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Game Rant’s Andrew Dyce reviews Bastion

There’s a good chance that several of you reading this have already made up your minds on whether you’ll be downloading Bastion to kick off this year’s Summer of Arcade. Given the amount of buzz that the game has generated since its full unveiling at E3 last month, newly founded Supergiant Games has the odds of success in their favor. But will Bastion live up to the hype, or collapse under its own weight? The short answer: this game simply can not be missed.

To paraphrase Bastion‘s husky narrator, a good review means starting at the beginning. Any of you who have heard of Bastion will most likely have been told of the game’s inspired visuals. The hand-painted artwork of Jen Zee certainly doesn’t disappoint, breathing into the game a style that may immediately conjure up images of a childhood fairy tale, but ultimately provides a stunning backdrop for a seriously compelling story.

It’s no coincidence that the art style chosen for Bastion seems born of a world of fantasy, as the game’s overall story is as free-flowing and mystical as any existing fable. The player embodies the protagonist known only as The Kid, who awakes to find his entire world shattered, with all hope of its return resting solely on his shoulders.

To accomplish the task, The Kid will need to travel across the crumbling realms of Caeldonia, collecting the mystical shard keeping each area held together. From that point on, only the Bastion has the power to rebuild what the mysterious and devastating Calamity has destroyed. Unfortunately, The Kid isn’t the only creature that’s survived the disaster. But with a wide variety of weapons at his disposal, he won’t need to face them empty-handed.

It may seem like quite a dense story to digest, but players won’t be slogged with any chunky blocks of text or quest logs to guide them through the campaign. The entire narrative is delivered by the aforementioned narrator, walking the player through the game as if recounting a legendary tale in his signature gunslinger style.

Bastion Screenshot

This unique form of storytelling brings about several inspired twists and turns, with the narrator discussing what the player is currently doing, what they will need to do next, and what they may not be aware lies ahead.

As simplified as the actual gameplay may be, the story is by no means shallow or contrived. Very few people would expect the mythology and narrative of an old-school dungeon-brawler to be anything more than disposable, let alone the driving force behind the entire experience. But the story of Bastion is so well-paced, mysterious, and flat-out unexpected that it may even have prolific cutscene-skippers glued to their screens.

Although following a narrative that puts many modern releases to shame, this game is built on a foundation of undeniably old-school mechanics, as players are tasked with making their way through various dungeons, unlocking perks and upgrades along the way. Using currency collected in game, players can purchase and forge items and potions to give them the edge in combat. With the number and types of enemies changing greatly over the course of the game, even those who shy away from inventory systems or leveling will be likely to tweak their weapons and perks to suit their own play style.

As you may have noticed, we haven’t used the word “extensive” to describe the various systems, and that’s not a coincidence. Bastion doesn’t get bogged down by an overwhelming arsenal or skill tree, but constructs an extremely simplified interface, then makes the most of it. Players can choose between two weapons at any one time, along with a special attack equipped for one of them. From blades to clubs, muskets, rifles and mortars the player is given free reign to decide how they will attack any given stage. There’s no need to worry about choosing the wrong loadout, as stubborn melee fans can grind their way through with a hammer and shotgun, and max out their health without too much thought.

Bastion Inventory

For those who like to hone their approach, Bastion proves that a game doesn’t need to be complicated to offer customization. Whether it’s a pike to keep enemies at a distance, or a machete that can slice quickly or thrown short distances, different weapon choices massively change the way an encounter will play out. When it comes to potions and upgrades, the possibilities for play styles grow exponentially. Upgrades can merely grant health or extra damage, while those who want to challenge themselves can choose to draw more life from downed enemies, with health potions offering less recovery.

And for those of you who just can’t get enough of a challenge, players can also purchase upgrades to make the enemies more resilient and dangerous. Doing so means the rewards for beating them will be even greater, and combining that with the ability to play the game over again with your final skills and weapons means some serious potential for replayability.

It’s rare for a downloadable title that seems more akin to Braid than Diablo to distinguish itself with the obsessive competition raised in its players, but those of you who have to see your name atop every leaderboard could spend more than a few hours in Bastion‘s various Proving Grounds. With each new weapon acquired, a stage is opened on the map offering you a chance to perfect your skills in a number of challenges, where by putting up a fast time or high accuracy, one of several special items will be unlocked. It may seem like a small addition, but players who typically shy away from ranged weapons now have an incentive to try them out, all in keeping with the narrative and world of the game.

It’s tempting to look at smaller games as aspiring to less than their triple-A blockbuster counterparts, but Bastion is evidence that any game’s potential isn’t dependent on its budget. Bastion is by no means a small game, or bite-sized, nor is its distinguishing feature a uniquely “independent” vision along the lines of Limbo.

Bastion Weapons

Simply put, Bastion is what happens when a development team has a singular vision for what kind of experience they want to deliver, and never falters. The game brings a small number of tools to the job, but makes the absolute most out of every single one of them individually, and in tandem.

Match that kind of a foundation with an inspired and gripping adventure, a stunning art style, and a haunting soundtrack, and you end up with one of the most well-executed and enjoyable games in recent memory. We were so impressed with our first look that we named Bastion one of the best new games at this year’s E3. After seeing the game in its entirety, we have every reason to believe that Supergiant Games is one of the most promising teams around, and one we’ll be watching carefully.

Bastion may have turned heads based on its unique art style, narration, and extraordinary setting, but solid gameplay and fantastic design make it a game for old-school gamers, new-school gamers, and everyone in between.

Bastion has set the bar for this year’s Summer of Arcade fairly high, and is available now for 1200 MS Points on Xbox Live. PC gamers will have to a bit longer.

Once you’ve tried out the game, be sure to let us know what you thought in the comments.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.