These days the gaming world is filled with high-quality, large budget blockbusters that thrill and shock us with big guns and technically-impressive dark worlds. Plenty of these games are excellent titles that sink their claws in and hook us for months, sometimes years, to come. But those of us who’ve been around the gaming block a few times can’t help but feel as if something was lost in the transition from the inventive and delightful games of yesteryear. Thankfully, Supergiant Games has delivered the action-RPG Bastion, which invokes those same feelings of childlike wonderment that enchanted us all those years ago.
Eschewing a grand opening cut-scene that sets up the adventure to come, Bastion instead starts humbly and charges you with putting the pieces together (quite literally). The Kid — the game’s lead character — awakes from a gentle slumber to find that things are not as he left them and his world has been torn asunder by a doomsday event known as the Calamity. You don’t know much about either it or the Kid, and you’re not meant to.
The story, which comes off as straightforward and one-dimensional in the early going, slowly and methodically builds to a point of clarity and eventually enthralls the player. The characters, worlds, and events all have deeper motivations and back-stories than you would initially be lead to believe, but you’ll have to go out of your way to uncover much of the mystery. I’ll delve further into that later in the review, but for now, it’s important to understand the genius of how the main story arc is unraveled.
Nearly every action you perform as the Kid is narrated by what is initially explained to be nothing more than a mysterious voice talking over the action. It would be criminal to ruin any of the highlight moments that come to light as you progress, so I’ll just say that the voice is that of an old man who we assume is wise beyond his years. The voice-over work on display here is excellent, and you’ll be hanging on every word he speaks in his cowboy drawl.
In the early going, Supergiant is content to mostly let the narrator amuse you with some cryptic thoughts on the current situation thrown in here and there. The monologue is genuinely humorous throughout the game, but especially so in the first half of the RPG. The first time you fall to your death, and it almost certainly will not be the last, he comments that the Kid fell to his death and the story ended there. A few seconds later, he explains that he was just fooling around with the audience — and who that is is part of the mystery — and carries on his merry way explaining in extreme detail how things went down throughout the quest.
And what a quest it is. The game plays out like a top-down action-RPG of old in which players must hack ‘n slash their way through legions of baddies. A tight collection of various melee and ranged tools of destruction is acquired and upgraded along the way. You’re also provided with a shield as well as a roll maneuver and you can look forward to unlocking a number of powerful special attacks to unleash upon your foes. Some of the weapons and abilities must be found out amidst the floating ruins that make up the remnants of once-proud Caelondia and the surrounding lands of its bitter enemy from a past war.
There are all sorts of exciting and dangerous enemies out there in the wilds that must be overcome when journeying through the gorgeous world, which comes into existence in some areas while simultaneously crumbling to bits in others. The evade move can occasionally be a bit sketchy when you’re rolling between precarious platforms when Scumbags (yes, that is a proper name of one enemy type) aggressively pursue you. This leads to some cheap deaths, but both movement and combat are largely smooth sailing. The combat is engaging enough that you’ll want to hunt down and defeat every enemy you see, despite many battles being completely optional.
Each individual level is accessed by bringing up the map in the hub-world, named the Bastion. It is here that you can strengthen your character, choose the arsenal that best fits your style of play, converse with the game’s few sentient beings, and track challenges known as “Vigils.” It’s a serene landscape that has been tainted by the Calamity and ensuing events, and it serves as a solid base of operations.