Bastion ReviewBlake Anglin
"Kid gets up, sets off for the Bastion." These words spoken by the gruff-voiced narrator start my adventure in Bastion. As I make my way through the perilous world, a mellow acoustic track filling the background, the narrator makes quips about my progress. I grab my trusty hammer, and test its destructive power on an unfortunate pile of boxes near-by. "Kid just rages out for awhile", he says, voice full of sorrow. As the world falls into place at my feet, I continue on...to the Bastion.
From these first moments, you can tell Bastion is going to be a unique experience. The first thing you'll notice are the creative elements: A beautiful, almost watercolor-esque art style, accompanied by one of the best soundtracks in recent memory. Sound design is a huge part of the experience. The omni-present narrator tells the story of your silent protagonist as you play, and, as the world literally materializes as you walk, you can't help but be amazed at the sense of discovery that lies at the heart of Bastion.
Even better, the controls are as tight as the game is beautiful. The isometric hack-and-slash gameplay is well-balanced with a fantastic array of melee and ranged weaponry. Defense is a big part of combat as well; a perfect shield bash often gives you the opening you need to kill enemies, and can reflect projectiles. Oh how you'll reflect projectiles. As you play, you'll open up an impressive variety of weapons, everything from hammers and machetes to shotguns and mortars. Each weapon really feels unique, and I found myself changing my load-out constantly, not only to check out all the weapons, but to hear what the narrator would say about it. "Mortar and Bellows make a fearsome combination", he says as I leave the Arsenal.
As the game progresses, players build up their titular Bastion with a variety of structures. Build a Distillery to equip yourself with liquors that grant passive bonuses. Build a Shrine to unlock a pantheon of gods to pray too, each who offer experience bonuses in exchange for making the game harder in various waves. A shop is included, as well as the Forge. At the Forge, you can upgrade your weapons along two branching paths. Even better, you can switch between upgrades freely, allowing you to customize your load out for each mission. All this is balanced with an excellent economy system, so you have plenty of reason to stay in the Bastion.
When you leave base however, you'll find some of the best level design around. Each level is designed with a particular theme in mind, and you rarely feel like you are doing the same thing twice. Some levels are meant to show off a new weapon. One stage may have you dodging and blocking turret bullets on a moving platform before dumping you into an arena battle, while the next stage is covered in deep grass, with enemies lurking between the blades. Things get a little hairy near the end, requiring split-second blocking and strategic healing, but rarely did I feel frustrated with the experience. Spread throughout the game you also find weapon-specific challenge stages (which are best saved until after you've upgraded your weapon a few times). These challenges are smartly designed, and offer a substantial award to those who can weather them.
Even after you beat the roughly ten-hour campaign, there are a ton of reasons to come back to Caelondia. A New Game + feature lets you revisit the campaign, and the shocking choice at its conclusion, with all your weapons and skills intact. An alternate Horde Mode-like zone called Who Knows Where lets you accrue experience and jump up Leaderboards, but only hardcore fighters and completionists will ever make it through the harder tiers.
Bastion weaves all these separate elements into a masterful tapestry of awesomeness. It stands as one of the best downloadable titles available, as well as one of the most unique narratives ever presented. Supergiant Games has absolutely knocked it out of the park with Bastion, and I can't wait to see what they have coming up next.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.