Bastion – Review

Platform | Release Date
X360 | July 20, 2011
Developed by Supergiant Games
Published by Warner Bros.

The Pitch:

Bastion is an action role-playing experience that redefines storytelling in games, with a reactive narrator who marks your every move. Explore more than 40 lush hand-painted environments as you discover the secrets of the Calamity, a surreal catastrophe that shattered the world to pieces. Wield a huge arsenal of upgradeable weapons and battle savage beasts adapted to their new habitat. Finish the main story to unlock New Game Plus mode and continue your journey!

Storytelling is a finely honed craft. Great stories often depend on great storytellers; someone who can do more than recount a sequence of events. A great storyteller will lure in his audience, captivate them, and have them hanging on his every word. It is rare to see this art translated to the medium of videogames, and in Bastion we find not just a great story, but a great storyteller.

After the charmingly lush visuals, the narration style is one of Bastion’s most instantly noticeable aspects. You start the game an unnamed kid lying asleep who, at the push of a button, jumps up and heads off into the unknown, a strange voice retelling his every move. The narrator is sometimes humorous, often poignant, and always central to the experience. The lore of this world, both its history and potential future, are retold almost entirely by this one voice. The game hands out these tidbits of information sparsely with brilliant pacing and cadence, leaving the player consistently desperate to hear what’s next.

The base story is something of an apocalypse tale. The kid is waking up in a world struck by something called the Calamity, and he’s working to gather powerful crystals to restore the Bastion: a floating island with the power to repair the world. Throughout his journey he struggles against a world that has changed in dangerous ways, as well as the Ura; a tribe that have long opposed his people.

Each area feels distinct, and the narrator explains what its purpose was before the calamity and what it has now become. Likewise, each new weapon the kid finds is accompanied by backstory that explains its use in the world before. As the kid continues restoring the Bastion, he erects new buildings around the island that can be used to swap out weapons, upgrade them, add passive bonuses, etc. Each weapon is deeply customizable using upgrade materials found, purchased, or won throughout the world.

The kid can carry any two weapons with him at once, and picking up a new weapon will automatically equip it until you have a chance to swap it back out. This assures players will at least try out every weapon, though it wouldn’t surprise me if most got comfortable with a set pair like I did and maintained them throughout the game. My kid was a wielder of the carbine and machete, giving him outstanding aim and power at range, and pure striking speed when up close. I enjoyed trying out all of the weapons, from mortars to hammers to muskets, but returned to this standby setup consistently.

As shown since the first gameplay of Bastion was released, the world seemingly rises up from nothing around the kid as he runs. One of the distinctive aspects of the game is its sense of height; the player is continuously confronted with areas surrounded by immense drop-offs. Falling off the world thankfully doesn’t cost the kid his life, only a portion thereof. This system is not without fault, however, as on a few occasions I was respawned in a location that was otherwise inaccessible. When this would happen I would be unable to escape the respawn point, and would be forced to restart the level over again. Thankfully these issues were minimal, and the levels were short enough that I was only set back 10 minutes at most.

As engaging as the actual gameplay mechanics were, they were not the driving force in the game for me. As the story unfolded I found myself continuously charging forward to hear the next bit. I brought every “worthless” found item back to the Bastion so the Stranger could tell me what it meant to this world. As the kid continued to build the Bastion, my knowledge of this world that was lost was being built in lockstep. There was a palpable feeling throughout the game that as important as it was to go through the steps of gathering shards and rebuilding the Bastion, it was as important, if not more, for me as the player to understand what it was that had been lost. The game was building towards something, and it was imperative that I was informed to meet it.

The game fulfilled that promise brilliantly, and wraps up as well as could be wished. Bastion is, in the end, a game with more heart than gamers are used to finding anymore. It is a deeply rewarding and enriching story, told in one of the most compelling ways imaginable, and is a shining example of what videogames can bring to the art of storytelling.

About Adam Bash

Adam Bash was the host of the Fall Damage podcast and is currently a contributor to Splitkick. He helps make the site do things.
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