Bastion – Preview and Interview

“Our hero sits down, fires up his laptop and begins to type. He wants to tell people about a story he heard… the story of Bastion.”

You know how every year there is an indie game that becomes available for download, a game that is a work of such absolute brilliance that everybody loves it?  I’m talking about the games like Castle Crashers, Braid, Limbo etc.  Well, this year I’m calling it early: this year it’s going to be a game called Bastion.  “Proper stories are supposed to start at the beginning, ain’t so simple with this one.”  Bastion starts with a voice, a narrator if you will and he’s telling us the start of a story.

His voice falls quiet as the camera settles on our hero, lying on the floor of a broken building which is floating in the sky; I pause for just a moment, waiting to see if anything on screen will prompt me to do something. It doesn’t so I press A.  “He gets up,” says the gravelly voice.  “He sets off for Bastion, where everyone agreed to go in case of trouble,” it continues, as I cross the threshold of the door and head up some stairs. The world starts building around me as I run “Ground forms up under his feet, as if pointing the way,” says the voice – I think it was at this point that I decided I was already in love with this game. As I progress, the narrator fills me in on what happened, and what is currently happening to the world around me as I go. “A calamity,” he calls it in a cool, deep voice that I can best describe as sounding something like a mix of Samuel L. Jackson when he’s at his coolest and Sam Eliot from The Big Lebowski.  He’s describing everything you do and see on screen in such an organic, almost jazz-like way that you become immersed in it to the point that you forget that you’re playing a game.

“Finds his lifelong friend, just lying in the road,” he says, as you find your first of many weapons: a giant mace.  Some boxes block my way; it’s no bother, just a simple press of B to smash them. I meet my first enemy – a gas fella coming at me with a pick axe, no need to worry though, I swing my old friend: “Kid pops him gooooood,” says the voice. I travel onwards with the ground still forming up in front of me, leading me to an old repeater crossbow and a fountain were I can replenish my health. At this point I took the opportunity to have a look around the beautifully drawn world; it has been a long time since I played a game from this view point – top down isometric – and it works really well.  It fits everything else about the game and its retro RPG-like play style perfectly. The ground I walk on consists of broken parts of a world, floating in the sky atop beautifully drawn backdrops that move around in the distance below me, with tiles and blocks floating up out of the abyss that present me with different paths to the Bastion and side areas containing secret items.  “Kid finds a memento from a girl he knew,” says the voice, as I pick up “Somethin’ shiny.” I felt like I needed to know more about this girl so I pressed the back button to access the inventory (known as my pack).  I smile as I read the text, knowing that this game is so much deeper than the ‘at a glance look’ I originally gave it earlier in the day.  With my exploring outside done, I enter the saloon.

The voice informs me this is one of the town’s most famous watering holes.  A stone figure is stood on a platform towards the back and, as I approach it, the voice informs me it was the bartender: “The calamity got him before his drinking did.” I try to work out if there is anything I’m supposed to do with him, but I can see what looks like a bottle of potion behind him that I decide I want, so I have no choice but to give him the hammer. “He always wanted his ashes scattered here,” the voice informs me, as I turn him into a cloud dust just before a shield falls from the wall of the bar.

I feel like I’ve got a full set of equipment now: my repeater for ranged combat, my old friend the hammer for some up close and personal action and now a shield. Turns out the saloon’s security system has taken me for a thief though and decided to open fire; a quick pull of LT yanks up my shield and deflects the bullet right back at the dragon-headed turret that popped up out of the floor. “Right back at ya,” says the voice, as the turret explodes.  “Kid’s stirred up quite a commotion by now,” he continues, as more gas fellas start to pop out of boxes around me. I like this – it’s my first proper fight.

The combat’s fast and tight, but not to a point of being ‘button mashy’, so if you want to be able to get through a fight without taking too much damage, the player will need to pay attention to what’s going on around them and not just concentrate on one enemy. A quick tap of the A button and a push on the thumbstick will roll you out of the way of any attacks, or otherwise let you get close enough, quickly enough, to any enemies to be able to let them have it with your mêlée weapon (assigned to the B button); this can either be tapped for a quick attack or charged for a more powerful one. The X button performs a ranged attack and, with the repeater crossbow I mentioned earlier, you’ll fire a burst of arrows when holding the button down.  However, the breakers bow I came across later needed to be charged up by holding X, but performed more damage. I’m still being eased in at this point of the game and didn’t need to use Y to drink a potion to top up my health bar (displayed around the player’s feet), but I have a feeling that later fights with more enemies could get much more hectic, requiring me to use all of the above much more skilfully.

Something tells me that I’m reaching the end of this preview now… “Kid sees the way to the Bastion out the window, it’s a bit of a drop.” Yep, definitely getting close. I feel sad as I jump out of the window and the loading screen fades in, thinking that it was the last part of the preview; I want to play more. Lucky for me I was wrong and I hit the floor below.  I continue on my journey, encountering more gas fellas and some small floating tadpole like things known as squirts who are harmless enough on their own, but if a mob of them build up around you, you’ll struggle to take them all on. During some of my off the path exploring I come across a book and pick it up: “Kid learns a lesson from an old book,” says the voice.  I pull RT to find out what it did: “He’s a fast learner,” he notes, as I perform a spin attack with my hammer. I smile to myself again; the narrator really is brilliant and you start to feel a real connection to him, everything he says just fits perfectly within the game. You can be forgiven for thinking that having somebody narrate your actions might wear a little thin eventually, but it doesn’t – if I’m honest I wish the narrator could follow me around in my everyday life.

