Bastion Review

By Leah Jackson - Posted Jul 19, 2011

Bastion is the beautiful action role playing game from SuperGiant Games. Equipped with an assortment of weapon choices, a variety of upgrades, and difficult challenges, this indie game is sure to become a cult classic.

The Pros
  • Absolutely beautiful
  • Tons of customization
  • Can be as easy or difficult as you like
The Cons
  • Story is lacking
  • Constant narrator is distracting
  • Linear levels don't offer as much exploration

Bastion Review:

Bastion opens with your nameless character waking up after the Calamity, a devastating event that has fractured the world into pieces. From the moment your character wakes up, the elderly Rucks narrate your every move. Rucks is so talkative that whether you go left or right, pick one weapon over another, or fall off the world, he'll have something clever to say about it. It's an interesting way to tell the story, but I found the constant narrative distracting and it was hard to concentrate on what he was saying while I was navigating through the gorgeous levels.

It's A Piece Of Cake To Build A Pretty Bastion

The goal of the game is to traverse different areas of the world in order to find “cores” that will give power back to the Bastion. Each core you find allows you to build a structure that adds new layers to the game. It's up to the player to decide which order they want to build and upgrade their structures in, but by the end they all become available. The first set of buildings deal with combat, weapons, and upgrades, while the second set deals with perks and achievements. As you go through the levels in the game you are constantly finding new weapons and ways in which to upgrade them. You return to the Bastion after each level and there you can use these structures to spend your money and materials to make them -- and you -- stronger.

For example, the Arsenal allows you to change your weapon and equip a Secret Skill that causes a lot of damage. My favorite skill was Final Warning, a Scrap Musket skill. With one shot, Final Warning would rain down a massive amount of bullets on my enemies doing insane damage. Some skills were only available when certain weapons were equipped, like Final Warning, while others were available all the time. Skills like Trapper Snare -- a skill that immobilizes foes if they go near it -- are available regardless of weapon as long as you've unlocked it.

The levels in Bastion vary from whimsical springtime levels to dark, depressing areas with quite a variety of enemies in between. What's so neat about Bastion is that as you walk through areas, the floor and your surroundings materialize under your feet as you go. It's a very cool effect and I would have loved to been able to explore the areas even more, but as it turned out all of the levels were unfortunately very linear. As you complete one area more open up, and you can't go back to the ones you've completed.

This is an advertisement - This story continues below

...And My Musket!

There are 12 different weapons in Bastion and you get to choose two at a time for each level. More weapons are found as you progress through the game. To test your prowess with each one, there is a Proving Ground. I found the Proving Grounds to be one of the best parts of the game, and definitely some of the most challenging. Each Proving Ground is different as they're all catered to each weapon. Ones like shoot all of the targets in under a few shots were simple, while navigating through a deadly maze to hit enough switches in under 60 seconds proved much more difficult. Proving Grounds offer a first, second, and third place prize that are all generally weapon upgrades, with the first place prize being a Secret Skill. I found the difficulty of the Proving Grounds to be that kind of frustrating fun that Perfectionists like myself have to finish before I can move on in the story.

The weapons can be upgraded up to five times at the Forge, another building you create on the Bastion. Every time you upgrade a weapon it unlocks two different upgrades per level. For example, the first level upgrade for the Machete offers the blade to either cripple foes, or have a 20% critical hit chance. You can only choose one upgrade per level, which again adds more customization to the game. Weapon upgrades are found throughout the levels, at the Lost and Found building, and via Proving Grounds.

Let's Kick It Up A Notch

Luckily, there's a building in the Bastion called the Shrine that enables you to kick the difficulty up a notch (up to ten notches) if you actually want a challenge. At the Shrine you can invoke the Gods of the world and each God you activate will make the foes in the game stronger in different ways. One God, Hense, makes foes hit a lot harder. Another God, Olak, allows foes to sometimes turn to air, making them unable to be hit. The more Gods you invoke the higher the bonus experience and number of Fragments, Bastion's currency, you'll get when you defeat enemies. Frankly speaking, the game becomes tremendously difficult with all ten Gods invoked, and even with only a few activated you really notice how much harder it becomes. Without invoking the gods, the predictability of the enemies gets boring after a while, so the Gods help to spice things up a bit.

Another interesting building in the Bastion is the Distillery. As you kill enemies and gain experience points you level up. With each level you get a little more health and gain access to equip one more Spirit (up to ten). Spirits are special drinks that give your character passive bonuses. There are Spirits like Dreadrum which give you +10% critical hit chance when you're at full health, while other, stronger ones like Bastion Bourbon make health tonics restore you to full health every time and give you more health tonic capacity. You can buy Spirits at another store on the Bastion, called the Lost-and-Found. The Lost-and-Found sells special skills, Gods, and Spirits. In order to buy these items you find Fragments, Bastion's form of currency. Fragments fall from enemies and are randomly placed all over the levels for your collecting enjoyment. It's not clear who you're purchasing these items from in the stores though, which leads me to the most disappointing aspect of Bastion, which is the story.

I Couldn't Hear You Over The Sound Of My Hammer

While there are so many different ways to customize your character's weapons, skills, and the difficulty of the game overall, the story just leaves so much to be desired. You're trying to rebuild the Bastion after the Calamity occurred; meanwhile, there's some sort of war going on between two opposing factions called the Ura and the Caeldonians. Rucks tries to explain what's happening in the story while you're running around in the levels so the message was often lost upon me as I was hacking through enemies.

Also, even though there was a very large variety of weapons to choose from, I found that I only really liked a few of them due to the somewhat clunky controls. The game is played top down, so the angles in which a lot of the weapons fired made them hard to hit the enemies. A target locking system worked well in most situations, but for many I found it very hard to hit the enemies with weapons like the Breaker's Bow or the Galleon Mortar where you had to aim in order to hit a target. My weapons of choice were the Scrap Musket for easy area of attack fire and heavy damage, and the War Machete for quick melee strikes. You can change your preferred weapons before you travel to each level, and there are no restrictions as to which two weapons you can equip. Meaning, if you love ranged combat then you can have two ranged weapons equipped. I liked this, as it allowed for a lot of customization and lets people play how they like to.

The Pieces Almost Fell Together

The only time that I actually enjoyed the storytelling of Bastion was during the Who Knows Where parts. Here, you fight through twenty ranks of foes, trying out different weapons and earning fragments. While in Who Knows Where, Rucks, as always, narrates the story of the main character and other characters in the game. It's here where you can get a leaderboard score based on how far you get in Who Knows Where with as many Shrine Gods invoked as you can handle. For each pack of foes you defeat, Rucks goes deeper in to the backstory of your character, weaving an interesting story while you recuperate from the previous pack. It's a nice change of pace from the standard storytelling in the game where you can't exactly concentrate on what Rucks is saying or enemies will pelt you to death.

Once you complete the game, you can continue trying your luck with Who Knows Where and getting first place Proving Grounds, or you can restart the game in the classic RPG New Game Plus mode with all of your weapons and items. For a small indie game I walked away from Bastion quite impressed. Even though the story lacked depth, the amount of customization and the quality of the art in the game almost made up for it. At the end I wanted to know more about the world of Bastion and its characters. The game is long enough for the type of gameplay it has, I clocked in around ten hours, but I would have loved to explore the full world and learned even more about what was going on while playing.