"The past, present, and future are just signposts on the same road." I just made this quote up a second ago, or maybe I unknowingly stole it from somebody several times cleverer than I. It could be that this isn't a good quote at all and I should refrain from subjecting you, the reader, to my pretentious fluff. All the same it is a quote that fits Bastion, a new standard for downloadable games. It's a journey that we might have taken many times before and yet rarely have I seen one fresher. It certainly helps that everything that makes up the "gamey" aspects of this adventure is excellent as well. Whether you prefer the experience or the action of a video game, this is one that you shouldn't miss.
Bastion is an astounding achievement, phenomenal, and - why, yes - I'll even call it art.
The world of Caelendia has become one of isolation. If you were to lose everything that mattered to you, what's the harm if everything that didn't matter was lost as well? This defines the past for the few survivors of the Calamity. More than just some everyday nuke, the Calamity has ripped the ground from its foundations and an untold number of people became statues of ash. While their last moments may have been one filled with care-free innocence, they are little more than dust now. Land floats in the air as if it was immune to time and understanding. And so survivors have realized the meaning of everything when they woke up one day to discover there's nothing left for them. Yet there is some odd sense of comfort that keeps the mood from becoming too dreary. Maybe it is that sense of hope on the horizon, or that while the world has become strange and chaotic, it has also become something indescribably wonderful.
The Kid is the protagonist of this tale, a young man with a meaningless past who is chosen almost entirely on the basis of being one of the only people left in this broken world. He is tasked with the restoration of Bastion. The person who has given him this task goes by the name of Rucks, otherwise known as The Narrator. Rucks is The Kid's guide, but to you he's The Narrator, so his voice is the one you'll be hearing throughout the game. Whether you like it or not, The Narrator will have something to say in almost every moment of the game. He will chide your mistakes, make the occasional joke, wax poetic about every trinket you'll come across, and is your sole source when it comes to the story itself, as this game does an incredible job of avoiding cut scenes, dialogue, and those codex moments where understanding the story requires an in-game encyclopedia. Thankfully The Narrator has a voice that you'll want to hear, even outside of the game if it were at all possible. This man could make your next trip to the bathroom sound like an adventure worth hearing about.
The Bastion - a solace from the unknown - is home to the sorts of provisions typically found in action-RPGs. There are arsenals and forges for the storing and upkeep of equipment, a distillery for applying numerous abilities to The Kid, and a memorial where achieved goals lead to core-fragment rewards. Aside from weapon upgrades, core-fragments can be spent at the Lost & Found to restore items thought to be lost in the Calamity, such as materials, brews for the distillery, and special attacks. There is also the Shrine where prayers to idols are answered in the form of bonus experience points, provided you're capable of handling the various ways the game can become more difficult. Not all of these services are available in the beginning of this game. By visiting locations throughout the broken world, you're bound to discover powerful cores which allow you to restore and possibly upgrade Bastion's facilities. This isn't going to be easy, or at least not intentionally. These special cores tend to guarded by lost souls, fierce beasts, and all sorts of other critters who consider their survival just a smidge more important than that of The Kid's.
At any time The Kid can carry two weapons. This benefits gamers who have their own play styles, since there is a wide array of weapons and they can be upgraded and switched around to fit the situation. A spear has spectacular reach and can be thrown, or the player may prefer the up-close and visceral feel of a machete. The hammer is a most dependable friend for stomping foes quickly, or maybe they just want to watch what's left of the world burn by using a flame bellow. There are a multitude of ranged weapons, such as the musket with its wide range, the mortars for long-distance bombing, or the dual handguns and bone repeaters for when enemies must be filled with as many holes as possible in a short time. These weapons become even more powerful thanks to a versatile upgrade system. Finally, there are the special attacks that can truly dominate the battlefield, provided the player has the black tonics needed to make use of their power. Further rounding out The Kid are his shield and evasive roll. Rolling is self-explanatory while the shield allows for blocking attacks and even countering them if the player times his block for just the right moment.
Honestly, with this weaponry and the skills to back it up, I don't believe the denizens of the post-calamity world are any match for The Kid. Sure, they typically have the advantage in terms of numbers and can be quite aggressive, but really they don't stand a chance. To keep things from getting too easy, I recommend praying to the idols at the Shrine. This is a very unique and underused idea for dealing with game difficulty. Instead of merely making the enemies hit much harder or making The Kid much weaker, the game offers ten different ways of making the game more challenging. Sure, the mundane methods like making everything do more and take less damage are available, but there are also idols that give new abilities and assist in keeping the game fresh over multiple play-throughs. Enemies may leave a nasty explosive surprise when defeated, or they can occasionally become like spirits so the player's weapons sail harmlessly through them. One idol, however, I think suffers from rather shoddy mechanics, because it involves damaging The Kid if he simply touches an enemy. There are some enemies that can leap high into the air, and yet even when in mid-air they can damage The Kid even if they look like they are sailing clear over his head. It's more of a nuisance than anything but still an oversight.
Otherwise the feel of combat and the mechanics that hold it all together is very nicely done. Bastion never really moves beyond constant fighting, but that's fine by me, because it's more than sufficient. Still, I would have preferred a better leaderboard system. The main game uses some sort of points system that isn't that clearly explained and the side areas that offer wave after wave of increasingly powerful foes does not have a scoring system to speak of. Your leaderboard rank is essentially determined by how many idols you use, and the highest rank has already gone to the person who accomplished this task first. A system that rewards bonus points for defeating foes quickly or taking less damage in the process could have gone a long way to fix the issue.
While this is a short journey, it does well for itself in terms of replay value. It is all but required to play through this game at least twice for the full story, and there are more ways to enjoy the game through its various optional challenges, a new Game+ for returning with a full arsenal, and the aforementioned arsenal and idol systems. The occasional repeat trip is also nice as it will give you the opportunity to once again take in the excellent soundtrack gorgeous sights, where your eyes will constantly catch tiny details you may have passed over the last time around.
What is truly remarkable is what Bastion goes beyond: I believe even when your time playing this game has long passed you will find that it carries a powerful and unshakeable grasp in your memories. Its greatest strengths extend far beyond what we consider a good game, making it an once-in-a-lifetime experience. I admit these are very strong words, but in the 27 years I've been able to hold a controller in my hand, there really hasn't been anything like Bastion before. So, yes, I will use all of the most glowing words of praise I tend to avoid when describing a video game. It is an astounding achievement, phenomenal, and - why, yes - I'll even call it art. This is more than just a great game that you should play, it is required, which is the highest praise I could ever give.