Every once in a while a game comes along that changes everything whilst never really doing anything different.
Take Team Fortress 2 for example. Its core game play was just like that of every other first person shooter released up until that point. You had a gun and you shot people. What was new? Very little. Instead it was its execution and its presentation that made it stand out from the crowd. Suddenly we all realised that first person shooters didn’t have to be grey and realistic to be enjoyable. As long as the game play was solid and the maps were spot on, whatever they looked like was just an added extra, and when they looked as unique as Team Fortress 2 well hell, that was just the icing on the cake.
So along comes Bastion, an action RPG by indie developer Super Giant games. Game play wise, this game is your run of the mill hack n’ slash title with RPG elements such as experience points, upgrades and multiple weapon sets. So far so Torchlight. However whilst playing the game I found that the execution of this very basic style of game play (the player has a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, a shield and a special move at their disposal) was incredibly well executed, especially when Bastion’s battles focus more on skill and timing rather than the conventional method of button bashing. It’s quite a refreshing formula, and you’re constantly required to block and roll out of the way of danger, which leads to some intense battles between the player and the games primary enemies, the windbags.
Early on you’ll be facing basic enemies that come in three forms, and each of these forms have around two different variations to make sure you’re constantly on your toes. Later on in the game, you’ll experience a plethora of different nasties that want to do nothing more than ruin your day, around fifteen in total, each one as varied and as unique as the last. It’s always a pleasure to play a game that takes pride not only in the aesthetic design of its enemies but also in how they move, react to your attacks and of course, how they try to tear you limb from limb.
Luckily, Bastion makes sure that you’re always prepared for such attacks with a large number of weapons and special moves. Throughout the game the player stumbles upon weapons like they’re going out of fashion, each one perfectly suited for nearly every playing style. Are you a ranged weapon fan? Here have a musket, a rifle, a bow or a revolver. More of an up close and personal kind of guy? Then have a sword, a hammer or a spear.
You can equip two of these at any time, along with a special move which can be used a limited number of times depending on how many potions you have. All weapons can be upgraded six times, and each upgrade gives the user the choice of two new benefits, such as increased damage or an increased chance of landing critical hits. You can only equip one upgrade attribute per upgrade at one time, but you can always go back and mix and match. Oh, and on top of all that, each time you reach a new level the game allows you to equip one new “tonic” which have varying benefits to the player (such as increased strength etc.) These can also be mixed and matched at any time.
It’s this strong focus on preference based customization that I feel is the real strong point of Bastion’s game play. All weapons are perfectly capable of dispatching all enemies with ease, as long as they’re fully upgraded, so it’s really all about whatever you feel comfortable with using. It’s great fun, but it’s certainly not the most exciting thing that Bastion has to offer…
Bastion is beautiful. I mean, just look at the screenshots on this page. The game is stunning and is easily one of the best looking games I’ve played in a long time. Listen up gaming industry, because Bastion has an important lesson to teach you all. Good graphics aren’t just about how many individual hairs you can make out on Nathan Drake’s head, instead it’s all about style. All of the locations and elements within the world of Bastion are hand painted and strikingly colourful. Each location has its own distinct colour palette and it really does convey so, so much whilst saying so very little.
It’s important for me at this point to mention that the world of Cealondia, the world your character (known only as “The Kid”) inhabits, has experienced an event known only as the calamity. This catastrophe literally tore the world apart, leaving a lot of it floating in mid air. As the Kid navigates this strange take on a post-apocalyptic world, the city literally rebuilds itself thanks to a piece of the Bastion he carries on his back. This is possibly the most important design choice Super Giant games have made when it came to designing Bastion, as when you navigate your way through the city’s ruined landscape, the world literally throws itself up into the air just in time for the Kid to continue his journey safely. It’s something you have to see in action to really appreciate. The floating, destroyed world of Cealondia is rich with unspoken lore and never fails to constantly impress the player. I’ve never been so excited to see what the next level would hold, purely in terms of design whilst playing a game before.
If you’re not instantly swayed by the art style however, I can assure you that you’ll fall in love with the soundtrack. Primarily western in style, it also contains some electronic and eastern European folk elements as well. I’m not really very good at explaining what music sounds like, so you may as well have a listen for yourself:
It’s good isn’t it? Imagine that blaring whilst you’re navigating a world that literally appears in front of your very eyes, smashing down a hoard of windbags with a huge hammer. It’s stylish, it’s unique and most of all, it’s fun.
The best part about Bastion however, is still yet to come.
As many of you may already know, I have a bit of a stonk on when it comes to games with interesting approaches towards narratives. Take L.A. Noire for instance, a game that was driven almost entirely on its film noir plot, a game that forced the player to not only rely on their skill but also their intuition in order to advance to the next stage of the game. It was a fantastic way of conveying a powerful story, and it certainly kept me hooked for the extent of its campaign.
Bastion takes things a little differently in terms of narrative by having a character known as Rufus (an actual NPC in the game) narrating every moment of Bastion in its extent. He speaks about the environments, the characters, the enemies, the weapons, skills you acquire and even passes sarcastic comments regarding your failures (especially when you fall off the edge of the world. It may not take much health off you, bur Rufus sure won’t let it slide). It’s such an inspired way of telling what is, at its core, quite a depressing story and it really helps that Rufus has this fatherly, caring tone to him. Check it out by watching the trailer below:
The story itself revolves around the Kid (the player) and Rufus (the narrator), two lone survivors of the calamity meeting at a safe place known only as the Bastion. Together, they set out to rebuild the world they’ve both lost, meeting others along the way.
For a downloadable indie title, I must admit I got completely immersed within this magical world of windbags and skyways. By the end of the fairly lengthy story mode, I was so emotionally attached to this bunch of characters who, I should mention, never really speak to you directly but through Rufus’ narration instead, that I never wanted the experience to end.
At the end of the day, I can do nothing but recommend Bastion to all of you. It is one of this years greatest releases, and you’d be a windbag not to at least try it out.