When last we saw Bastion, we came away impressed by the game’s unique visual style, but hadn’t yet gotten enough hands-on time to form a real sense of where the title was headed. Recently, however, we were able to play through the entire first chapter of the title and came away hugely impressed with what we experienced. The visual presentation that seemed like such a point of style in that early demo has given way to a surprisingly engaging narrative with fresh RPG elements and tight, intuitive combat.
You play as a lone hero who wakes in the aftermath of some horrible, cataclysmic event. The world is empty, devoid of human life. While your silent protagonist has lived through this disaster, you, the player, will need to discover the details as you make your way through the dilapidated, creature-infested universe. As you do so, the throaty baritone of some sandpaper narrator speaks about the boy and the world that unfolds before him…Literally…
The visuals are reminiscent of an old-school “tactics” game, and the universe rises up in a grid beneath your feet as you journey forward, taking shape around you and obscuring what lies ahead in a simulated sensation of the “fog of war.” The universe is colorful, bright, but there’s a real sense of loneliness, and the barren landscape that passes far below the playing field is one of ruins…Just don’t get too close to the edge of the screen because you can easily fall into the abyss below. Additionally, each level maintains its own distinct feel with splashes of Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern influences.
You’ll encounter a number of enemies as you traverse toward the Bastion, the game’s mysterious epicenter where you’ll return between missions. You’ll battle carnivorous, inky globules, cannonball turrets and other evil forces as you leap between levels, collecting the protected “core” of each arena to bring back to the Bastion and build up the world around you. As you do so, you’ll be able to construct distilleries and forges that’ll offer additional armor and potions, and not only are the individual items upgradable, but the actual structures themselves can be leveled to create even more powerful items.
The combat is actually some of the strongest RPG action we’ve experienced in awhile, almost perfectly balanced even at this early stage. Seldom did we find ourselves sticking to one kind of weapon, switching constantly between our melee, ranged, shield and potion items, each mapped to one of the four buttons…And each weapon we discovered felt individually capable in a way that too often makes little difference in other titles. The slow, heavy axe or the quicker, less damaging katana; the quick-shot pistol or the more powerful, but difficult-to-aim rifle…Additionally, items and ammo drop at such a rate that that fast pace of the combat is never adversely affected, keeping players rooted in the game during combat.
But for as effecting as the battle system feels, the slower, more exploratory portions of the world are equally engaging. A jump ability gained early on will allow players to leap to small, pixilated islands to discover hidden treasures, and destroying certain objects on the fringes of the gameboard will unearth obscured paths that will spring up as you approach them. There’s a lot to find, and the world absolutely invites you wander and explore…
Bastion offers a deceptively simple execution that pulls players fully into the experience. For our money, we cannot wait to get our hands on the title to see how the story all comes together, and how the gameplay continues to evolve, chapter after chapter. If it can keep up at the steady pace of Chapter One, gamers will no doubt have a real treat on their hands in the summer of 2011.