I can’t say it enough. I love Bastion. It is short. It is simple. It is efficient. Nothing is wasted in how this world is presented to you.
Ever since I set it in me that I’m going to make my own game I have looked for ways to get my hands on titles I wouldn’t play otherwise. Xbox Live put free and reduced price games on offer, and I came across Bastion due to the latter. I played through the whole game in a sitting. And it was the first time I felt bad about getting a game on sale. It was such a good game that I didn’t feel as though I had spent enough on it. Since then I have bought it no less than three times in total, once as a present to a friend and again for myself on PC. And, when testing out iTunes, it was one of the first soundtrack purchases I made. What I like about the game feels intangible. But I’ve made it my duty to review, and review I shall.
The going price for this game is $15, which I think is fair given the length of the game. But, to me, this game is densely packed with a lot of passion. On the one hand, it is a wonderful game I wish there was more of. On the other, I would be afraid that a longer title would dilute what is so great to stretch across the whole of the work.
Let’s start of with the biggest element: The narration provided by The Stranger. When you start a new game his voice is likely the first thing you’ll notice. The story is revealed via a rolling exposition, rather than intermittent exposition dumps. This lets the story come across in a casual and laid back way. It is still gripping and rich, and pacing is swift. It’s like listening to a friend talk about the wonders of the world organically. The Narrator speaks as you play, filling in details of the world. Individual territories are explained as you explore them in a bit of show and tell. You learn of the people from each area, what they did, how they were important to the world, their history, and their legacies. While there are only so many permutations and scripted instances, it is fun to see where they are. Several times when you pick up a new weapon you get a small backstory on the group of people that used it. Unlike many games that will stop the game with an item and description screen, the play session goes on. And as you use the weapons you’ll often be treated to compliments on using it well. Interacting with the stages in different ways will have the narrator speak differently. He’s EVERYWHERE, and has something to say on just about everything you come across. At the games’ end there is a very clever twist which opens up a New Game Plus. In a way, the story will end when you’re ready for it to.
The music is worthy of being listened to all on its own. Many of the tracks blend genres and instrumentation into unique set pieces all their own. It is always evocative. Song are rarely reused, so each part of the game has its own feel. They are unique, distinct, and really vivacious. Some segments the track will “run out” and leave you in a bit of silence until you reach the next segment. However, this didn’t happen on my original playthrough, and never happens on my New Game Plus stories. I decided to check EVERY nook and cranny when this occurred, and the silence spurned me on to “get on with it”. In casual play, you’ll likely move well and true with the rhythms of the world. Additionally, there will be a Gramophone that will become available and let you cycle through songs.
Mechanically, this title is an action RPG, in that order. Most of the game will depend upon your ability to navigate the world, avoid or counter enemies, and defeat bosses and enemies waves as they come along. Due to the nature of the stages, there are seemingly limited opportunities to grind for experience points as you would in other RPGs. However, there are some stages at the Bastion hub that you can repeat to your hearts’ content to level up and earn fragments. Each of the characters has an “artifact” you could say. Interacting with them takes you to “Who Knows Where”, and the narrator will provide some backstory for the related person as you clear the enemy waves. New Game Plus allows you to keep your weapons, with their improvements, and levels The Kid has gained. Additionally, there is a new Hidden Skill only available on a second play through. The challenges can be redone. As you’ll likely have some modifications on each weapon already they can be markedly easier. This can give you access to weapon upgrade materials that may be harder to find otherwise. You will also have access to a score attack mode which will let you revisit all the stages as much as you wish.
There is much that can be implied of the world via The Bastion, your hub location and the namesake of the game. You are tasked with collecting Cores, vaunted power sources, to ensure the Bastions’ functionality as a refuge. As you collect Cores they will open up Foundations in the Bastion. Upon each Foundation you can build a different structure. Each of the structures not only provides some in game use, but is a storytelling limb all its own.
Distillery: While your character is known simply as “The Kid”, he is old enough for a hard days’ work. It is my understanding that after a shift is done it is standard for workers to go and have a drink at The Sole Regret. In honor of this fallen drinking hall, you build a small Distillery. Each beverage functions as a status buff. Each level you gain allows you to hold an additional buff, up to a maximum of ten. As with much of the game, each drink comes with small blurb from the narrator the first time you equip it.
