Long ago, I allowed Patreons who pledged at a certain tier to choose any game they wanted for me to review (I have since removed this tier and am thankful that only a couple folks took me up on it). One of my patrons chose Bastion. They’ve waited patiently for me to purchase the game, play it to completion, and review it, hopefully to their satisfaction. Yes, by posting it here I’m breaking the Chronological and Gameological Bylaws of Sega Does, in that, it is a game that has nothing to do with Sega and its inclusion does not adhere to the blog’s chronological nature. For the sake of you law abiding readers out there, I hope you can forgive me.
PUBLISHER: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
DEVELOPER: Supergiant Games
RELEASE DATE: 08/16/11
At first, Bastion left me detached. Every moment is narrated by a calm, gravelly voice. Just when you’re about to have a silent, emotional response to what’s happening on-screen, the narrator pipes in and tells you how to feel. The world is draped in gorgeous watercolors, but after a few levels, the prettiness feels like needless ornamentation to hide otherwise empty landscapes. The isometric perspective allows you to see more of the action as it occurs, but also puts you at a pronounced distance from the protagonist.
Time to wake up.
After a couple hours in the game’s world, my initial misgivings fell away. The narrator who wouldn’t stop talking became a comfortable friend. I grew to enjoy the world for what it was rather than what I wanted it to be. As combat became more intense, I appreciated being able to see more of my surroundings, even if it kept me from connecting more with the protagonist. The more I played, the more Bastion came alive.
Welcome to the Bastion.
The white-haired protagonist known as The Kid is a warrior and a workhorse, always doing other people’s bidding, including the narrator named Rucks. Rucks is the real main character. He’s the one who guides the Kid through the remains of Caelondia, a world struck by a devastating event known as the Great Calamity. He’s the one who ushers the Kid to the Bastion, a safe hub where the Kid can gather himself and prepare for the next fight. For most of the game, Rucks is the only one that speaks, because he’s the only one that remembers anything.
Rucks is quite the dapper old gent.
For as much as Rucks likes to talk, he’s tight-lipped on background details. A Great Calamity occurred and hardly anyone survived. Rucks found safety on the Bastion, but the place still needs some fixing up. He assigns the Kid to wander through what’s left of Caelondia and find some Cores. Cores will not only help restore the Bastion, but they’ll allow the place to become a thriving area. For about half the game, this is all we know.
Even in its tattered form, Caelondia’s a beautiful sight. Crumbling ruins hide once-prosperous cities. The people may be gone (or frozen in their ashy remains), but the colors are bright and vibrant, like there’s still life waiting to be discovered. Admittedly, Caelondia’s pretty bare. There’s not much to do here other than find the Cores and any other items that look worthwhile; maybe fight off a few angry creatures. Nevertheless, you understand why people made this their home.
Every route is the scenic route.
There are more than just Cores lying around Caelondia. Enemies like the Scumbag, a rotting blue blob that secretes damaging ooze as he slides around, still roam the streets. Fragments are blue pieces of the old world, used to purchase goods in the new. Occasionally, you’ll come across pieces of Something Shiny or Something Sharp, which allow you to upgrade your weapons. Other items like a Gramophone or a Ragged Hood don’t do much, but they’re interesting trinkets from the past. If nothing else, Rucks usually has something to say about them.
That old boy ain’t your friend.
You have a special attack, two types of weapons – a long-range and a melee – and a shield with which to dispense justice to Caelondia’s remaining denizens. New weapons are found every couple areas, and while it’s nice to trade up for something new every once in awhile, not all weapons are created equal. My two favorite melee weapons are the War Machete and the Brusher’s Pike. They’re strong, have great range, and allow you to attack quickly. The Dueling Pistols are my favorite long-range weapon. They’re not too powerful, but they are fast and allow you to accurately attack from long distances. Special attacks encompass everything from decoys to hand grenades, but they can only be performed if you have black potions in your inventory.
What a time to die.
The enemies aren’t so much hard as they are sly. They’ve survived the Calamity, so like the Kid, they’ve learned to take care of themselves. Because of the weapon variety, there are many different ways to defeat them. I liked to let enemies run into my shield, attack them, run into my shield again, and attack them again until they eventually wore themselves out… to death. When you’re in one of the occasional all-out brawls, surrounded by Scumbags and Turrets and Gasfellas and other hilariously named foes, you do the best you can. Hopefully you have some explosives on hand.
