find out more about his past through his Dreams in Who Knows Where, his actions are what define him. Although he tends to fit the silent type trope at times, Rucks’s responses to his personal actions, such as when he talks to Zia when she arrives, give him the character depth to stand out. Although the time spent with these characters is short, I’m glad I did.
While I am impressed with story and character quality, when it comes to gameplay, I found much to be desired. This is an action-RPG with hints of adventure and platforming. Most of gameplay focuses on combat, with the Kid generally equipping a melee and a ranged weapon. Melee weapons include the Cael Hammer and War Machete, each having distinct power, range, and attack speed. Ranged weapons also have varying strengths and also have either a setup or reload delay. They can be strong, single shot weapons like the Breaker’s Bow and Army Carbine, or weaker, faster, multi shot weapons like the Dueling Pistols and the Repeater. Melee weapons are limited to a few strikes, for example, the Cael Hammer has a two-hit combo when standing still and a weaker strike when on the move. The War Machete has no distinct strikes, it’s just quick and weak. That’s it when it comes to combos. Along with utilizing a shield and an evade move, combat is simple, but not very deep. The only real depth comes from what pairings of weapons you choose to equip. The variety is great, but I wish different combos or combat schemes were made available with the different pairings of weapons. I’m not asking for Bayonetta or Devil May Cry level complexity here, but it seems like an opportunity squandered.
There are also elements unique to Bastion’s gameplay, such as Skills and Power Shots. Power Shots are more powerful attacks that depend on timing. Weapons that require a setup, such as drawing the Breaker’s Bow, aiming the Army Carbine, or charging particular melee weapon Skills, all have a particular moment when the Kid will flash. That’s when you need to let loose the attack for a Power Shot and maximum damage. As for Skills, they are bought, unlocked through challenges, or acquired with new weapons and they range from dealing extra damage to area of effect impact. Some are weapon exclusive, for example the Stunning Wallop is a strong, charged strike for the Cael Hammer, which also utilizes the Power Shot timing element. The Breaker’s Bow’s Dancing Shot makes your arrows ricochet and strike nearby foes. Many of these skills’ usage is limited to your Black Tonic capacity, which are dropped by enemies or found within a stage. Personally, I like the variety of Skills, as they add needed depth to combat. Testing out different skills and discovering your favorites, as well as having an ace in the hole, is definitely one of the highlights to gameplay.
Other gameplay elements include your standard level system, upgrading, a challenge system that makes the game more difficult, and a New Game +. Leveling up has few benefits, such as increasing your capacity for spirits that provide stat boosts and other perks. Upgrades have a far greater affect, as you can upgrade not only your weapons, but facilities such as the forge, where you upgrade weapons, or the distillery and shop, which increases items available. The challenge system is based around the game’s Pantheon where players can activate god idols that alter the difficulty of combat in some way, from giving enemies more health, to greater attack speed. Activating these idols give greater experience and fragment (currency) rewards. New Game + allows you to carry over all your levels, weapon upgrades, and unlocked skills. You can finish unlocking everything, give yourself a greater challenge, or try to discover the very few remaining extras that NG+ hides. While I personally did not find NG+ to be worth the time, others may, due to the short length of the game.
Outside of combat, gameplay is a linear trek from start to finish. There is very little exploration and even less platforming. While there are hidden items to discover, from small caches of potions and tonics to dead ends with fragments and Mementos, none of these require any real searching. There are no alternate paths to take, you just have to divert from the main path enough for these small dead ends to appear before taking what’s there and moving on. Linear gameplay devoid of any real exploration hurts, especially with such visually stunning and alluring play fields. It’s a missed opportunity to add depth and while this does keep things simple for less experienced gamers or those playing on mobile devices, anyone aware of how the play area builds upon itself will have zero difficulty finding these hidden secrets. For more experience gamers, it’s almost effortless to find them, adding nothing to the experience. Another missed opportunity and one that could have added needed length to the otherwise short game. Overall, gameplay is the weakest link to the game and although there is fun to be had, it’s lack of depth is far too noticeable and genuinely unfortunate when compared to the high quality points this game manages to deliver.
Speaking of high points, perhaps the best quality to Bastion is its aesthetic appeal. The audio and visuals are fantastic, easily the most striking characteristics of the game. The painted art style and the theme of dilapidation are beautifully executed and I enjoy the way the play fields build as you move. I also like that the hidden items and even an achievement are tied to moving around and triggering as much play area rebuild as possible. The colors and detail that went into every resurrected segment is astonishing as well. I found myself stopping many times just to appreciate the work that went into the art. The artists really made it feel as if this was a truly majestic, yet rugged world, with such detail that went into the remaining surroundings. To pull off such attention to detail that so sharply contrasts with the disheveled qualities of the world is amazing. I also love the artwork stills that are used during cutscenes. These are remarkably well drawn and give the characters more life, as they are depicted in a number of ways. The artwork showing Zulf’s introduction is one example, as it conveys the Kid holding out his hand for a casual introduction that fits his style, whereas Zulf bows to demonstrate his more formal demeanor. If there’s any one part of the game that will stick with me, it’s the visuals.
No less impressive, however, is the musical score for this game. Darren Korb does a tremendous job adding life to the levels with his work. Every melody manages to fit the events on screen perfectly, emphasizing the tones of derelict and danger on screen. His use of a strong, heavy beat, many times reminiscent of hammer blows or anvil strikes, fits the Kid’s physicality and incursion through the wreckage. Ashley Barrett does an equally impressive job with her vocal contributions. Her voice is magical, especially with Build that Wall, adding emotion and personality to Zia’s character, of which this song is her theme. My only complaints are with the songs with lyrics. To me, they come off as slightly amateurish. Again, with Build that Wall, while I enjoy the tune, I find the strict use of the painfully common AABB rhyme scheme unsatisfying. No one ever said your lyrics have to rhyme at all, as it’s not some music commandment for the last words of phrases to rhyme. For Mother, I’m Here, Korb only treats us to two verses and a chorus, many lines of which repeat to the point where I question whether Korb could think of anything else to write. Finally, the limited use of Ashley Barrett’s amazing vocal skills is just plain disheartening. Forcing a rhyme scheme along with uninspired lyrics makes this issue stand out for me. Other than that, the soundtrack is incredibly strong and Korb’s melodies fit the game’s style perfectly, powerfully adding to the overall atmosphere.
Bastion is one of the strongest first efforts I’ve seen from an indie studio, easily standing out even amongst triple-A titles. While not perfect, this game has so many bright spots that it will definitely become an instant classic to whomever plays it. If you can tolerate the simplistic combat and linear gameplay, Bastion is definitely one to recommend for any fan looking for an intriguing story, noteworthy characters, and some of the best aesthetics and style around.
Actionamir raoBastionDarren KorbFantasyRPGsuper giantSupergiantSupergiant Games