Bastion is the most finely crafted game I have played in years. It might even be the most finely crafted game I have ever played. And I don’t say that lightly, either. It’s not necessarily the funnest game, or even the most engaging, but it is without equal. For me, Bastion is proof that a game can be work of art: I can’t remember any other time where the choices I made in a video game got me thinking about more deeper issues and reflecting on myself as a person (The new Deus Ex came close, but that was more of a “hmm… what if?” kind of thing).
Before we really begin, I’d just like to say that I think Bastion can be enjoyed most if nobody has told you anything about it yet. I have taken some care to avoid things I’d consider to be spoilers, but even so, I think if you enter the game without any expectations you’ll generally get more out of it. So if you haven’t played it yet, do yourself a favor and go do that right now. It shouldn’t take you more than 10 hours.
I’ve brought up the issue of poor storytelling in my lagviews several times now. Generally my issue is that the developers don’t take advantage of the interactiveness that a video game allows and instead expect you to sit through some boring narrative or cutscene. Well, finally, a developer who gets it!
The game starts out with a narrator telling a story about the Kid and the calamity, which has ruined the world as he knew it. Throughout the game, this voice guides you, and as you perform actions in the game world, the narrator will comment on it: “The Kid falls to his death…”, or something like that. It happens quite fluidly, and starts to feel quite natural after some time. It isn’t overdone, either, and never feels unnecessary. Almost the entire is story is told this way, so the story won’t ever progress unless you do. Your actions are telling the story as much as the narrator’s words are.
Absolutely everything you do in the game has a consequence. Even the simplest things, like moving to the edge of the screen, has a consequence. As you start to reach an edge, parts of the floating world will raise into place and the world expands as you travel it. If you don’t ever head somewhere, that part of the world won’t ever come into existence, as far as you’re concerned. The world is alive and you are directly influencing what happens in it.
About half an hour into the game you are introduced to the bastion. This serves as your gateway to further missions and a way to manage your character. The bastion starts out as nothing more than a hollow shell, waiting to be filled with whatever buildings you choose. After a mission, after earning another “core”, and you get to construct one more building. After all, the calamity has ruined most of your world and you are trying to rebuild it.
All these things lead to you being heavily invested in this world. From the ground raising up from nowhere to form the world, to the narrator telling your story, the world is reacting and changing in result to your presence and the things you do. So when you are faced with a decision at the end of the game, it makes the impact of that decision all the more real. You begin to consider why you made the choice, what it means, how it reflects on you and the experiences from your own life. The game intentionally doesn’t reveal too much what happens after your decision, leaving you to speculate and interpret the ending for yourself.
But I haven’t even really talked about the actual game mechanics yet. As good as the storytelling is, it’s ultimately not the only part to a game. And there is some pretty good gameplay here as well. I won’t go into too much detail though, because exploring the game mechanics for yourself can be half the fun, and also because I played the game more for the story and actually managed to miss some things because of that.
Just as the world changes in response to your actions, the gameplay does too. There is no difficultly level to choose from, aside from a “no deaths” mode, where if you die during a level you are forced to restart from the beginning. Instead, Bastion has a really clever system of balancing the game for you, by allowing you to invoke things known as “idols” and enabling “spirits”, you can finely tune the difficulty of the game to suit you. Idols increase the challenge while also increasing the potential rewards and spirits generally give your character bonuses, although sometimes at a cost.
Everything in the game has a purpose, every detail is deliberate. Even the world raising into place as you traverse it has a purpose; it’s a rather accessible way of knowing where you’ve been. The weapons have purpose too. They are vastly different from one another and each has a unique set of uses and abilities. This isn’t Call of Duty, with it’s array of similar weapons that really only have some small tweak to distinguish them. Above all else, the thing that stands out most is that every weapon has it’s own unique personality.
As you earn new weapons, you unlock training levels that help you learn to use them. The training levels all work the same way: You have to complete some task with some limited resources, sometimes time, sometimes ammo, and at the end of the level, if you did a good enough job, you are rewarded with a prize. The bronze prize is always fairly easy to get, so long as you’re using the weapon somewhat correctly, while the silver and gold prizes can sometimes be a challenge to get. If you aren’t using your weapon correctly, you won’t ever get the silver or gold prizes, so these levels serve as a nice way to learn the best way of using a particular weapon.
I bet if you asked three different people what Bastion is about, you would get three difference responses. Ultimately what makes this game great is that so much has been offered to the player, that the game adapts itself the player and their needs. You’re free to explore as much or as little of it as you want. If all you’re looking for is a great story, Bastion is for you. If you want a deep, tactical, real-time action RPG, Bastion can also be for you. Bastion has something to offer for everyone.
P.S.: The game is available on the Chrome Web Store, so the game should be accessible both to users of OS X and Linux.