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Bastion is a very deceptive game. A casual look at screenshots won’t do the product justice. Even seeing video won’t fully demonstrate its most unique properties. Yes, the art is pretty, and hand-drawn to boot, but what makes it special is the way that all of those art assets come together on the fly as your characters moves, literally constructing the world around you while a narrator tells your story as you go, offering more of a spontaneous play-by-play than a linear narrative.
On the surface, Bastion looks like a standard action RPG with anime-inspired art. While that is an accurate description, Bastion sticks out from the crowd thanks to its story, voicework, and setting. You see, the world was destroyed in an event called The Calamity, and when the game starts, the world is nothing more than a bedroom floating in space. The hero, called The Kid by the narrator, wakes up in the remains of his room and as he walks out his door, pieces of the world fall into place around him, forming a path just ahead of him as he travels. This isn’t a scripted sequence. The game responds to the player’s actions, and builds the world slightly ahead of wherever the player goes throughout the rest of the game.
The narration works the same way. Instead of getting an audio file when you walk over the right spot, the Narrator will comment on whatever you do, whether it’s dying a bunch of times in the same spot, standing still, or changing weapons.
As The Kid wanders his fragmented world, he quickly finds his way to The Bastion, a mysterious device that was created to help rebuild the world if it should meet an unfortunate fate. There he meets Rucks, the narrator who instructs him to reclaim the missing “Cores” and “Shards” of the world, and will enable the Bastion to rebuild the world. Players aren’t told much about this land at the beginning of the game, but as The Kid rescues a few more survivors and retrieves lost mementoes of the dead world, a deep story unfolds. The cause of the Calamity is one very relevant to the modern world, and our real life worries of Armageddon. Ultimately players get to make several choices that affect how this story unfolds.
As The Kid collects the remaining fragments of the world, he acquires new weapons, and special abilities. Despite this arsenal, he can only carry two weapons at a time, and can only have one special attack. He has a bunch of passive abilities as well, but only having three attacks is rather limiting, especially considering that most weapons are based around hammering the attack buttons, rather than combos, or finesse. Most levels will give him a new weapon to play with, and an opportunity to change out his selection. The weapons do have a very big variety between them; they range from a machine gun, to a slow-firing mortar, with hand-to-hand options like a warhammer, machete, and spear. Kid always has a shield handy, and the more advanced stages or difficulty levels will require mastering timed blocks for counter attacks.
Upgrades for the weapons are made available over the course of the story, giving players a constant trickle of goals and rewards. Some of these can be bought, but upgrading a weapon to the highest level will require special trial missions that focus on each weapon. Adding an extra incentive to experiment with all of them is that these trial missions will give out rewards for different weapons than the one you use for a particular mission. So, if you want to max out the dueling pistols you’ll have to not only complete the pistol “Proving Ground” but also do the other weapons until you’ve gotten the materials you need for the pistol upgrade.
One of the few design flaws that Bastion has is that the different enemy types are vulnerable to specific weapons, but players aren’t told in advance what kind of enemy they’ll have to fight on the missions, so they’ll just have to pick their favorite weapons and hope for the best.
Bastion is also little too easy on its default but the game has a clever way to customize the difficulty. The Kid comes across a shrine, and by placing collectible idols in this shrine he can add extra challenges for himself, while getting extra experience points at the same time. The various idols will grant enemies special bonuses, like extra damage, or fast healing. Players can customize the idols however they like for a very unique gaming experience.
Bastion is a little short, so it’s good that there are lots of weapons, special abilities, collectables, and “Proving Ground” minigames. This, along with the idols, the handful of sidequests increase length for those who want it, while not burdening gamers who are just there to experience the story.
While much of its gameplay is simple and familiar, Bastion has style aplenty. Music, art, voiceover, and story are all excellent. There’s a New Game + mode that will let players who want more get an extra helping, and the plentiful upgrades and collectibles are more than enough incentive to thoroughly explore Bastion’s shattered world.