Wednesday 15 February 2012


The Title Screen

GameViewBastion GameView

Bastion is an isometric, action RPG by Supergiant Games. Released in 2011, this indie production is available on Xbox (XBLA) and PC (Steampowered). It features a single player campaign only.

The First Thing
Indie projects can often be expected to lack in certain areas, due to less funding and manpower than the triple-A titles. But with Bastion, my first impressions were of high standards and polish. Personal opinions aside, it is clear that the developers have spent time making sure the game has style. The music and artwork is both original and shows dedication to making a good product.

'The Kid' and Ruck

The Plot
The Kid (you) wakes up to find himself floating in the sky, on the pieces of a broken world. He heads for the Bastion, a safe place in times of emergency. There he finds an old man, Ruck, who tells him that 'The Calamity' has ruptured the planet and killed most of the people. The Kid must adventure into the world to search for survivors and retrieve sources of power. If he can return power to the Bastion, maybe the destruction can be undone but the world is a dangerous place now; everyone has their own agenda.

It seems the plot is intended to be a little vague. There is never any detailed explanation of the situation and it should be treated like a puzzle that is slowly filled in, but never completed. Eventually enough pieces are discovered to provide a good idea of the overall picture.

Bastion features a highly innovative plot device for progressing the story: constant narration. The character 'Ruck' is also the narrator for the game and he describes events as if he was telling a story. He speaks in short sentences that relate to what the player is doing, but delicately so that events do not feel rigidly determined. Any interaction between characters is summarised by the narrator, and character history is explored in specific "Who knows where" levels.

Navigating the broken world

The Game
The core of Bastion's gameplay involves travelling to different areas and retrieving an item, or person, for the Bastion. These levels are usually quite short and all have the visual style of being assembled in front of the character (once assembled, they are permanent). Platforms are often filled with many destructible objects that can be used to block line of sight and falling off will not kill the player, but will remove some health. These levels feature varied enemy types that often require different approaches. Enemies are encountered either throughout levels, or spawn in waves.

Kills reward in XP and currency. There is a 'levelling' system, but it is not extensive. Levelling up only awards slight maximum health increase and an extra tonic slot; players can choose which tonics to equip. Tonics can be found in the world, or bought from the store, and provide passive bonuses (more damage, more health, one more life, etc). However, it is up to the player to choose which structure to build, or upgrade, in the Bastion. e.g players who want to upgrade weapons will build a forge first, but players who want to buy some items will build the store first.

Weapon upgrades for the War Machete

From the armoury, the player can pick their weapons, and special attack. The weapons function in a variety of ways and have an unlimited supply of ammunition. The player can only equip two weapons (not including the shield), and new weapons are discovered throughout the campaign in the world. Special items can be found (or bought from store) that are used to upgrade weapons at the forge. Each new upgrade tier costs one weapon specific item, and currency. Each weapon has ten upgrades in five tiers; one upgrade can be active per tier. The choices are usually the standard found in RPG games.

Enemies have one, and therefore predictable, attack, but this does not automatically make encounters easy. Choosing wisely between mêlée or ranged weapons is important. Nearly every attack can be blocked by the shield, but only if directly facing the attack; it is not possible to shield and attack simultaneously. Combat in Bastion is about timely attacking and defending, as well as quick repositioning without falling off the world. There are no typical boss fights, but there are occasional unique foes that are harder. Cover can be used from ranged attacks, but most cover will eventually be destroyed.

Combat often features multiple opponents

The player has one 'retry' every time they visit an area, and the difficulty of the regular game is not particularly challenging. There are no checkpoints or saves and a death after the one 'retry' results in starting the level fresh. However, Bastion places the choice difficulty into the hands of the player. Those finding it too easy can activate idols that reward in more XP, but increased difficulty. There are ten idols in total and I found that activating two provided a good challenge, so activating all ten would be very hard. The game also has a separate achievement system that provides a few tasks that will reward in currency; some of them basic and some of them tricky. There are also optional levels where only a designated weapon can be used to complete a challenge, and how the player performs will determine the quality of the reward.

The game supports three control interfaces: Mouse and Keyboard, Heavy Mouse driven and Gamepad. I felt the gamepad was the most natural, but you definitely sacrifice some precision by not using a mouse that can be frustrating at times (the gamepad uses an 'target-lock' system to compensate that isn't particularly impressive). However for most of the game, the gamepad was excellent. The player can move and roll (no crouch, jump or sprint). Normally I would use the mouse and keyboard, but it did not feel as quite right.

Bastion features a fantasy, hand-drawn art style inspired by some of the earlier games in this genre. Great care has been taken to ensure the world is colourful and engaging; often using the style to illustrate the mood. The soundtrack is an original creation and combines fantasy themes with American Old West. The sound effects are fairly solid and the voice acting from the narrator is well done, with a consistently convincing performance.

Customising tonics is an important playstyle choice

Wrap Up & Negatives
The levels are detailed and always adhere to the art style, but occasionally it is not clear what can, or can not, be walked upon. Once or twice I walked off the edge of a platform because something in the background looked like an object. No other character moves in game; any time an NPC is met, they are standing still. It seems that it was too much to animate another character into the art style. This slightly hinders immersion and makes Bastion feel like an interesting picture, rather than an interactive game.

Gameplay can get repetitive. Each level is the same cycle: go there, get something, come back. Short levels is not negative, but more gameplay innovation towards the end would have been nice. There are a few special levels in more of an arena style, but more I think would have helped.

The game was pretty bug free, but once or twice enemies did get stuck.

I massively enjoyed this game. The Narrator is not only an amazing idea, but the attention to detail with it is staggering (he has possibly more lines of dialogue than any other game. Ever.). One point when he counted aloud how many times I nearly fell off the level was so unexpected it made me laugh.

It took me 7 and a bit hours to complete and is definitely worth the price. There is a lot for completionists to do, and some of the optional weapon levels are quite hard. It is not possible to achieve every upgrade and item in the game with one play through; you can start a new game with previous upgrades. The art and music style is extremely well implemented and suits the game perfectly. The plot is alright, but the delivery is just fantastic; and the ending was honestly quite moving.

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