In light of a recent personal commitment to seeing games through to completion rather than abandoning them partway through (as has so often been the case), I decided to return to a title that this fate has befallen in the past. I last played Bastion back in 2013, not even managing an hour before putting it down and moving on. Three years later, I went back to try again.
Released on both PC and Xbox 360 in 2011, Bastion is the debut offering from Supergiant Games who, at the time, were a team of just seven people. It’s a story-driven action RPG set in the aftermath of a vaguely apocalyptic event known as ‘the Calamity’: the titular Bastion is the region’s last refuge and it’s your job to explore what remains of the surrounding area, collecting shiny trinkets to bolster the stronghold’s power. The game was universally well received, with an 86 on Metacritic, a number of industry awards to its name, and more than 3 million copies sold to date.
Bastion’s main gimmick (as pejorative a term as that is) is the presence of an omniscient narrator, voiced with inimitable timbre by Logan Cunningham. He’s there from beginning to end, lending your adventure a constant running commentary that is nothing short of excellent. His concise voiceovers move the story forwards in lieu of frequent cutscenes and the game is better for it, the all-action ethos of its satisfyingly fast-paced gameplay mirrored by a fervent avoidance of the kind of rambling exposition that might detract from the experience. Beyond merely interjecting at pre-defined points in the story, the narration in Bastion is dynamic: I noticed, for instance, comments that varied based on specific weapon combinations or actions that I took while playing. It’s not at all hard to see why this aspect of the game drew so much praise.
Similar exaltation was heaped upon the art style, and once again I am inclined to agree with the critical consensus. In an open defiance of the standard issue browns and greys that tend to coat most post-apocalyptic worlds, Bastion’s universe is resplendently painted in lush greens and dazzling blues. Verdant plant life speckles the landscape with vibrant reds and oranges, crystalline ice caves glimmer in diamond white, and even the drearier areas manage to make shades of brown easy on the eye. Every level has a distinct aesthetic, and travelling through the beautiful hand-drawn worlds is a wholly pleasant experience.
Beyond that, the story is intriguing enough (if a little tired) and the approach to world building is a favourable one: you can find miscellaneous knickknacks that provide background on the universe, and these are light enough both in number and in associated dialogue to ensure that learning the lore is never tedious. Clocking in at around six hours, it is hefty enough without overstaying its welcome, and everything is tied together by a wonderful soundtrack from Darren Korb. It’s a great piece of work, make no mistake, but one that is sadly not immune from some frustrating design decisions.
My major gripe with Bastion is that you cannot jump. This wouldn’t be much of an issue on its own, but given the game’s camera perspective and the fact that levels are both full of holes to fall into and surrounded on all sides by vast expanses of nothing, you can see the potential for irritated sighing. Granted, falling off the map isn’t an insta-death, but it’s certainly something I could have done without. This is even more baffling when you consider that they do eventually give you the ability to jump: on the very last level of the game, and in place of the dodge that you’ve spent the past dozen or so levels building your playstyle around. Why? Why? Why?
As satisfying as the combat might be, there are times where the screen becomes so full of enemies – each with their own attack animations competing for your ocular attention – that it’s genuinely difficult to tell what’s going on. This makes some of the bigger set piece fights much more confusing than they need to be, although this is admittedly offset somewhat by the genuinely satisfying calm that follows. Swings and roundabouts, I guess. The difficulty curve completely tails off in the latter stages thanks to some truly overpowered weapons (looking at you, mortar launcher), and you level up far too slowly for my liking. But these are minor niggles at best: nobody forces you to use the game-breaking armaments, and there’s a New Game Plus mode if you want to keep earning XP.
What I’m saying is that Bastion, while not without its flaws, is definitely worth your time. It’s a little perplexing that it’s still £10.99 on Steam five years later but it pops up in sales around the web fairly frequently and I’d be hard pressed not to recommend grabbing it on a discount. It holds up incredibly well both graphically and in terms of gameplay, and stands as a fantastic example of everything that I love about indie games. Add it to your queue if, like me, it’s somehow managed to pass you by thus far.