It’s quite curious to see Microsoft begin its Summer of Arcade campaign so late into July, where summer is already passed its halfway point. Timing aside, the Summer of Arcade kicks off with the colorful Bastion, an action RPG developed by new independent developer Supergiant Games.
What’s It About?
The story of Bastion takes place in a world that has fallen victim to the “Calamity”, an apocolyptic event that has enveloped the world in darkness and ruin. Players take on the role of “the kid”, supposedly one of only a couple of survivors of the Calamity. Upon leaving his dwelling, the kid finds that every little step he takes results in small parts of the world being recreated around him, allowing him to explore the ruins to learn and understand what exactly took place. Soon, his ventures take him to the Bastion, a floating piece of land in the sky that can continue to grow using the cores found in key areas back in the Calamity-infected land.
As with most action RPGs, there really isn’t much to the story. It has its moments, but story isn’t necessarily its strong point. However, the game’s storytelling is a different matter. The game’s narrator, who the kid meets at the Bastion, tells the player each and every move the kid makes. Whether it’s simply running, attacking monsters, falling off the edge of the world, finding a new item — the narrator will find something to say with his raspy, yet interesting voice reminiscent of the charming individual from the Dos Equis beer commercials.
Why Should I Care?
The narrator’s role isn’t just to be a narrator either. He also sort of plays the kid’s sidekick. At times, he’ll offer hints on what to do. He’ll talk about instances to be cautious of while exploring. He’ll talk about how powerful a new weapon is. The fact of the matter is while he’ll joke around quite a bit, the narrator is also a key companion to the gameplay, and it really makes Bastion unique in its own right.
Aside from the narrator, part of what makes Bastion so unique is its short levels. While the game rewards exploration, it’s still quite linear due to the fact that land appears wherever the kid walks. Each level has its maze-like nuances for brief confusion, but it also takes a page from other games by featuring a weapon that becomes extremely useful for the enemies roaming around that particular area. For example, one of the game’s areas includes a sword that also doubles as a throwing knife for projectile attacks.
Veterans of the genre may be turned off by the short levels, but this actually works to the game’s advantage. As with other hack and slash adventures, running around the map mashing on the attack button can get old rather quickly, and Bastion’s first few levels were definitely getting old. That being said, after what’s probably an hour of play, the game picks up. Instead of having to easily deal with one enemy at a time, loads of enemies start filling the screen, making things more hectic especially noting the small masses of land that the kid already inhabits. Not only does old-school button mashing become useful, but knowledge of the equipment does as well.
As players get further into the game, access to armories and shrines will be unlocked, allowing the kid to upgrade his equipped weapons as well as give himself special statistic boosts depending on whichever idols that he uses from the aforementioned shrines. This is where things get both useful and complicated. It’s useful because the kid becomes undoubtedly stronger using better equipment and stats. It’s complicated because the game doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the upgrade system. In a nutshell, every weapon has five levels of upgrades, with each level including an either/or type of power. This in combination with the idols from the shrines gives the game a significant amount of depth good enough to satisfy even the most hardcore action RPG enthusiast.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The game itself isn’t particularly hard, but with a game that focuses more on variety than on challenge, it hardly matters. The desire to explore what may be hidden paths, the loads of enemies that are fun to kill, and the weapons and loot that players will find culminate into quite an adventure, and to sweeten things up, a New Game Plus option becomes available after the first playthrough, which allows the players to play the game again with everything they’ve unlocked.
Visually, the game’s lush art is simply astounding. Supergiant Games has a small team, and Seattle native Jen Zee deserves an award for the beautifully hand-painted world of Bastion. Everything from the watercolor to the animation is top-notch, and the old-school isometric perspective really gives the game a supportive amount of depth and detail. In addition to Zee, a huge amount of praise should go to Logan Cunningham for doing the voiceover work of the famed narrator that Bastion is already quite known for. Aside from the spoken word, Bastion sounds good. It’s an action RPG, so the clanking of swords and random explosions are sounds that people should be used to by now.
To put it simply, Bastion is a refreshingly beautiful action RPG experience. While it runs the risk of turning people off because there isn’t much to brag about in the early hours of gameplay, it truly makes up for it to those patient enough to keep slashing and tinkering with the highly customizable kid.
Bastion is available now at the Xbox Live Game Marketplace for 1200 Microsoft Points as a part of the Summer of Arcade Campaign. If the rest of the lineup for Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade is this good, then this summer should end on a high note for a lot of gamers.