The Parts Are Greater Than the Sum
Bastion has become synonymous with the indie scene, originally releasing in 2011 to mass public and critical praise. It, along with Fez and Braid, propelled indie gaming onto the main stage — a feat that holds reverberations to this day. Very few people doubt that Bastion remains one of the pinnacle influencing games of the indie scene, however, how does Supergiant’s classic hold up today?
I need to start off the review with a slight disclaimer: despite my long-standing love of video games, this is my first outing with Bastion. Back in 2011, I was still tentative and hesitant about the indie scene (in a similar way as I was about the mobile gaming market) and simply didn’t consider taking the plunge. This review will not be my opinion about any improvements to the formula (if there ever are any) but instead a discussion on how the game holds up after four years of indie innovation.
For a brief introduction to the uninitiated, Bastion is an action role-playing game following the tale of a kid (aptly named “The Kid”) doing his best to fix the universe after an apocalyptic-level disaster nicknamed The Calamity annihilates the world. Played from an isometric position, The Kid navigates the floating, island-like environments, battling monsters and enemy factions alike in the search of shards to repair the titular hubworld, the Bastion.
Bastion is entirely deceptive on its face; there is a soft artstyle and beautiful music that truly does not prepare you for the complex action elements that follow. Right from the get-go I noted mechanics and components that I had never seen in gaming before. The ubiquitous, drawling narration and constantly forming level design is something still untouched by any game since. Bastion gets its hooks in you early and keeps them in deep.
Supergiant has a keen sense on how to entice players to continue playing; from the beginning to the last level, I continued to find new weapons, abilities, and upgrades which incorporated entirely different play styles. While putting in a ton of bonus weapons is a feat in itself, the true accomplishment is that I was truly conflicted about which loadout to use. Do I go with the fast-paced War Machete paired with the room-clearing Scrap Musket or do I swap over to the explosive Galleon Mortar? To add to that, each individual weapon has their own training ground with three tiers of rewards for those willing to test their skills. Mixed with the branching, customizable upgrades for each weapon, I imagine I will continue picking up this game over the next month to master each one.
Additionally, Bastion works in an optional difficulty setting — at any time in the campaign you can activate idols that trigger more difficult enemies in exchange for more loot and experience. Compared to other games that lock you into a difficulty from the start, having the option to make the game incrementally more difficult (or less difficult) keeps the gameplay enticing if you believe you are getting overpowered.
While the story was interesting on a moment-to-moment basis, I would be hard pressed to remember anything but broad strokes. While the story never felt essential to the experience, it did give an added depth to the motives and the character. More interesting was the soundtrack which is, to put it bluntly, phenomenal. With a mix of a country-twang, sitar, and everything in between, something will get stuck in your head. With the narration and the music, in many ways Bastion is a very audio-based game and marks most of the achievements in that category.
You may have noticed I haven’t said one negative thing about Bastion yet; that is because my complaint is a more abstract one. Each individual aspect on their own is fantastic and was undoubtedly ground-breaking in its time. That said, many of these components seem at odds when put together. The story is fascinating, but the fast-action gameplay and narration makes you gloss over it. While the different weapons are present, they are only truly viable on New Game Plus because of the work put in to level up your current weapon set. In short, the fantastic parts don’t mesh together to create one, unified, cohesive experience. Instead, my take away was the parts themselves were greater than the sum.
The Verdict: 8.6 out of 10
Bastion holds up four year laters and, in many ways, remains a testament to the indie scene. Thanks to the soundtrack, artstyle, and subtly-deep gameplay, the game is still one of the better indie titles available, especially for PlayStation 4. With that said, some of the game’s components antagonize each other, creating a less-than cohesive experience that will make you focus on the gameplay more than the story.
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Lou Contaldi is the Executive Editor of MONG and currently in training to outrun the Zombie Apocalypse. Follow his running routine, favorite beers, and gameplay lineup on Twitter.