SummaryThank you, Humble Indie Bundle.
The GoodThe one thing everybody knows about this game is the fact that every action you perform is narrated by an old man. When I first heard about this, my initial reaction was "That is going to get annoying really fast", just like the animations in Pokemon Stadium. However, Bastion is a very good example of how narration is done well, for starters: The narrator never repeats himself and is constantly present. This means that unlike the commanders from Lord of the Rings: Conquest, you won't be hearing the same four or five lines over and over again, instead the narrator feels very real and human, almost like how a good storyteller would tell his tales around a campfire.
The narration also allows the game to focus on gameplay without losing points on its story. A lot of games these days think it's impossible to tell a story during gameplay and instead rely constantly on cut-scenes, so a game like Half-Life or indeed Bastion is a welcome refreshment. Because the narrator is constantly talking we learn a lot about the people and the world around us without ever needing to lose control over our character or read tons of dialogue.
The main goal of the game is to, after a calamity occurred, rebuild the city by gathering the cores and shards that kept it alive. Whenever you collect one of these items you can build or upgrade a building inside the "Bastion" (a restoration point for the city). This is a very rewarding process because each building has a specific feature that will help you out in a different way, an armory for example allows you to swap weapons. Upgrading the armory unlocks new special moves which can be a life-saving investment when in the tougher stages.
Fighting in this game is very fast and skillful, as The Kid you wield a variety of different weapons varying from hammers to entire mortars and there are tons of enemies coming at you from each direction. You can use Shift to hold up a shield, Q to perform a special attack and spacebar to dodge-roll. Dodging and defending become very integral skills later on in the game, the difficulty tends to rise and some enemies can really mess your day up.
Back in the Bastion there is a lot of customization that you can perform on your hero. In the distillery you can select a beverage every time you level up, these give you passive bonuses such as doing constant critical hits when you are below 30% health. At the forge you can upgrade your weapons with resources you found elsewhere and these have a small upgrade-tree. It's not nearly as complex as Civilization, but making a choice that fits your play-style can make quite a difference. Finally there is a temple where you can choose which gods to worship, worshiping gods makes the enemies stronger in a variety of ways, but also increases the experience bonus you receive.
For each weapon there is also a training facility where you can practice your skills. The goal is to kill as many enemies or possible or clear the course in as little time or attacks as possible. The better you do, the better the reward will be at the end. Training rooms aren't really rare in games, but I have only seen it done well a handful of times. Bastion makes sure that the three rewards you can get are actually worth the effort and they become more valuable the better you do, plus they are actually well designed, that counts for a lot too.
I finished this game the other day and had a blast with it, I especially liked the story that maintained emotional weight without ever needing to show cut-scenes to me. After the credits though, I was treated on a message that made me very happy, namely the hint that I had unlocked a Game+ mode that allowed me to start a new game with my old character. Sweet! I loved it when Borderlands did this and I love it again because Game+ mode is such an awesome idea, it increases the replay value of a game and provides a better challenge for those who choose to use it. Personally I'll wait a little longer and play through the rest of the games I got in the Indie Bundle.
The BadIf the game produces a pie chart that showed the sources from which I took damage, enemies would probably come in second place. Why is that? Well because I fell of the level every ten seconds. Bastion has an isometric viewpoint and combined with the very elaborate and messy level-design it often creates the problem that you direct a roll in the wrong direction or stand on something that is not actually part of the floor. This was very obnoxious and a constant problem from the second I booted the game till the very last stage.
I am not a great fan of levels that have timers on them and while Bastion rarely did this, it did have a few scenes in which the level would fall apart and you have to rush through it. I found these to be very annoying because, while they are definitely not out-of-place, they did force me to stop my exploring. Like I said in my review of "Alter Ego", I hate it when I feel like I am missing out on interesting content and that statement applies here as well. I don't like it when I might be constantly running past valuable collectibles or secrets without knowing it.
The game has way too many weapons, almost one for every stage you visit. While they are definitely different in design, function and never feel like copy&pasted work, it did grow rather annoying that I could never settle with a particular combination of weapons. At the start of the game you are given a pistol, a few minutes later you're already rolling with a bow. When you get used to the bow, you get a javelin, a few stages later a scattergun and the one after that you are given a freaking rifle. It gets so annoying to constantly receive new weapons after a while and it makes upgrading feel rather pointless. I also hate it that you automatically swap weapons when you find a new one, especially since you can only change it back when you find an armory somewhere.
This might seem like a poor complaint, but I really thought that there weren't enough songs. The soundtrack is pretty long, but there are only two or three songs with actual lyrics and they all sound freaking gorgeous.
The Bottom LineBastion was a massive hit when it launched in 2011 and I initially missed out on it. I am very glad that I caught up now however because Bastion is a very worthwhile experience, it sets a new bar for indie-games on the fields of story-telling, graphics, music and gameplay. I am definitely going to revisit this game at some point in 2013 and hell, maybe I even go for a 100% completion then.
If you consider yourself a member of the indie-scene, then I don't have to tell you to play Bastion because you already have. People looking for a completely new experience, something that hasn't been done before, should also look towards this title. Come to think of it, even the die-hard gamers can probably get a good amount of satisfaction out of this title due to its chaotic gameplay and the lack of story-heavy cut-scenes.