Bastion review

By Jeff Mattas, Jul 19, 2011 7:45am PDT

Ever had your world shattered? That's quite literally the problem that players will face in Bastion, SuperGiant Games debut title for Xbox Live Arcade. The action-RPG takes an interesting approach to the well-established genre, including familiar customization-based gameplay mechanics that cater to individual play-styles. If you've been following the game at all leading up to its release, you already know that one of Bastion's most touted features is its dynamic narrator. Far more than just a gimmick, Bastion's narrator adds ongoing color and context to each scene, often commenting directly on the actions the player takes, in real-time.

The game's titular Bastion is a hub-like area that serves as a between-mission staging ground. However, even the Bastion hasn't been able to escape a world-destroying event called the Calamity, and is in a state of disrepair. Throughout the course of the adventure, the game's protagonist--known only as the Kid--flies to nearby worlds in search of crystal shards that will allow him to restore the Bastion and the world to its pre-catastrophic state.

As one would expect, there are swarms of different enemies to fight along the way. Bastion's primary enemies--like Squirts and Gasfellas--come in a variety of sizes, but are soon joined by more and more enemy types, each with their own attack and movement habits. Enemy variety isn't purely cosmetic, and players will find that some bad guys prove much easier to defeat with specific tools from the Kid's arsenal.

There's also a great deal of visual variety in the environments where the Kid will go in search of new restorative crystal cores, though each new area begins in a state of disrepair. As the Kid runs through each location, the pathway and environments form magically in front of him. Not only is watching the environment build itself around the Kid visually impressive, being able to see forward progress reflected in such a tangible way also creates a subtle sense of satisfaction on its own. I was also quite impressed by the game's score, soundtrack, and sound design.

The dynamic and well-paced nature of how the game's narrative is delivered to the player impresses throughout the game, and each bit of dialog exudes a poetic coolness that does wonders to set the game's mood and the personality of its characters. The game's backstory and ongoing narrative are also peppered with mystery and intrigue, often raising more questions about the world than they answer. While the specifics of the story are best experienced firsthand, I will say that they did a great job of compelling me to play just one more level, and then another.

So strong are Bastion's achievements in presentation, it can be easy to overlook how solid the underlying gameplay is. Anyone with a few action-RPGs under his/her belt will feel right at home. Very early in the game, the Kid obtains his first weapons--a giant hammer, and a projectile-firing Repeater--as well as a shield. As the adventure continues, more ranged and melee weapons are unlocked with great frequency, each bearing their own unlockable special attacks and choice of upgrades. Would the hammer and bow suffice, or should I go after an in-game achievement using the machete and rocket launcher? Whatever my choices were, each weapon was unique and fun enough in its own right, with each combination of weapons subtly influencing my approach to combat. With the ability to dodge, block, and unleash weapon-specific power moves in the mix, success in Bastion isn't just about wading into a hoard of enemies and spamming the attack button.

Restoring the Bastion involves building and upgrading a variety of different structures that house things like power-ups, weapons, and upgrades. Being able to outfit the Kid with a preferred loadout beforehand is ample motivation for early shard-collecting. This is a great feature, because the Kid will quickly accrue new weapons, tonics, and upgrades with each passing mission. With all of the available choices, I was rarely equipped the same way twice and was always itching to try different weapon combinations and upgrades.

More than just housing equipment and upgrades, a couple of the Bastion's structures eventually enable players to do things like modify enemy difficulty, or pursue a list of specific achievement-like challenges focused on specific weapons or other gameplay mechanics.

The overall experience Bastion provides is incredibly polished in both its presentation and the fluid, fast-paced combat. After playing through the game once, I'm already well on my way through a New Game+, and still enjoying every minute. If you're looking for a very fun, fantastically-presented action-RPG with a great story, a trip to the Bastion is well worth taking.

[This Bastion review was based on a digital copy of the full Xbox Live Arcade release provided by SuperGiant Games. Bastion comes out on July 20 for the XBLA and on PC at a later date.]

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