Birb Friends Review: Bastion (PC)

Bastion is a hack and slash RPG (or isometric brawler) developed by Supergiant Games and released for everything from iOS and the Chrome browser to PlayStation 4. It was developed using private funds over the course of nearly two years by a small seven person team. While Bastion was shown at 2010’s Game Developers Conference, it wasn’t until its playable reveal at that same year’s Penny Arcade Expo that things took off. Since then Bastion has been a commercial success for Supergiant’s debut and paved the way for their second release, Transistor. The developers of Bastion set out to create a game in which you’d build a town similar to those present in modern RPGs. Sadly, the town building features of Bastion are unfulfilling and generally underdeveloped. Thankfully, that allowed the plot and characters of Bastion to take center stage in an intriguing piece about morality, history, race, and environmental protection. Did I mention that all of those components are left up for interpretation and that the characters alone are human enough to relate to? Bastion tells that interesting of a story, with a smooth voice to boot.

To detail my experiences with Bastion, I’ve prepared a scoring system in which certain aspects of the game are weighted more than others. I’ve separated the system into two primary scores: Technical Proficiency and Artistic Proficiency. Each score will be explained below and the numerous subscores from which they are derived will be supported with qualitative evidence. Please note that all scores are out of 100 and 50 is the benchmark for the average title on the market. A 50 is NOT a bad score, it’s an average score.

Bastion - Logo
Bastion Logo (Image credit to Supergiant Games, retrieved from their official Bastion page)
Technical Proficiency: 84/100

Technical Proficiency is a combined score composed of three main scores: Visuals, Sound, and Controls. This score is meant to detail the spectacle of the experience and how well the sensory artists and programmers crafted the game.

Overall Visuals Score: 67.75/100

  • Style Score: 87/100
  • Animation Score: 70/100
  • Purpose Score: 52/100

Bastion uses hand-drawn backgrounds with saturated, weighty colors and subtle but powerful contrasts. The fact that each locale exists upon a floating island allowed the artist to give a sort of skybox and background to the game, even though that sort of styling is normally impossible using an isometric viewpoint. Enemies and characters all look distinct, new, and interesting despite their diverse inspiration from wild west, fantasy, and eastern aesthetics. Bastion pays attention to every detail of its environments and most details of its characters. That attention does not go unnoticed. For its interesting use of deep colors, merging of familiar aesthetics, and detail oriented craftsmanship Bastion receives an 87/100 for its style score.

In many ways, Bastion’s animations are found lacking. Most if not all of its characters have no idle animation and some of the enemies lack any animation at all. That being said, what animation Bastion does have is full of character and only has fluidity with purpose. Gasfellas reel their pickaxes back with weight and rigid power, Anklegators burst from the ground with raging convulsions, and the Ura shadow across the battlefield with deadly and silent efficiency. There is, however, one huge exception to Bastion’s rule of solid animation: at times the Kid can look about as rough as the Calamity. All in all, Bastion still shows an appreciation for animation greater than what’s to be expected and for that it receives a 70/100 in the animation category.

As visually stunning as Bastion is, it can be frustratingly bad at relating what is happening to the player. From a deceptive isometric view that makes little differentiation between ground and bottomless pit, to monsters whose colored symbolism isn’t consistent throughout the whole experience, there are issues with Bastion’s visual cuing. If it weren’t for the fact that Bastion’s monsters have predictable, well animated telegraphs and the fluid way in which the limits of each weapon are represented, Bastion would score even lower. 52/100 is the final score for Supergiant Games’ debut in the visual purpose category.

Overall Sound Score: 82.78/100

  • Music Score: 88/100
  • Sound Effects Score: 79/100
  • Variety Score: 77/100

Bastion’s music is full of effective arrangements, memorable songs, and purposeful lyrics. Each area is imbued with new feelings and given context through the score which makes every song necessary to the impact of the whole experience, and impactful moments are plentiful. Instrumental pieces feature a wide variety of instruments and tone qualities, but their structure is similar enough to bring the entire soundtrack together as a single work. Vocal pieces by Ashley Lynn Barrett and Darren Korb give meaning to the personal experiences of certain characters and tie those characters’ experiences to the plot of the game. The only qualm I have about the music of Bastion is that I would have liked to see a larger contrast between the style of songs for different areas. The consistent mix of styles and contrast in terms of density of sound that Darren Korb brings to Bastion’s soundtrack give it an 88/100 for its music score.

