By Mike Bezek
Lives undone, a history unraveled, a world broken. A silent hero takes up arms to repair the devastation and reap the nonexistent rewards of a thankless job. It’s the classic formula for all of our favorite childhood games, isn’t it? But this time, the approach is different. The setting is serious, the story becomes personal, and the player is emotionally invested before they even know it. The coupling of exquisite gameplay and immersive storytelling is the creation of people who want to perfect the genre. Bastion is a game that takes those who think games are for children and spins their argument on its head. For all the childish romps that fuel the arguments of the naysayers, finally, here is the antithesis.
Perfecting The Art
Upon entering the world of Celondia, information is sparse. All you know is that you have just woken up post-“Calamity”, and the only thing you can trust is your hammer and your wits. The path before you is not clear, as a shattered world barely reconstructs itself right before your eyes, the only thing guiding you is an ominous voice narrating your every move. The voice is rough, with a surly, yet very articulate southern draw. The tale he weaves through the arresting dialogue is not one of happiness, or triumph, but rather a tale of sorrow and perseverance of a lone boy trying to piece together his broken life in an unforgiving world.
The story hit me like a brick wall right out of the gate, the intensity is palpable from the start. There is not a moment in the game where you are not given a quick and clever quip, or reminded of how serious the role you play in this world is. Rather than dialogue, the narrator tells the story from his point of view, as if you were sitting on his front porch on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. This allows him to weave a tale of hopelessness and redemption with such emotion that it grabs the player so masterfully, it is hard not to care about the nameless protagonist, or his tragic past that only became more hopeless the moment the Calamity hit. I found myself emotionally engaged, I wanted to discover and learn, and I wanted to know as much as I could about this world and its denizens.
Along your travels, you will find various artifacts that slowly help unravel the mystifying story and give you more insight into the world before it was destroyed. Instead of being given overly complicated backgrounds on what gives the world of Celondia so much personality, the game keeps the descriptions quick and concise, without delving too deeply into unnecessary details. Smaller details are handled within the levels, where short stories are told as you progress, which ultimately wraps up once you reach the end. These small, introspective looks into the world are as charming as they are compelling, and give each area its own specific history and character.
What seemingly begins as a simple tale of adventure and exploration, takes a very slow and serious turn towards the human condition and coexistence. Bastion is what storytelling in games should be; it is one of the best examples (if not the best) of what developers need to be practicing to make their stories compelling and to engaging the audience.
Levels come in one flavor: isometric, a design that has been abandoned for it’s supposed quirkiness and lack of true movement Bastion shows that we can still retain that freedom while being able to have strategic and enjoyable battles. Each area floats miles above the ground, and as you progress, bits and pieces fall from the sky to build a multitude of pathways to you destination. The sense that the world is reconstructing itself as you explore only reinforces the premise that you are the only one left that can bring this shattered world back to life.
Each level in the game is a hand-painted masterpiece that is teeming with life. No two areas are the same, as a multitude of colors are used to give each area it’s own distinct personality. Whether it be the once proud watering hole for the community, or a desolate mine crawling with fragments that time has forgotten, each area possesses its own unique and definable trait.
Enemies and allies alike are crisp and colorful, vibrantly displaying unique and original designs that fit in very, very well for the adult fairytale setting. As an added bonus, illustrations accompany key points in the story that help solidify it’s importance to the storyline.
The downside of all of these colorful visuals is that it is tied together with a linear path, as all other paths besides the one that takes you to your destination are dead ends. Exploration is not that name of this game, it is about experiencing the culture and setting of each area. I find it hard to be disappointed in the lack of true freedom when I was too captivated to move forward, rather then deviating to a new path.
Clear Sight In A Forced Perspective
The aforementioned isometrics gives a lot of gamers chills, because if it’s not an RTS using the system, it gets pigeonholed as a bad design choice for anything but point and click. Rest easy, because the game not only holds it’s own using an outdated layout: it almost has it in spades. You move in the traditional isometric fashion, but still are given the ability to move in all 8 axis’. While this does pose a problem in terms of being able to maneuver effectively when the game demands quick reflexes, you are still given a great amount slack to correct and learn from mistakes that spawn from a sometimes iffy system.
The variety and functionality of weapons that you discover over the course of the game give it plenty of replayability, as you are only allowed to carry two weapons at a time. From a machete to dueling pistols, there variety is always kept fresh and always present a unique way to tackle an area. Some choices may not be the best and you will be forced to return to the level hub to make it easier on yourself, but the challenge to work with what you have chosen is always present.
Combat is fast and fierce, and you are forced to gain a sense of your surroundings as you begin to understand how important it is to keep your footing. The difficulty curve moves quite nicely and situations you felt you could never handle early on become simple tasks, evoking a sense of accomplishment while reminding you how fun the frantic battles can be.
You will constantly be given new options of play as you progress through the game. As you upgrade your weapons and discover new combat abilities, the game taunts a unique challenge system that you can enable and disable at any point in between levels. You are given the option to invoke the power of Celondia’s gods which will provide the overall game with a challenge. Whether it be that enemies become more resistant to damage, or more aware of your position, the game will provide you with a small reward of extra currency or experience. While most games offer challenge levels that scale the whole game against you, the challenge in Bastion is totally up to the user. Once applied, it gives constant satisfaction and feedback to the player in forms of instant rewards.
Emotion In Sound
Straight from the bayou, the soundtrack is a masterwork of guitars, banjos and modern drum and bass wrapped up in a unique little package. Each level has a very distinct sound to it, though it does not ever deviate from the overall theme. Although, when you get into key fights, a Middle Eastern themed track winds up and brings the tension on, providing a push forward as you find you skill tested to the limit, and your creativity pushed even farther with your weapon set.
Logan Cunningham provides the voice for Rucks, the games narrator. The subdued, laid back candor veiled behind a semi-serious overtone gives the game it’s undeniable sense of humanity. His constant provision of details and feedback on particular decisions you make in the game cause you to almost sit back and think about what you are trying to accomplish. This constant reminder forces the story to become undeniably personal, it involves the player and forces you to you think and feel rather than just be along for the ride. I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the story simply because it was given such personality, there is simply no better way to hear a story then to have such a sublime wordsmith behind the reigns of such a captivating tale.
If anything, the soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission into the world of Celondia.
There are games out there, and then there are experiences, Bastion is the latter of those two. Exploring the world of Celondia, meeting the characters, experiencing the sometimes gut-wrenching story was nothing short of one of the greatest and emotional experiences I have had in gaming. The game does have minor flaws, and while they are few, they are forgiven and forgotten. What Supergiant Games has created here was something I was unable to pull myself away from, it was something that gave me a reason to believe in storytelling in games once again. Bastion is an arrow shot at the impossibly hard target to hit known as, “The perfect game”, and it’s damn hard to tell anyone that it hasn’t hit dead on.
Is It Worth Your Money?
I could go on and extol the values of this game further, but I am fairly sure you understand how I stand on the issue. As of printing time of this article, Bastion sells for $15 on Steam, which is nothing short of one of the best deals in gaming right now. With the amount of challenges and weapons in the game, there are plenty of reasons to visit Celondia over and over. To be frank, if Bastion was priced at $30, I would still have no regret in purchasing this title. There are plenty of AAA games that barely pass the threshold of 7 or 8 hours that ask for double that price, but you are given the same experience in a cheaper and undeniably more charismatic game.