Arsenal and Weapons: As you travel around the broken world you’ll come across a number of valuable items. Perhaps greatest among them are the vast array of weapons you will find. Many of the working factions in Caelondia had a signature armament. As you pick them up, the narrator will speak on each factions’ history, how the weapons were used in a bit of subtle tutorial, and even critique your own usage as you go along. Back at the Bastion, the Arsenal will let you change your loadout between stages. Every combination of weapons has it’s own unique narration. There are also challenge stages that open up as the game progresses. Concretely you’ll earn materials for weapon upgrades and a second Secret Skill for an adjoined weapon for earning first place. All the while, The Stranger will dole out hints and history about the weapons and how they were used.
Forge: You’ll have to carefully pick your weapons out before each stage. If a challenge stage or the regular game gives you trouble, you can ramp up your damage output. Using Fragments, the in-game currency, and items specific to each weapon you can improve your attack potential. There are five levels with two options each. You can freely change how each individual weapon is fine tuned and, as you guessed, most every option has some form of narration with it.
Lost And Found: One of the elements I consider a drawback in this game is that you can only enter each stage once. There are exceptions. Challenge areas, one for each weapon, can be entered time and again until you take first place. Who Knows Where, areas with waves of enemies can be repeated as many times as you’d like. If you miss something in the main stages such as Mementos or perhaps even weapons (I’ve never tested the latter out myself), they can be purchased here for Fragments. Additionally, the stock of upgrade items for the Forge will build to letting you improve your favorite weapons faster.
Vigil: The Stranger has made some drawings and will reward Fragments and tidbits for completing tasks. Each weapon has a challenge. There are also some easier progress rewards, such as building the structures on the Bastion.
Shrine: Now this is, to me, the most interesting aspect of the world. In the Shrine you can give honor to The Pantheon, a set of deities linked to the world. The funny thing is not one of them is wholly benevolent. Electing to be under the gaze of any one will confer an experience bonus to you. This can stack with the more you choose to activate. However, each Deity will give your enemies some type of boost as well. In this, you trade greater experience for a harder game. While there is no achievement or Vigil for reaching Level 10, the increased health and buffs from the Distillery can be worthwhile in and of themselves.
Why is this interesting? There is a song on the soundtrack that, near as I can tell, is not included in the game. It’s title is “The Pantheon (Ain’t Gonna Catch You)”. In it, it is relayed that the Gods have no interest in helping you. In fact, they are rather cruel. This is conveyed a few different times in the game, but it is blatantly on display in this song. In the real world most deities help humanity. A staple in most religions is that forces beyond our control or understanding have a personification, and those persons care for and watch out for us. Yes, there are malicious being out there. While there are gods of destruction, preternatural things out for blood, and demons that are just sheer malice the gods themselves, even the dark ones, have some interest in humanity. The Pantheon of Bastion cares not a whit. It allows me an interesting meditation. What does a world have to look like that even the deities have no love for the plight of man? There is a cultural divide in the game. A group called Ura have substantially more respect for The Pantheon, at least for Pyth. Perhaps they are more benevolent towards them? Or maybe it is Caelondia’s blatent disrespect of them that causes trouble for The Kid?
In closing, as it presently stands, I do not know of anyone who has played this game that hasn’t enjoyed it. Even at its normal $15 dollars it is a small price. And while the main campaign is short, I feel there is plenty of replay value to keep you coming back. It goes on sale a few times a year, which may be a wonderful time to grab it. Getting it bundled with the soundtrack at that point wouldn’t be a bad idea I think. All content is available upon purchase, just like when I was growing up. Some extra bits of story that were tacked on were an update rather than being sold separately. There is no DLC, though that is what the soundtrack is sorted into on the Steam store. I was charmed by the simple yet elegant execution of this game. I am happy to review this first in my new capacity, and I am happier still to give this game my highest rating and heartiest recommendation possible. If anyone from over at Supergiant Games ever reads this, I know this comes years after the fact:
Well done. Keep up the stellar work.