From the lighting strike of a perfect hit, to the subtle noises that surround the Kid throughout his journey, Bastion provides ample feedback for the player and does so without assaulting the ears too terribly much. The most interesting component of Bastion’s sound effects is the narrator that constantly provides you with information as you progress through each level. In an awkward turn of events, that component was also the most problematic during my playthrough. The voice, delivery, and writing of the narrator’s speech are not the issue, in fact they’re quite good and contributed to the story of Bastion in a nuanced and interesting way. What I take issue with is the massive amount of information the player is required to take in at once. Fighting enemies, dodging attacks, judging whether I can stand on a dubious piece of the environment, AND listening to a narrator is often too much. It wouldn’t be near as much of a problem if the narrator’s speech wasn’t our only source of information, but many times it is. For that, Bastion’s sound effects score is a 79/100.

Aural variety is a tricky thing for video game scores because of the thematic requirements of the entire experience and of the soundtrack itself. Bastion runs headfirst into these issues by mixing a variety of styles and experiences into almost every instrumental track. Wide instrumentation and varying composition means you won’t exactly get bored with the way the game sounds even if you’re particularly interested in music. That being said, it does mean that Bastion almost always sounds the same. Despite the relief that the vocal tracks provide in this regard, Bastion receives a 77/100 in the sound variety category.

Overall Controls Score: 100/100

Bastion - Scumbags Loom Like The Moon
A scumbag and a collection of squirts prepare to assault the Kid. (Image credit to Supergiant Games, retrieved from their official Bastion page)
  • Controller Score: 100/100
  • Responsiveness Score: 100/100
  • Functionality Score: 100/100

Bastion supports many different controls across a variety of systems. I chose to use a keyboard and mouse during my playthrough. The keyboard and mouse controls felt very comfortable and no compromises were made to their functionality. The fast movements required by the game were easily facilitated by the keyboard and mouse set up and I required no changes to the default settings in order to comfortably play through the whole game. For that reason, Bastion receives a 100/100 for its controller score.

Lagging inputs, disconnections, incorrect responses, and other annoyances with responsiveness were absent from my experience with Bastion. My personal laptop, not a behemoth of a gaming rig at all, ran the whole experience flawlessly and without any sort of stutter or freezing. Bastion’s controls are fluid, quick, and decisive. The Kid does exactly what you tell him to and for that reason Bastion receives a 100/100 in the responsiveness category.

The Kid could roll, dodge, shoot, talk, run, and whack like no other. Supergiant Games presented a very functional set of controls with everything included in set buttons and nothing relegated to a hefty interface. Too often the gaming industry is presented with games that are so complex they require a hefty amount of hotkeys and manual restructuring to be playable. Bastion has the luxury of being simple enough in its design not to merit that. In functionality, Bastion receives a perfect 100/100 score.

Bastion - Springtime In Ura Territory Banner
The Kid plots revenge against the Ura for personal greivances or justice for all that died in the Calamity. (Image credit to Supergiant Games, retrieved from their official Bastion page)
Artistic Proficiency: 77/100

Artistic Proficiency is a combined score composed of two main scores: Gameplay and Story. This score is meant to detail the meaning of the experience and how well the writers, directors, and designers crafted that meaning into the game.

Overall Gameplay Score: 68.44/100

Bastion - The Wild
Anklegators burrow and strike beneath the floating islands of the Wild. (Image credit to Supergiant Games, retrieved from their official Bastion page)
  • Agency Score: 77/100
  • Core Gameplay Loop Score: 67/100
  • Variety Score: 50/100

Bastion doesn’t give the player very many valuable choices within its core gameplay loop which is disappointing when confronted by the massive value of the narrative choices you are allowed. The weapons, upgrades, and building choices in Bastion have a way of compounding like interest so that most players will make an early choice and never experiment beyond it until they are forced to, a frustration I’ll detail in the variety section of this analysis. Bastion’s narrative choices, while important and impactful to the player, aren’t the bread and butter of its game design, don’t drastically change the player’s experience of the narrative, and fail to weave into the gameplay. These mistakes leave Bastion only a bit of value above the average with an agency score of 77/100.

