Bastion. A strong supporter. A fortified place. A location of safety. The title of an excellent debut game by Supergiant Games, a recently founded independent developer. Similar to other recent indie developers like Mojang of Minecraft fame, Supergiant Games has put its best foot forward as it steps boldly out into the world with a superb solid action role-playing, single-player hack-n-slash game. But unlike some other indie games hitting the market, the brilliance lies not in the gameplay, but in the storytelling.
Bastion’s greatest triumph is the invention of the narrator; his voice is a constant companion to the player and lends to a singularly immersive experience with no breaks for long cut-scenes or text-block infodumps between player-controlled sequences. The narrator’s commentary manages to never grow tiring or repetitive and he gives a feeling of life to the game, his smooth drawl providing a steady stream of exposition on the world and commentary on the player character’s actions in-game. The often small, detailed touches of his narration provide the player with a feeling of truly being a part of the story and possessing a personal stake in what is occurring. This sentiment continues to grow right up until the tale’s end, the climax of which provides choices for the player that go beyond the simple decisions of good and evil that plague the branching endings of today’s modern games; when I reached them, I actually had to lean back in my seat to pause and think on what to do.
It’s difficult to talk about the story without spoiling the experience. It starts slowly and jumps directly into the protagonist’s shoes without introduction, leaving the player blind to the world and left to find their way through it with only the narrator’s company. The story comes out gradually, like a trail of breadcrumbs that draws the player’s interest and leads them along further and further in. Tidbits of information are constantly revealed to the player as they journey, leaving them to wonder what lies within the blanks and trying to piece the narrative together as the picture of the world is progressively painted for them from blank canvas before their very eyes.
And Bastion truly does appear to be painted, with the visual style providing gorgeous visuals that makes the very most of its isometric viewpoint. From the characters, to the enemies and the environments, the hand-painted style provides a treat for the eyes. As the player character constantly progresses through the game world, the art style works to provide new spectacle for the player and keeps the level design from growing tedious or dull.
The gameplay makes efforts towards the same, and while Bastion’s base hack-and-slash mechanics are regular fare for the action role-playing genre, Supergiant has still put forth due effort to provide variety within what remains a solidly built system. With set piece scenes, the occasional boss fight, and optional side-missions, the experience stays fresh rather than showing the sameness present in many games within the genre. New customization options are laid out in a constantly growing array for the player to choose from, furthering the sense of the personalized experience that the game imparts.
The player character has the choice of two weapons, a special attack, and passive abilities which are all fully alterable in the game’s hub between levels. The narrator will provide hints as to the strengths and nuances of each combination as it is chosen, and each weapon as it is discovered. The side mini-games give the opportunity to upgrade the capabilities of your weaponry by running the player through trials to prove their mastery of their equipment. There are yet more choices in this, as the upgrades will often modify and add effects to how the weapon operates rather than simply boosting damage, which all proves to increase the range of available play styles and combinations to still greater heights. Even the difficulty is modifiable to your heart’s content through an innovative structure, allowing the player to take on specific challenges to face in their battles. The developers even go as far as to give every single one of these mechanics a satisfying and interesting in-game explanation that provides a unity of game design elements and narrative.
Bastion’s music is no exception and provides flavor to each scene in which the player finds himself. As with everything else, the developers made sure to go the extra mile and have crafted a diverse soundtrack for Bastion’s shifting moods. The soundtrack ranges from a pounding and intense wild western adventure, to a haunting and melancholy drama that sweeps you into a remembrance of things past. Each song stands tall on its own merit and in-game they serve to emphasize the tone and events onscreen.
Bastion is an example of excellence in execution and another fine addition in the growing independent gaming scene. It is comparable to the wacky Castle Crashers in color and fun, and Limbo and Braid’s deep, evocative ambiance. All told, Bastion is greater than the sum of its parts, with nearly unparalleled flow between them. The narrator ties the entire thing together, allowing the story and mechanics to be introduced smoothly into the experience and provides a touch of life and polish to the package. Bastion introduces an element of replayability into it all, even after the first playthrough is all said and done; the desire to discover everything it has to offer makes Bastion an experience that will linger in your mind even after you walk away.
Final Call: While the gameplay in Bastion doesn’t break any new ground, it is still solid and varied, and provides the foundation for the rest of what Bastion has to offer, the mesmerizing aesthetics and masterful narrative imparts a lasting and immersive experience.
- Great story and immersion.
- Beautiful hand-painted visuals and soundtrack.
- High replay value and new game plus mode.
- Gameplay is tight and responsive.
- $15 price tag, available for download on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade.
- Doesn’t break any new ground with the hack n’ slash gameplay.
- Game only lasts 6-8 hours per playthrough.