The Bastion starts to look up as the Kid restores the Cores. Places pop up that weren’t there before. The Distillery lets you equip spirits for every level you gain. These spirits provide extra bonuses or powers that are always active. The Arsenal lets you assign any weapon you like to the three attack slots. You want to burn what remains of Caelondia down with three melee weapons? You have at it. The Forge lets you upgrade your weapons, provided you have the right pieces in your inventory. In the Lost-and-Found, you can purchase different spirits, upgrade materials, among other things. The Memorial honors the past and allows you to complete vigils in exchange for Fragments; in-game achievements, in other words. The Shrine lets you activate different gods, which will effect your enemies and provide XP/weapon bonuses.
Drink up. It’s a hard road.
The Kid eventually finds two other folks while he’s out and about, Zulf and Zia. They’re not like the Kid or Rucks. They’re members of the Ura race, a people that once went to war with Caelondia. A small batch of Ura, Zia and Zulf among ’em, lived in Caelondia, underground where they couldn’t bother anybody. Zia’s father, Venn, worked for the Caelondians, while Zulf was the Ura ambassador. In one of the Kid’s outings, he finds Venn’s Journal. Zulf takes it, reads it, and finds the truth about why the Calamity happened. He’s furious and leaves the Bastion in ruins. Rucks doesn’t give a reason for Zulf’s anger, but he knows.
Zulf ain’t your friend.
A Kid’s work is never done. In the second half of the game, Rucks sends him to the Wild to find purple shards that will once again restore power to the Bastion. The Wild is everything Caelondia isn’t: brutal, ruthless, unwelcoming. Sure, the lush forests look appealing, but that’s just a distraction. Birds known as Peckers unleash needles as sharp as daggers. Stinkeyes explode on impact if they touch you, leaving you in a sea of noxious fumes. The Stinkweed make you sick, unable to see clearly. There are no other options, though. Gotta find the shards and make the Bastion decent again.
In the Wild, better keep those guns blazin’.
Even a strong-willed guy like the Kid grows tired of running an old man’s errands. If you want to test your mettle and let off some steam, step foot in the Proving Grounds. These are areas scattered all over Caelondia where you can train with all the different weapons you find. The better you become with each weapon, the better the prize waiting for you at the end. If nothing else, they’re a nice diversion.
But maybe you’ve already proved yourself. In that case, take a hit of Zulf’s pipe, and step into a surreal arena known as Who Knows Where. Here, the Kid takes on waves of enemies while Rucks unveils his backstory. These are more fulfilling than the Proving Grounds. You gain experience, fragments, and a greater understanding of the Kid.
Reflect this, suckers.
Eventually, the Kid heads into the heart of the Ura headquarters. You understand why Zulf went ballistic. You learn about what happened with the Calamity and who’s to blame. You learn the real purpose of the Bastion. It all makes sense. The Kid’s too strong for anyone to touch him now, but he’s not looking to hurt anyone. Same can’t be said for the Ura, though. They want him dead, so he has to fight his way out, like usual.
By the time the Kid reaches the end, he has a couple hard choices to make. Rucks is still in the background, but there’s little fatherly guidance from him. The decisions are the Kid’s and his alone…
Not exactly a fond farewell.
Bastion‘s story keeps you interested, but even with Rucks’ constant narration, I didn’t feel much one way or the other for the characters or their desires. And that’s ok. As much as the game tries to draw you in with its warm narrator and comforting music (which was good, but not as life-changing as it’s purported to be), Bastion isn’t about the story or the soundtrack. The reason to go back into its world and start a New Game+ is the rewarding combat and the immersive atmosphere.
Once you find the right weapon mix that works for you, Bastion‘s combat shifts from frustrating to amazing. You’ll actively engage enemies rather than pull away from them. You’ll wonder how much abuse you can take. You’ll shift effortlessly from your long-range weapon to your shield to your melee without missing a step or losing much life. You’ll feel like a badass.
Embrace the pain.
I said I didn’t care much for the world initially, and that’s true. I was expecting more from it. I thought it should contain more life before I realized… the emptiness is the point. Caelondia is dead, save for the enemies who seem pissed that they’re alive. The fact that the world is as beautiful as it is, despite the Calamity, is a miracle. It’s in tatters, sure, but the Cores and the Shards point to a new world. By walking Caelondia’s barren streets, you’re forced to confront the mistakes of the past, while searching for a potential future.
The world of Bastion isn’t much different than our own. Our past might contain beautiful moments, snapshots of a more idyllic time perhaps, but it’s also riddled with moments we would take back, “what if”s that will never be answered. Can’t dwell on that. Our lives are in the present and the future. If we want those to have the meaning they deserve, you can bet that, like the Kid, we’ll have to fight for them.
*Screenshots taken from Wikipedia, Giant Bomb, Supergiant Games, Learning Works for Kids, MoarPowah!, App Saga, Hardcore Gamer, Moby Games, Refined Geek, Youtube, Eric’s Binary World, Games-Tec, True Trophies, and Johnny Appleshy. Thanks to all of you.