Is Bastion among the elite titles released this year? Hit the break to check out our full written review.
Bastion is the sort of game that doesn’t come around very often. It’s a perfect marriage of gameplay, sound, artwork and story; one that will stay with you far after the credits roll. Originally only available through Xbox Live, this gem can now be experienced through Google Chrome and Steam as well. Now there are officially no excuses to not have played it or for those who intend to play it. I highly recommend playing with a controller though on the Xbox 360 if you have the option, that’s how I originally experienced it, and that’s the version I’ll be reviewing today.
The game takes place in the wake of a disaster called the Calamity which has fractured the city Caelondia and possibly the entire world. All that’s left behind are floating islands and areas of a once expansive and historically rich land. You play as the Kid, a silent hero who wakes up on a shattered piece of the land. In case of tragedy everyone was to meet at the Bastion, a safe place and harbor where survivors of any catastrophe could re-group and rebuild.
Upon arrival the Kid sees only one survivor, an old wise man named Rucks. Rucks, also our fantastic narrator, sends our protagonist out into the remains of the world to find the cores that once powered Caelondia. With them they can restore the Bastion and somehow make the world whole again, the old man says. These simple beginnings are the foundation on which is built a heartfelt and thought-provoking plot with multiple endings. I won’t spoil the plot here and just say that as a person who always plays the good guy I was torn at the end. There’s no right and wrong choice; just two wonderful endings that myself and fellow gamers talked about for quite a while after completion. I don’t typically replay games, but in order to see both endings I jumped directly into a new game plus; which is another handy feature.
Upon beating the game you can instantly go into new game plus mode and retain all your weapons, their power-ups, fragments, and much of the progress you’ve made through the game. Progress related to the story is lost, but playing through again not only allows you to experience both endings but also allows you to increase your challenges. We’ll discuss that further down.
Gameplay wise Bastion is an action RPG with a emphasis on the different weapons that you acquire throughout your adventure. Instead of just being a random sword or rifle your weapons all have a back story and have been primarily used by an elite class of warrior within Caelondia. This is perhaps my favorite part of the game probably because it adds a deep history to the world and makes you almost sad that you couldn’t experience Caelondia before the Calamity. Weapons are not only distinct in narrative though as every weapon feels unique and provide a different way to play the game.
Every weapon is also upgradeable providing even more play styles. As you collect materials throughout the game you can apply them to your favorite weapons. Instead of just randomly leveling up said weapon, each of them have separate skill trees available. For instance on the Breaker Bow one tree may decrease the amount of time it takes to fire the bow, while the other makes it more powerful. Even better is the fact that you don’t have to choose just one of the trees and can mix and match between them and your choices are never set in stone. If you find the way the weapons don’t play to your liking then you can go back in and tweak it. Two players will never play using the same Kid.
Every weapon also has a number of moves that can be acquired either by purchasing them with the game’s currency fragments or by winning them from challenges. Proving grounds are areas you can visit for each weapon that test your ability with it. Each challenge area is tied to the narrative and the class of warrior that once wielded whatever you’re fighting with. With the trusty hammer your goal will be to break as much as you can in as little a time, while the Breaker Bow you’ll want to take out the most targets with the fewest shots. Rewards will net you new abilities, fragments and materials for the weapon that the challenge is based on.
Adding to your unique character there are other choices for your loadout. The Kid can carry two weapons and one ability into battle with him and you can mix and match between them all. Futhermore, instead of putting points into random attributes upon leveling you’ll unlock slots to carry all your liquor. These spirits provide boosts to random stats and as you level you can equip more of them at the distillery. When you add your choice of weapons, their skill trees, which spirits you equip and your choice of abilities; your level of customization is staggering. In addition none of your choices are permanent and you can mix and match as you see fit. Read a great new loadout online you want to try? You certainly can.
Areas open up as you progress through the story that can be accessed through your hub, the titular Bastion. Items of some significance to each character’s back story will show up and will sweep you away to a challenge area where you can put your load out to the test. Even better, narrative is tied to each of these and gives you an even better look into the characters. In addition to these challenges there are vigils that can be performed similar to achievements.
All of this is voiced by the fantastic narrator who does everything from telling a tightly weaved tale to commenting on the weapon you’re currently using. When I first heard of this it sounded almost annoying, but after playing it I couldn’t change my tune more. The narrator adds gravity to everything in the game and comes to feel like an old friend by the end. In an odd way you feel like he has experienced everything with you. It’s a wonderful effect and one you have to experience yourself whilst playing the game to completely come to terms with it’s awesomeness.
Audio in this game is simply superb. I can’t even think of a full blown retail release this year that had an original track as haunting and memorable as “Build That Wall”. I was utterly floored at the quality of voice work and the original musical tracks. If you just can’t believe that a downloadable title can be that amazing musically go Youtube it. I’ll wait. Back? Now imagine that combined with rock solid gameplay, beautiful artwork and wonderful narrative. Yeah, it’s that awesome.
Honestly I tried to nitpick the title in this review. I literally sat back in my chair and tried to find faults. In a world where every score given will be over analyzed I didn’t want to appear too easy on games. Still I couldn’t come up with a single thing that marred the experience for me. It had some of the most solid and enjoyable gameplay I’d experienced this year tied to a heartfelt story, phenomenal music, and an engaging art direction. After finishing the game I can honestly say I would have paid the full $60 dollar retail price for the game; but lucky for everyone we don’t have to.
Not only is Bastion the best downloadable game that I’ve ever played, but it’s also one of the best games I’ve played this year. In short it deserves every point of the score below and stands as a testament to what can be accomplished even if you don’t have millions of dollars to put into a game.
For more information on how we review games check out our criteria here.