I hated this for my first half-hour of play, I must say. My character woke up, then ran around smashing stuff with a hammer, then a bunch of enemies appeared and I found it pretty tricky to not take continuous damage, and then I died a bunch of times, fell off a floating platform a bunch of times, and quit in frustration. I was, of course, wrong.
Bastion’s narration is its novelty appeal, for sure. An omnipresent soft voice describes your moves, with warmth and humour and deference, but it’s not just a gimmick, the whole game is built around it. Because of the voiceover, the game feels relaxed during the most frantic of fights. Because of its constancy, you pick up an awful lot of the culture and the world and the people without actually feeling like exposition is being crammed down your throat. It feels like I’m touring a quiet museum, and the narrator is my audio tape, helpfully pointing out the treasures, giving me a bit of history, and it all sinks in the same. Bastion succeeds in creating a consistent, interesting universe that feels genuinely different. Its emphasis on fantastic creatures, on belief and separate areas floating in space, and on objects and mementos reminded me a lot of Planescape.
The strength of Bastion is despite the fact it’s essentially a linear story, it doesn’t feel like that. You don’t feel constrained because you are able to pick the pace with which you proceed, and there are side areas to absorb yourself in. I took my time because it felt like a time-taking kinda game. I’d do a mission, try and beat a proving ground, mess around in the Bastion, maybe try to get through a dream, then head out to the next mission. The proving grounds (challenge areas for the various weapons) are actually I think a great tool for convincing you to try out different weapons, to get used to them, to see what they can do, and this feeds back into increasing the diversity of your playthrough. The visual style is distinctive and consistent and gives you a good guide to where you are. Areas vary in vibrancy depending on their friendliness to you, from chromatic spray to sepia. Enemies reflect their environment, the city, the wilds, the fortress, whatever.
The combat is a lot deeper than it first appears, too. There isn’t just one combination that works, or one which is all-powerful, and you can mix and match whatever, you aren’t just limited to one melee and one ranged. (By the end I think I was using the bow and the bellows). The fact you can upgrade your weaponry, and also switch between different upgrades at no cost, means there are multiple ways of using all of the weapons. Then there’s the spirits, passive bonuses to add on in varying flavours of liquor, and they drastically change your playstyle too, making you offensive or defensive or mobile or counter-attacking or sturdy or a thousand other things. And there’s the idols, gods you can enrage to increase the difficulty of your challenge but also affect the XP and currency you gain. So, there is a great heap of permutations and it’s all adjustable by the player at any time, so this means every player will be able to find some nirvana-like plane of perfectly balanced difficulty for them. It gives me something to go back for with a second playthrough, to have a proper pop at the Gods.
And the music! It’s understated, as is the rest of the game, yet it’s powerful. It evokes the sound of the frontier, the unknown, the unexplored. One particular highlight was the narrator joining in with the background miner’s chant, humming softly. Bation is a unique and special game, and you should make sure to give it a shot. And if you’re interested what ending I chose…
5 stars, 9 hours spent on one playthrough, will probably repeat it in New Game +.