Today, July 20, Xbox opens its Summer of Arcade with “Bastion,” an action RPG from developer Supergiant Games, for 1200 Microsoft points (or $15 for parents who may be getting talked into buying this game for your kid and haven’t a clue what a Microsoft point is). “Bastion,” though unlikely to rewrite the book on action RPGs, contains a few unique gameplay elements that should serve to separate it from the Xbox Live Arcade pack.
The story of “Bastion” won’t win any awards for originality, but if you can give me one RPG in the last ten years that would, I’d doff my cap to you. The story begins when the main character, known only as The Kid, wakes up to find the world, and nearly everyone in it, destroyed by the Calamity. Thanks to the magical crest The Kid possesses, the land reforms beneath his feet as he moves through the ravaged world. He searches for items called Cores, that when returned to his safe haven known as the Bastion, should reverse the dire effects of the Calamity. Of course, it turns out not to be that simple (when does it ever).
Perhaps the most highly touted feature in the lead up to Bastion’s release was its use of narration. Much was made of the narrator that reacted to your in-game actions and decisions. I’m happy to say that this point was oversold. Yes, there is a narrator and, yes, occasionally he reacts to what you do onscreen, but this isn’t like playing an EA sports game where a commentator announces every little thing you do, nor should it. What the narrator does is provide a back-story and propels the story forward without having to break the action for cut scenes and lengthy exposition. It makes you want to move forward in the game to learn more about what is really going on in the story. It gives your actions immediate relevance. And beyond that, the voice itself is just cool. I’m talking about sitting in a jazz club in 1951 about to listen to Thelonius Monk perform “Straight, No Chaser” for the first time, cool.
Okay, nothing is that cool, but you get the idea.
The game’s action is pretty standard fare. The Kid has a variety of weapons in his arsenal, both ranged and melee, and two weapons can be carried at any one time, with an additional special attack which may be used on a limited basis. Attacks can be blocked with a shield or evaded, and the trick is to know when to use each.
What sets the games action apart from other games is the unique use of space. Since the world itself is reforming around The Kid, you will often find yourself find yourself fighting enemies on a small scrap of land which gives the action a claustrophobic feel. Trying to find space to effectively use ranged weapons can be difficult and there is always the threat of falling off the edge of the world while attempting to evade your adversary’s attacks. Conversely, you can turn the space to your advantage. A charging enemy can often be tricked into plunging off the edge with a well timed evasive roll.
The RPG elements in “Bastion” are on the lighter side. The Kid levels up occasionally throughout the game which grants a small boost to health, but more importantly, each level allows you to add another spirit to the distillery at the Bastion. Each spirit grants an additional perk to The Kid, such as greater physical resilience to damage or a higher critical hit chance. These perks can be modified at anytime within the Bastion.
The depth of modification in “Bastion” is where the game truly shines. In addition to the spirits at the distillery, every weapon can be upgraded within the forge. Each upgrade gives you a choice of two different weapon attributes to choose from. These attributes can vastly change the performance of each weapon and can be modified anytime. Even the behavior of the enemies you face can be modified within the Shrine. By invoking different idols you can grant your enemies abilities to make the game more difficult. One idol will increase enemy’s physical resistance; another will make enemies explode upon defeat, and still another will cause enemies to randomly deflect your attacks. Of course, each idol you invoke also increases the rewards you receive from slain foes. The depth of modification of “Bastion” greatly increases the game’s replayability, ensuring you will be playing the game deep into the summer.