Review: Bastion (PC)

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With such highly anticipated releases as Diablo III and Skyrim on the horizon, there is without a doubt going to be a ton of competition for the action-RPG genre in the upcoming months. It’s clearly going to take an innovative, deep, and engaging title to even stand a chance in such a fierce market. Bastion, a masterfully crafted game that offers a seemingly endless amount of value, is such an action-RPG. It creatively improves on the generic hack-and-slash formula in order to deliver a fiery combat system, tons of character customization options, and a world that you will never want to leave. Bastion has already been considered a smash hit from its initial release on Xbox Live Arcade, and now PC gamers have the opportunity to enjoy this release along with some added improvements.

Right from the get-go, the storyline starts off very mysteriously. In the destructive aftermath of an event simply known as the Calamity, gamers take control of a hero known only as the Kid. The Bastion is a safe haven for the survivors of the destruction, but unfortunately it was put into a state of relative ruins compared to its once former glory. Our silent protagonist must travel through increasingly dark and dreary environments in order to reconstruct the world that everybody used to call their home.

As an interesting twist, a significant portion of the story is delivered by a narrator who speaks throughout the game. Instead of slowing down the pace of the game with drawn out narratives and often-skipped cutscenes, gamers can continue to save the world while simultaneously understanding how their actions benefit the greater good. This is an especially great feature for those of you out there who find yourselves mashing the escape key every time a cutscene arises; now you can follow the entire story without having to sacrifice gameplay time. Not only does the narrator do an excellent job at explaining your encounters, but he often chimes in with witty commentary that correlates to how you’re playing the game. Whether he compliments you for taking out waves of baddies with a musket or offers a lighthearted jab as you tumble off the edge of the world, this adds a much welcomed charming touch.

At its very core, Bastion is an action-RPG with a relatively easy to grasp control scheme. Your left-click and right-click are used to fire your primary and secondary weapons respectively, while ‘Q’ will launch your currently assigned special attacks. Holding down shift allows you to put up a shield that does a great job at blocking almost every incoming attack, but it will slow your movement speed down a tad. Pressing the space bar allows you to perform a quick evasion roll, and this maneuver will be a life saver when you find yourself swarmed and cornered by enemies. Naturally, your shield only protects you from attacks from the front, but quick evasive maneuvers allow you to zoom across the playing field and dodge flurries of turret fire, sword strikes, and explosive mines. When compared to the seemingly nonstop clicking of a game like Diablo II, Bastion has so much more to offer in terms of combat maneuvers.

In addition to sporting fantastic combat mechanics, there is also a lot of depth in terms of character development. For starters, a common loadout will consist of a melee weapon as your primary attack and some type of bow or gun for ranged offense. As you clear more levels, a quickly increasing arsenal will become available to you. Not only is it great to be able to switch from heavy swinging hammers and quick-slicing machetes to powerful, charged-up bows and muskets, but the speed at which unlockables become available is just amazing. While other games in this genre often have periods of grinding in which you are stuck with the same setup for an extended period of time, Bastion allows you to improve your killing power after virtually every level. The concept of grinding has no place here, but instead you’re given literally hundreds of combinations to power-up your hero.

It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling to find an effective loadout through trial-and-error. The enemies you encounter vary greatly from level to level. You can counter-attack sword-wielding skeletons if your reflexes are quick enough, but relying on your shield to save you from massive groups of floating ghouls isn’t reliable because they will swarm you from all directions. Because of this, fast-paced combat scenarios will require you to dodge incoming strikes, evade groups of ghosts, and then unleash a more widespread attack that has a larger area of impact. In another instance, turrets will launch destructive orbs that can be deflected back to the turrets or to other enemies if you can adjust the angle accordingly. Pitting enemies against each other and using their abilities to your advantage is a feature not too commonly seen, and the sheer amount of diversity when it comes to combat will constantly have you thinking of new strategies.

As expected, the level of character customization in Bastion won’t leave you disappointing either. As you level up, you will unlock new tiers of upgrades for your weapons. Each tier typically consists of two upgrades, but you can only have one active at a time. Strategically selecting the right combination can make a world of difference. For instance, in the first tier of a weapon you can choose to increase critical hit chance by 20%, and in the second tier you can choose to increase critical damage by 100%. Because there is a strong synergy between these two upgrades, it seems like a good idea to use them together. Every weapon has its own set of unlockable upgrades and there are a lot of weapons to choose from, so the variety of play styles that can be derived is plentiful to say the least.

A challenging touch was added to this game in the form of deities that can be called upon at shrines. These gods will increase the difficulty of the game, but in turn you will be rewarded. This allows you to gain more experience if you make your foes more powerful — and who would turn down a challenge if it means it can make you stronger too? Having enemies regenerate health or take less damage is easily worth it if you want to earn more experience to level up and upgrade.

As far as level design goes, Bastion again manages to break away from the norm. Most levels start you off on a square platform with nowhere to go, but as you head toward the edge pathways will be built right before your eyes. Seeing the world being created right in front of you is such a cool effect, and it adds such a strong sense of mysticism to the whole experience. A good portion of the levels include navigating your way through in search of a core piece that can be used to rebuild Bastion. Cores are never given up easily though, which is actually awesome because the boss fights at the end of each level are pleasantly challenging and far from formulaic. The balance of difficulty is perfect because you can’t just brute force your way through stage after stage, but if you take the time to explore your abilities you’ll never find yourself in an impossible scenario.

As a final touch, there are repeatable challenge stages that only allow you to use a specific weapon. Sometimes you’re tasked with killing a certain number of enemies within a given time limit, and in another challenge you have to destroy every single target as the world crumbles beneath your feet. These stages are great because there are varying degrees of success (third, second, and first place prizes) that can power-up your hero. If you get stuck on a specific level, there’s nothing stopping you from moving on and coming back to it when you’re more proficient with the necessary weapon. The encouragement of trying out new weapons and rewarding warriors skilled in multiple arts is a welcoming feature to see; some games can become so dull when there’s a simplistic and repetitive method to finishing the entire story mode.

The most surprising thing about Bastion is that it only costs $14.99 when you purchase it from Steam. This indie hit packs such a unique, genre-changing experience at an outrageously competitive price. Anybody that considers themself a gamer to even the slightest degree needs to get their hands on this game. Bastion is a perfectly crafted work of art that you will never want to turn off.

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Pros:
+ Great combination between Action and RPG elements
+ Incredible amount of character customization
+ Tons of replay value here, and at a great price

Cons:
– None

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available on Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Supergiant Games
Release Date: 8/16/2011
Genre: Action RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Andy is a 21 year old entering his junior year at UCONN, where he is also a member of the swim club and a regular improv and stand-up comic performing with the Reckless Gents. When he's not swimming, making people laugh, playing guitar, gambling in some online poker, and majoring in Management Information Systems, Andy is a passionate, opinionated gamer who loves to share his thoughts with other gamers. Before joining VGBlogger, Andy has written many reviews for a number of publications, including Gamer's Hell, Driver Heaven (now Gaming Heaven), and gotFrag's DPAD.