The Remarkable Bastion

I have often backed the so-called Humble Bundle. The good thing about it is that you gain access to a number of interesting games, without having to look up an pay for each individual game. Some of the games I won’t ever get around to playing, but that’s ok – particularly because sometimes, I stumble across a little pearl like Bastion by Supergiant Games.

The Calamity

The game starts as our protagonist, known simply as The Kid, wakes up to find his world in ruins. Left are fractions of the old world floating in the open space, the rest destroyed by something called simply “the Calamity”.

Soon The Kid encounters another survivor who has made his home in The Bastion, a safe haven that will protect them in the wasteland around them, as long as they will provide it with cores and shards to power it. Most of the game, then, The Kid travels from place to place in search of these crystals of power, unlocking  or improving six buildings as he does so.

Challenging and varied.

The basic gameplay seems pretty straightforward. Your mission takes you through a number of levels, fighting a host of different monsters. You start out with only a single weapon, a great big hammer, but as time goes by, you gather 11 different weapons. At any given time, you can carry two different weapons and one special skill, changing only between levels and at very occasional armories scattered around the landscape.

And you’ll want to change. Every weapon is used in its own distinct way, from the hammer that requires you to stand still to hit an area to the dueling pistols that you should fire very rapidly. Each weapon has five levels of upgrades that you can apply to it, and each can be explored using the proving grounds that pose challenges to test your mastery of each weapon.

Finally, you can test out different outfits by going to one of four dream places, each sending waves of enemies at you while the narrator tells you something of the background of one of the principal characters. Winning here is also one of the best ways to gain more fragments – the currency of the game, fragments of the old world.

Winning in these dream gauntlets is no easy matter, and is one of several things that mostly take the grind out of what could have been a rather grindy game. You can’t return to a level that you have already defeated, meaning you won’t have an incentive to go back to complete each level as you will in some games. Instead, you will be able to buy anything you missed – for fragments, of course – from the “lost and found,” one of the buildings of the bastion. The dream levels are quite different from each other, and each outfit handles each dream world quite differently. This gives you an incentive to return to each several times, besides just the fragments earned.

All in all, the gameplay of Bastion is very solid handiwork. It doesn’t strike me as groundbreaking, but it is interesting to experiment with, and it’s challenging without being frustratingly difficult. The gameplay is not, however, what makes Bastion such a remarkable gameplay experience.

 

What makes it remarkable, instead, is the way it tells the story of the game. The story is told by a gruff narrator, who is also present as one of only four characters in the game. These characters are nothing special, really – just the four people who survived the Calamity. Now, they are trying to find a way to get along in the post-calamity world.

This creates a story that works on so many layers: We experience each character’s emotional turmoil at the same time as we unravel the horrible tale of two peoples who couldn’t find a way to get along. Focusing on a relatively small number of characters means the game can dwell on each of them in turn, revealing why they act as they do.

Most of the story is told as voiceovers to the action levels. In this way, the player listens to it out of the corner of his ear while he is busy keeping the Kid alive. The narration is extremely well written, evocative without being emotional, indirect and intriguing without being confusing or coy.

Add to that the rather stunning soundtrack, swinging from melancholy through happy to intense. It mixes sounds of hammers on metal and bluegrass guitar with airy synth and dreamy song. All in all, the soundtrack helps give Bastion a very special mood to it that supports the story well.

A Bastion of Storytelling

All in all, Bastion is quite a positive experience. It’s an evocative experience that reveals one way that games can tell a really good story using relatively simple means, applied judiciously. When the game is done, I want to fire up the “New Game Plus,” not only to play with my toys some more, but also to revisit the story in the light of what is revealed throughout the game.

I have often backed the so-called Humble Bundle. The good thing about it is that you gain access to a number of interesting games, without having to look up an pay for each individual game. Some of the games I won’t ever get around to playing, but that’s ok – particularly because sometimes, I stumble across a little pearl like Bastion.

The Calamity

The game starts as our protagonist, known simply as The Kid, wakes up to find his world in ruins. Left are fractions of the old world floating in the open space, the rest destroyed by something called simply “the Calamity”.

Soon The Kid encounters another survivor who has made his home in The Bastion, a safe haven that will protect them in the wasteland around them, as long as they will provide it with cores and shards to power it. Most of the game, then, The Kid travels from place to place in search of these crystals of power, unlocking  or improving six buildings as he does so.

Challenging and varied.

The basic gameplay seems pretty straightforward. Your mission takes you through a number of levels, fighting a host of different monsters. You start out with only a single weapon, a great big hammer, but as time goes by, you gather 11 different weapons. At any given time, you can carry two different weapons and one special skill, changing only between levels and at very occasional armories scattered around the landscape.

And you’ll want to change. Every weapon is used in its own distinct way, from the hammer that requires you to stand still to hit an area to the dueling pistols that you should fire very rapidly. Each weapon has five levels of upgrades that you can apply to it, and each can be explored using the proving grounds that pose challenges to test your mastery of each weapon.

Finally, you can test out different outfits by going to one of four dream places, each sending waves of enemies at you while the narrator tells you something of the background of one of the principal characters. Winning here is also one of the best ways to gain more fragments – the currency of the game, fragments of the old world.

Winning in these dream gauntlets is no easy matter, and is one of several things that mostly take the grind out of what could have been a rather grindy game. You can’t return to a level that you have already defeated, meaning you won’t have an incentive to go back to complete each level as you will in some games. Instead, you will be able to buy anything you missed – for fragments, of course – from the “lost and found,” one of the buildings of the bastion. The dream levels are quite different from each other, and each outfit handles each dream world quite differently. This gives you an incentive to return to each several times, besides just the fragments earned.

All in all, the gameplay of Bastion is very solid handiwork. It doesn’t strike me as groundbreaking, but it is interesting to experiment with, and it’s challenging without being frustratingly difficult. The gameplay is not, however, what makes Bastion such a remarkable gameplay experience.

What makes it remarkable, instead, is the way it tells the story of the game. The story is told by a gruff narrator, who is also present as one of only four characters in the game. These characters are nothing special, really – just the four people who survived the Calamity. Now, they are trying to find a way to get along in the post-calamity world.

This creates a story that works on so many layers: We experience each character’s emotional turmoil at the same time as we unravel the horrible tale of two peoples who couldn’t find a way to get along. Focusing on a relatively small number of characters means the game can dwell on each of them in turn, revealing why they act as they do.

Most of the story is told as voiceovers to the action levels. In this way, the player listens to it out of the corner of his ear while he is busy keeping the Kid alive. The narration is extremely well written, evocative without being emotional, indirect and intriguing without being confusing or coy.

Add to that the rather stunning soundtrack, swinging from melancholy through happy to intense. It mixes sounds of hammers on metal and bluegrass guitar with airy synth and dreamy song. All in all, the soundtrack helps give Bastion a very special mood to it that supports the story well.

A Bastion of Storytelling

All in all, Bastion is quite a positive experience. It’s an evocative experience that reveals one way that games can tell a really good story using relatively simple means, applied judiciously. When the game is done, I want to fire up the “New Game Plus,” not only to play with my toys some more, but also to revisit the story in the light of what is revealed throughout the game.

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