I’ll lie to you if I say, that I was free of doubt. The plot appeared to be very interesting – a mystical, post-apocalyptic story about a youngster trying to save what’s left from his world. The graphics enchanted me – despite destruction, the world looked colorful and enticing. And last but not least – the narrator… a deep, a bit melancholic, male voice describing the main hero’s every move in a really blues-alike way. At first I really liked the idea, but then – doubts surfaced. I admit, that in the middle of the overall excitement that other people exhibited, I quickly sided with the defeatists, who were affraid that instead of a innovative feature, such a narration would prove a thorn in the side, a burden. Despite a constantly growing number of voices that this was not true, my doubts were still there. Was I right? Fortunately Bastion, by Supergiant Games proved me, how much have I been mistaken.
“Here’s a kid whose whole world got all twisted…”
Bastion is a story about a boy who survived the Calamity. In one moment, almost his entire world, Cealondia, had been destroyed, leaving him stranded on a fragment of a building, hovering high in the air. When The Kid, as the narrator calls him, wakes up there’s nothing left for him to do but to go, find out what caused the Calamity and reach the titular Bastion – “the place that everyone agreed to go to in case of trouble”. The power of the City Crest, which the Kid carries on his back, takes the ruins and fragments of streets and lands, creating paths for him where he will have to fight, discover relicts from the past, weapons, upgrades and most importantly – the answers he’s looking for.
Is the Kid all alone on his journey? Oh, no. He soon discovers few other survivors, each with it’s history, motivation and goals. The first one is old Rucks, a Caelondian, who servers as the narrator through the entire game. Here I’ll allow myself to more thoroughly describe the narration process in Bastion. During our adventure Rucks, in a casual style, will describe the history of Caelondia, each area we visit and details about the life of Caelondians before the Calamity. But that’s not all, because Rucks has a lot more to say. We found an upgrade? Rucks will tell us something about it. We met a new enemy? Rucks will describe it. We fall from the edge? Rucks will joke about that fact. We stay in one place, smashing crates and barrels scattered across the area? Rucks will also have something to say about that. Yes, the narrator delves even into such details.
In practice it turns out to be wonderful. At first I was afraid that it would become insufferable, but luckily Rucks doesn’t impose and he doesn’t talk constantly about everything. Besides, his comments are well-choosen and funny, not tiring the player, but there is a risk that we might lose track of them during more heated battles. If we’re talking about the narration, I simply must point out a cool little detail. Besides weapon upgrades we can find items that don’t influence our battle efficiency nor do they push the plot forward, but if we take them to any character in Bastion, Rucks will tells us a bit about that item, often from the asked characters point of view. It’s not much, but it makes us fell as if we’re more closely tied with the game's world and the fate of its inhabitants.
“Finds his lifelong friend just lying in the road.”
Our hero is defined by a number of traits. He has a life bar, that states how much damage he can sustain before falling before the feet (or other limbs) of the enemies. The Kid can carry a set amount of healing potions and black tonics, which allow him to use special attacks. At any moment of the game, the Kid can only carry two weapons and one attack skill. The choosen equipment and said attack can be changed in a building called the Arsenal. There’s a lot of weapons in this game – from melee to ranged weapons, so we can choose what configuration best suits our style of gameplay. The controls can be a bit tricky at the beginning, but they can be quickly tamed, especially if we find a favourite weapon and skill.
We reach the Bastion quite early in the game, as it will serve as the hub of our gameplay. From here, the Kid goes to other areas in search of Cores – krystal fragments which, when inserted into the Bastion's monument, expand its capabilities. It should be noted that Bastion isn’t just a base – with each Core we get a new construction site. There’s a total of six building types in the game. At the start of the game we gain access to building plans of the mentioned above Arsenal and the Distillery, where all the Spirits are kept. Yes, yes, you read it right, but allow me to explain how it works before someone shouts “Alcohol!? In a game like this!?”. For each defeated enemy we get experience points.If we gain enough points, we reach a new level where we not only gain a bonus to maximum health, but also a new shelf in the Distillery. Each Spirits bottle we find adds, a passive bonus of some kind, for example it can increase the maximum number of carried healing potions, increase the damage done by a critical strike if our hero’s health is below a certain value or a Spirit, which allows to suck a little bit of life force with each attack, lowering the potency of healing potions at the same time. During the game we will find many bottles which we can set in any way we see fit. There’s a huge number of possibilities and between missions we can choose which Spirits to put on the shelves of our Distillery.
The next building is the Forge, where we can upgrade our weapons, provided that we have the necessary materials and enough "cash”, small crystals called Fragments of the Old World. Each weapon has two upgrade columns, each divided by levels. By buying one level we gain access to both respective upgrades but we can only choose on of them, for example in the case of the Dual Pistols we have to choose if we want a bigger clip or a shorter reload time. Fortunately we are not sentenced to one upgrade only – during our visits in the Bastion we can change the choosen upgrades to suit our needs.
