Bastion (PC) Review

Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Saturday, August 20th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/bastion/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Bastion is Supergiant Games' first title, an action RPG with a unique presentation. It's been making waves over on Xbox LIVE Arcade for about a month, and now the PC release has been topping the Steam chart for a few days since launch. Naturally, it's for good reason.

You play 'the kid', an intrepid little warrior with a few friends and a base -- the Bastion -- to call your own. As you traverse to different locales, you'll pick up shards and such to power up the Bastion with, unlocking new weapons, items, upgrades, in-game achievements, and more. Once you've got her all juiced up, you're ready to deal with the 'Calamity' -- a castastrophic event which ripped the world to pieces and let monsters run about.

Child-like wonder

Environments and enemies are mostly colourful, vibrant, and mesmerizing, delivering a hand-crafted feel rare in games today. Supergiant says their aim is to "make games that spark your imagination like the games you played as a kid", and this is a big reason why they've succeeded. The story is another: narrated thoroughly with an almost blues-style tone, it goes down easy, filling you in on the lore of the world. I enjoyed the 'Who Knows Where' side levels, too, where you induce yourself into some unknown place and take out waves of enemies while 'the man' tells you a story. Unfortunately the narration is a bit too thorough at times: even doing simple things like picking up a potion or whacking an enemy will prompt the graveley man to comment. It peters out somewhat in the second half, however, and it's tolerable overall, but definitely feels a bit intrusive on an otherwise near-perfect game.

Ready that musket

Gameplay is the meat of Bastion, and it delivers solid, rarely feeling monotonous. You've got a health bar, potions for health and abilities, and two weapons of your choosing -- long and short-range -- to bring down all opponents with, plus a special ability (rain down fire from the sky, trap enemies, whirlwind attack, etc).

Weapons are all fun to use in their own way, whether it's the Brush pike (which lets you perform huge slam attacks from the sky or push enemies back while on ground), War Machete (slice and dice, throw), Scrap Musket (blast groups apart from short range), or Calamity Cannon (think rocket launcher), to name a few.

All are upgradeable once you find the needed material per weapon (easy enough), and have enough dough (not as much). Up to five abilities per weapon can be added; each time you must choose between two, which affords some degree of customization for your play style. Myself, I leaned toward the Cael Hammer and its raw damage and armor-busting upgrades, combined with the Galleon Mortar (blast enemies from long range) and its fast aiming and fast reload upgrades. With this I could pick off foes sometimes before they saw me, or at least before they got much damage in, and then nail 'em with the hammer if they got close, or if I was feeling aggressive.

Side missions are available for each weapon, which serve as tests of skill. With the Breaker Bow, for example, it's your job to cut through as many bad guys as possible in as few shots as possible. If you come in first, an exclusive skill is unlocked for the given weapon. Some of these are more challenging than others, though most should test your patience when you fail as much as satisfy you when you succeed.

Bad dudes

Throughout your adventure, you'll encounter a pretty wide variety of baddies, whether it's the blue ghost-like pickaxe wielding creatures, plants which mess up your senses with toxic gases, or robed foes with bows and teleportation abilities, to name a few, most of which come in both medium and enormous sizes. Each require their own tactics to take down efficiently, though all can be made easier through timed counter attacks, if you've got the skill.

By default, the game is somewhat easy, but in a refreshing design choice, back on the Bastion you can customize exactly how you want foes to be harder, whether it's regenerating, being more agile, deflecting attacks, or plenty more. Suffice to say, you will get your ass kicked from time to time with even a few of these on, so playing the whole way through with all on will prove a formidable challenge for even the most hardened warriors, to say the least.

Sounds you can sing to

Bastion, like many independent games, seems to suffer from budget constraints (understandable, of course, as it's self-funded). There's a lot of great and beautiful lore, here, but there's only so much effect pure narration and a few still animated scenes can produce, so it's difficult to be truly compelled by what you're being let in on -- sometimes more than others. Characters suffer even moreso; with very little animation, no voice acting (excepting a couple lines in total), and no dialogue, they end up feeling like wooden husks.

On the other end, the soundtrack is up there with the best in gaming, period. An eclectic mix of styles, it pops and excites and swoons before you even know what hit you. Note the soundtrack is available for purchase for an extra five dollars -- more than worth it, as it includes 22 tracks and some great art. Somehow, it functions just as well as a game soundtrack as music you listen to like any other. My personal favourite at this point is 'Build That Wall (Zia's Theme)', an acoustic melancholy tune with vocals that just capture you and draw you in instantly. It plays during a beautiful scene and is one of the game's most memorable moments. Hear it below.

PC features

Supergiant has clearly put effort into the PC version of their first title, offering high resolution options and 4X anti-aliasing, and as of today, added a variety of command line options (including no border windowed mode). Performance on a 5770 / 1055t with one of these commands (-nofixedstep) is a solid 60fps with V-Sync on; with it off, it exceeds 300, but movement is screwy enough to ruin gameplay.

WASD-focused controls are offered (be sure to use the -isomovement command if you go with this), as are mouse-focused controls, both of which are entirely customizable; the Xbox 360 controller is supported natively, and more pads will be added over time. I preferred WASD as opposed to the click-based movement setup, and had no qualms. Though Bastion is an isometric game, with the aforementioned command, diagonal movement is locked to whatever path you're taking, so there's no awkwardness at all. One major difference from the console version is support for manual aiming, which proves terribly useful.

Though the game was in great shape from the beginning, Supergiant has already released three patches, and it sounds like more will be coming.

The bad news is at least for now, 16:10 resolutions are not supported, so if that's what you've got, expect black borders on the top and bottom of the screen, hurting immersion some.

Final thoughts

Bastion is a standout title in more ways than one. With a refreshing art style, presentation, and subtle twists on old action RPG mechanics, not to mention one of the best soundtracks around, it's all too welcome, especially on PC where games even remotely like this are rare. The game isn't terribly long, but is satisfying nonetheless, and besides, the New Game Plus mode is irresistable. It suffers in a couple of important areas, but it's nothing that puts a major damper on an otherwise joy of a game.

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