Bastion’s soundtrack has a very action/RPG feel to it but, like the narrator, it is also incredibly dynamic, with the pace picking up during a fight and slowing down during non combat. The hammer is audibly heavy when it smashes into the floor and the destructible environment sounds exactly like you would expect it to.

Eventually I arrive in an area with two buildings: a distillery and an arsenal. The arsenal pretty much speaks for itself and is the shop for all your weapon-based needs, while the distillery lets you buy and equip potions that give you stat increases in things like weapon damage, +10% to maximum HP and so on. Thankfully it’s a very simple system in its layout for the more casual gamer, but also quite an in-depth one for core RPG fans; it does a brilliant job of letting the player customise the hero to their own style of play without slowing the game down. Greg, from developer Supergiant Games, goes into more detail on how the levelling system works (and more) in the interview video below.

My adventure continues and I get into one of those nasty fights with a bundle of enemies that I was worried about earlier; this time I’m up against a horde that comprises more gas fellas, two new baddies the narrator refers to as ‘scumbags’ and two popcorn machines spitting out an endless supply of squirts that I need to get close to in order to stop. It goes without saying I died here: “…but that’s not how our story ends,” says the voice, as I fall from the top of the screen and land with a thump. I clear the rest of the bad guys up and continue to the Bastion, stopping only to collect a large crystal… a large crystal which seems to be the only thing holding together what’s left of the world around me. The blocks making up the ground beneath me start to fall away as the world begins to turn red and shake; seems like running may be the best course of action here and the narrator agrees. The path ahead is littered with obstacles that I need to smash out of the way, as well as dealing with the gas fellas trying to slow me down, but there really isn’t time to stay and fight so I just keep on running, letting the ones directly in my way have it with my bow.

I get through it okay and it seems to all be behind me now as I find myself walking up a sunny, grassy hill.  Could this be it? Could this be Bastion? Yes it is, but it looks like I’m the only one who made it. My people all seem to be either missing or dead with the exception of a stranger stood by the entrance, a stranger whose voice you know all too well.

And that’s how my time with Bastion ended, wanting more and asking more questions that it answered.  What happened to all the people? What caused the calamity? Who is the stranger? Simply put, Bastion really is a brilliant game; it’s hard to explain, but it feels like it’s familiar and kind of retro while still being original and fresh. The combat is fast and responsive while the levelling system and hidden extras like the ‘somethin’ shiny’ add those extra layers of depth that RPG fans crave.  The story moves on at a pace that you really feel like you are setting yourself, and the narration has to be experienced to be believed. I’ve got a lot of love for Bastion; everything about it draws you in and takes you back to your youth. It made me feel like I wanted to be at home playing it, sitting on the floor with my legs crossed in front of the TV like I used to when I was about ten.  Bastion has that something special that not many games have…

It has a soul.




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8 Comments

  1. MarkuzR says:

    Love the style of this preview; very different and engaging. I’m with you on how cool this game is – as soon as the press release came through I checked out the video and just adored what I saw, but on so many levels. I loved the world building itself as you moved, loved the hand drawn art style, loved how it took me back to my early teens playing games like Willow, Psychic 5, Gauntlet etc where they had that vivid colour and the sprites were around the same size as on Bastion. I’m a sucker for the top down isometric anyway, but there was so much more to this and that’s what attracted me to it. I just wish I’d got the time to actually sit down and play the game, as I really feel like I missed out on something awesome.

  2. Adam says:

    Man this game looks good. I’m stunned at just how many small titles are going above and beyond with their work these days. Bastion looks like great fun, similiar vein to Torchlight but just way out their with that art style, the narration and its own direction.

    Really really good write up Lee, felt like I was getting to experience it as I listend to the vid. :)

  3. Steven Dees says:

    I saw the trailer for this a week ago and loved it so i for one cant wait for it to come out. Really like the video too they seem so passionate about the game and it shows so ill be buying it when its out

  4. Samuel says:

    This game looks fucking amazing. Just wow. How have I not heard of this before you went to PAX? This looks gorgeous, it’s like they sat down and said “Let’s make Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, but on a console, in HD, but real-time and not turn-based… can we do that?” So awesome.

    Definitely digging the narrator too. Who doesn’t want a narrator of their own? Where’s my narrator. I want a narrator. Especially a narrator who sounds like Ron Perlman but says things Samuel L. Jackson might come out with. It looks a bit like they combined two of my favourite things, RPGs, and bedtime fairy tale stories. I can’t say how much I want this, and I’ve only just seen footage of the game. That’s impressive.

    Great interview Lee, and a really unique preview too, awesome stuff. I am completely sold on this game, and I want it now. I can see why it took you so long to write this up the other night now, mate.

    Want want want.

  5. Edward says:

    This is a very unique and well done preview, I loved the style of it. You’re constantly narrating your experiences of a game which has a narrator constantly narrating. Meta.
    Loved the interview as well, I hope this turns out to be an amazing hit, and I might even have to invest in it myself, I loved the look of the gameplay and the thought of having my own personal narrator is something I’ve wanted for years.

  6. Lorna says:

    Really enjoyed this article, it pretty much hooked me into a game that I sadly didn’t get any time with at PAX. The graphics are stunning and the idea of your actions being narrated is an interesting one. The view reminds me of some of the ‘old skool’ games, but which have now been attacked with a stunning palette of colours. Really looking forward to this one!

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