Looking at Bastion, it could very easily be mistaken as yet another Diablo wannabe. But this would be a grave error. While Bastion is an isometric action RPG with a plethora of weapons, it’s emphasis in not on looting and skill trees. In fact, it barely has either of those elements. What Bastion focuses on is kinetic combat and storytelling. And these it does oh-so-well.
In Bastion you play as the Kid, a soldier who has just woken up only to find that something called the Calamity has occurred and almost completely destroyed the land of Caelondia. Thus he sets out for the bastion, where everyone agreed to meet in such an event. One thing is immediately apparent when you begin. Story is important. As you venture forth a voice starts to narrate your every move, commenting not only on your actions but also what the Kid is thinking. But when you reach the bastion you find only a stranger that tells you what must be done: repair the bastion, then everything will be okay.
The bastion itself serves as the hub from where you travel to the numerous levels within the game. At the bastion you can also build different shops that allow you to switch out weapons, equip potions, buy new items and so on and so forth. The bastion is both the crux of your mission and part of the game’s interface. You don’t go in to a menu to switch out weapons or equip new potions mid-mission. While every now and then you will find a shops in a mission, the bastion is where you will do almost all of your equipping, forging, and building. The game does not actually feature any sort of monetary currency but you do gain remnants of the old world to be used as currency. With these pieces you can rebuild certain items, the equivalent to buying them.
In terms of gameplay, Bastion is a fairly straight forward action RPG- you attack enemies and gain experience. Taking a cue from Halo style shooters, you can only carry two weapons at a time. Which weapons you are carrying is completely up to you. Want to carry two guns? Go for it. Two melee weapons? Sure. But I found it the most fun when you mix and match- hammer and dual pistols, machete and rifle, etc. This allows you to take enemies out at a distance or up close and personal, giving the game a great diversity in its combat.
Also like a shooter is the fact that you do not find weapons randomly, they are given to you at specific points in the game. You can switch them out when you want, but the acquisition of weapons is tied to your progression within the story. Repairing and building shops in the bastion is also a central part of the story. The more you build at the bastion, the more you can do in the game. Leveling up your character simply extends the Kid’s life bar and gives you more slots in the distillery, which allows you to equip more potions for more passive effects.
Concerning general combat, you can roll, attack, block, counter, and use a special skill. Special skills usually relate to one of the weapons that you are carrying and can only be equipped with that weapon. A few are independent of your load out, however, and can be used at any time. You can also upgrade your weapons with parts found in the world or made at the bastion. Each weapon has five upgrade slots. But every time you upgrade you have to choose between two different options, for example you could chose to have a greater chance for critical hits or be able to dole more damage. But once you have chosen, you are not locked into that decision. At any time you can go back to the forge and switch to the other upgrade option. While unlocking an upgrade costs pieces of the old world, switching does not.
Bastion is straight up beautiful. It sports a great hand painted art style that some might say is animeish but is really a great combination of both western and Japanese art styles. The world of Bastion is kind of a western (as in the genre, not the hemisphere) and science fiction hybrid, but it is less like the game Red Steel 2 and more like the TV show Firefly in terms of aesthetics. While there is nothing that specifically connects Bastion to the show, there is some ethereal aspect of the game that reminds me of Joss Whedon’s greatest achievement. Perhaps it is the soundtrack. The soundtrack is fantastic.
Bastion also features a great effect that you will have witnessed if you have seen any trailers for the game. As your run through a level, the ground literally forms beneath you. Tiles fly up from nowhere to create your path as you traverse the area. While this does not actually have any effect on the gameplay, it does look awesome.
Bastion boasts tons of replay value. In addition to the main story, there are also challenge levels for all of the game’s 11 weapons. The challenges require you to perform specific actions with the specified weapon to unlock new upgrades and special attacks. There are also arena-style challenges where the narrator will talk in depth about each of the Bastion’s main characters as you battle hordes of enemies.
There are also Halo-skull style difficulty modifiers that you can activate. These are represented as idols to specific gods from the game’s lore. These make the game much more difficult but provide you with more experience and old world remnants. With all the gods invoked, you will gain almost twice as much experience and remnants, which is necessary if you want to completely level up the Kid. But do not worry if you do not level all the way up before completing the game because you can always start a new game plus (a feature sorely lacking in a lot of RPGs today). In a NG+ you will not only have all your weapons and potions from the previous play through but also access to new gods and potions as well.
Honestly, if Bastion featured just a little more of a social component, like a multiplayer arena or co-op, rather than just leaderboard rankings, the game could be sold as a full price retail game. As it is, you get a vast amount of gameplay for only $15.
Bastion is one of the most solid action RPGs I have played in years. Featured in 2010’s The Pax 10 and released as a part of 2011’s Summer of Arcade on XBLA, it is kind of like the little tank engine that could. Made by only a handful of people but featuring the polish of a AAA title, a great story and unique features like a dynamic narrator, Bastion is simply a fantastic game. If you have not picked it up yet, you owe it to yourself to experience what is possibly this year’s best downloadable title.
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.