Next are the Lost-&-Found and the Memorial. The first structure allows us to buy new spirits, gods (more about them later on), special attacks and upgrade materials. The second building presents us with challenges which give a certain amount of Fragments of the Old World, depending on the difficulty of the task, for example defeating 15 different types of enemies.
The last building is the Temple. It’s an interesting building, that has a whole plot mission dedicated to it. In the Temple we can change which gods will watch over our missions, but, as Rucks says, “the gods can’t help anyone anymore”. It means that the gods will strengthen our enemies instead of the Kid. Depending on the choosen dieties our enemies can become more damage resistant, explode after death or regenerate wounds. So what’s the point? The more difficult the gameplay, the more ferocious our enemies are, the more experience and Fragments of the Old World we gain. Just like the spirits, we can change our diety configuration during our visits in the Bastion and if we die during a mission – the game will propose a restart without the divine influence.
It’s worth noting that after we finish the game, we get to start a “New Game Plus” which makes the enemies stronger, we gain new spirits and dieties and we get access to all our weapons and their upgrades. I’ll avoid spoilers but let me point out, that there are certain differences in the game's narration in this mode.
“Ever tell ya how the Kid got wrapped up in this mess to begin with?”
Areas in the game can be divided into three types. The first are plot missions, which mostly consist of finding a Core or a Shard. Of course it’s not a simple matter of getting from point A to point B, taking the item and finding exit C. The creators made sure that each mission has a certain twists to it. I won’t tell you what they are, but I can say, that Jawson Bog and Prosper Bluff are my favourites in this matter.
The second type of area are the Proving Grounds. The case is simple – each Proving Ground has a certain weapon assigned and a goal that must be met using that weapon. Depending on our efficiency we receive from one to all three awards – the first two are usually weapon upgrades, and the first place prize is a special attack for the Proving Grounds weapon. The tasks are generally similar ranging from eliminating the required number of enemies in a certain amount of time to hitting all the targets using as few shots as possible.
Finally, the third type are three survival areas – the game sends us waves of constantly stronger enemies, while we have to survive as long as possible. Of course Supergiant Games wouldn’t be themselves if they didn’t prepare something interesting here. After each group of enemies is destroyed, a certain fragment of a characters story is revealed to us, depending on which character the area is assigned to.
“The ground forms up underneath his feet, as if pointing the way.”
The graphics in Bastion are simply stunning. The backgrounds, building interior graphics, fragments of the enviroments – everything is done in hand drawn style that’s giving off a comic-fairytale vibe, which strongly contrasts with the serious and mature tone of the plot. The “restoration” of the enviroments that occurs thanks to the power of the City’s Crest is a very impressive effect.
The sound is one of the strongest contribiutions to the game’s specific atmosphere. Logan Cunningham, the actor who cast as Rucks, did a great job. Without his narration Bastion would lose a great deal of it’s current charm. The music, which the sound director Darren Korb, describes as “acoustic frontier trip-hop” is heaven to our ears. One could wonder that such a mix of genres would produce weird results, but fortunately that ain’t the case. Each area gains it’s own, unique atmosphere. I especially appreciate the song “Build That Wall”, which I tend to hum while I work.
“…it’ll all be all right.”
Each element of Bastion is filled with original ideas. We have gods that allow us to set the difficult level. We gain passive bonuses through means of fantastic spirit bottles with witty names like Stabsinthe or Whale Ale. We have worlds, destroyed because of a catastrophic mistake, which come back to life with each step of the Kid, whose isn’t a hero, nor will he ever be – he’s just one of the dramatis personae that plays with the cards fate has dealt him. We have survivors, each can tell it’s own story, weep it’s sorrows while looking for Bastions shelter. We have numerous weapons with different paths of development and upgrade materials known only as “something sharp”, “something heavy”, etc. Each item is treated as an element of the story, instead of having only a crude description. And on top of it all we have an old man, who has seen way too much in life.
Despite being short (the game can be finished in about 6-8 hours or more, depending on how many Proving Grounds or survival missions we finish) Bastion is really a magical experience. All the innovation and characteristic traits combine to form a coherent whole, that tells us an amazing story in a very compelling way. It’s a story about errors, consequences, lack of trust, stupidity, revenge. But it’s also a story about hope, courage, compassion, determination, forgiveness and a second chance. Supergiant Games gave us an amazing game, which constantly treats us in a mature way – it' doesn’t lie or smooth the edges while giving us a rich world beautifully packed in a fascinating plot. With an honest heart I recommend this game, it’s really worth it.
The game was tested on: Intel Pentium Processor T4400, 3 GB RAM, GeForce G210M
The trailer and all the screenshots are taken from the official website and are therefore property of SupergiantGames.
This review was published on CosyHell.pl on the 8th of September 2011.