The core gameplay loop of Bastion goes about like this: enter level, fight monsters with your current equipment until a new piece of equipment is offered to you, accept new equipment, regret your decision, swap back to the leveled up equipment you were already using at the first possible chance, maybe learn a new fighting mechanic against a new enemy, proceed along a linear path until the level is finished, return to the Bastion, upgrade and ponder, repeat. This is, as it stands, a stale, boring, and mundane gameplay loop. MMORPGs and multiplayer experiences like the Diablo series use this sort of design because there’s an inherently dynamic and interesting social aspect to their games that lets them get away with it. Perhaps that social aspect is what the narrator of Bastion was attempting to mimic, but, at least for me, it didn’t suffice. Even the collectible items scattered throughout Bastion’s world are inconsequential because you can retrieve them from a building in the town, making exploration pointless. I assume that the retrieval feature was added in to avoid annoying players, like myself, who missed a collectible because they traveled the wrong path when the story barred the way back. That being said, the gameplay is engaging and challenging, and the new world-building information you receive from the collectibles is rewarding. Rewarding enough to warrant a 67/100 as Bastion’s core gameplay loop score.

Variety has a lot of meanings. To score variety, the depth of each experience is considered and the mechanical difference between each experience is considered as well. In this sense, Bastion doesn’t provide much in the way of variety. What changes it does have to its formula are small… inconsequential even, and the side missions seldom rely on anything besides persistence and reflexes. That’s all not to mention the fact that Bastion feels like a truncated experience, shorter than its base material merited. 50/100 is the score Bastion receives in the Variety category.

Overall Story Score: 86.33/100

Bastion - I Dig My Hole
The Kid en route to meet another survivor of the Calamity. (Image credit to Supergiant Games, retrieved from their official Bastion page)
  • Characters Score: 86/100
  • Plot Score: 88/100
  • Coherency Score: 85/100

The characters of Bastion, except the central character, feel like fully realized people despite the far too short period of time the player gets to know them. In fact, the short time in which characterization is allowed to happen is the largest issue with Bastion’s characters. Holding their own grudges, ambitions, desires, pains, and personal connections, they all impact the story in a meaningful and morally ambiguous way. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, not much can be said about the individual characters but suffice it to say that issues as pertinent to the modern day as racial injustice, suicide, grief, bullying, and society are all confronted personally inside each character. That along with memorable character design and interesting albeit incomplete voice acting leaves Bastion with a character score of 86/100.

Bastion’s plot unfolds in a painfully slow and methodical way as the narrator dodges questions, avoiding telling the whole story, and leaves the player in the dark. The farther the player gets in the narrative of Bastion, the more the narrator reveals and the greater the player’s understanding of his motives and their current position becomes. By the end of Bastion, allegories have been made between big real world issues and the fantasy trappings of its world in an impactful, important, and meaningful way. Unlike a novel or film, which are too frequently brought to an authoritative conclusion without the input of the consumer, the player of Bastion is allowed to decide from right and wrong in a cohesive and logical manner. That uniquely settled ambiguity is the power of Bastion’s plot and why it receives the score of 88/100 in the plot category.

For me, Bastion never came together as a brilliant, cohesive product. Its gameplay was too aged and drab, its plot was drip fed to the player over far too long a time, and its climax didn’t seem as impactful as it should have. That being said it’s plot and characters worked to a wonderful harmony, diverting familiar video game tropes and giving the player a reason to continue beyond the joy of the game. In the first few hours, I didn’t like Bastion, but by the conclusion of its eight hour storyline I felt accomplished and more knowledgeable than I began. That’s why Bastion’s coherency score is an 85/100.


FINAL VERDICT

Bastion - PC Box Art
(Image credit to Supergiant Games, retrieved from their official Bastion page)

Above the surface, Bastion is a run of the mill hack and slash RPG with an odd amount of buzz surrounding it. Below the surface, Bastion is a beehive full of sweet and nonperishable  commentary on nigh unsolvable problems still present in the modern day. What Bastion lacks in interesting and innovative gameplay it makes up for with intriguing storytelling, deep characters, and personal purpose. It’s my hope that Supergiant Games’ future endeavors, such as Transistor, pay more attention to gameplay design without sparing the critical and artistic attention they give to everything else. At the Steam Sale price of $4, Bastion more than deserved its share of my gaming budget. If you are at all interested in smooth talking narrators, philosophical ethics, fast paced gameplay that isn’t too difficult, and interesting and memorable music, Bastion is the right game for you. The Bastion is where everyone agreed to meet, and the Kid is heading there now.


81/100 – Wonderful!

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Author: Shane Nichols

Co-founder and blogger at Birb Friends. I like a variety of games and celebrate game design that uses game mechanics to tell stories. You can catch me writing comparison posts, in depth game reviews, and game design articles, as well as with Noah Stites in our YouTube let's play show TheDPadShow.

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