Bastion is one of those games that has been near the top of my backlog for years. From all accounts, it was a hit when it debuted on the Xbox 360 on July 20, 2011, and in the years since, it has gone on to appear on damn near every platform, like an indie version of Resident Evil 4 or Skyrim. I first acquired it through a Humble Bundle in May 2012 and have checked it out a few times since, but never for more than a half-hour or so. In fact, I’ve spent more time listening to the soundtrack in the intervening years than actually playing the game! Obviously I think the soundtrack is great, but hey, it turns out the game is pretty good, too!
As a fan of games like Ys: The Vanished Omens and Soul Blazer, Bastion’s action-RPG combat was right up my alley. Playing as the Kid, one of the few survivors of the Calamity, I ventured out into the world to recover cores to power the Bastion. The game’s namesake was a floating landmass that served as a safe haven in the wake of a mysterious apocalyptic event, and in terms of gameplay acted as a home base for me. Via the Bastion, I accessed a variety of distinct stages, each generally containing a core and a new weapon. On average, these stages took about twenty minutes to complete and contained numerous fiends for me to hack and slash, or nail with a variety of ranged weapons.
The weapons didn’t alter the core hack and slash gameplay, but it was a drastically different experience depending on my loadout. The Mar Machete, whose fast weak swipes allowed me to hammer the attack button, resulted in different combat strategies than say, the Cael Hammer, whose swings and pounds were much more deliberate. A second weapon slot allowed the combat flow to be further tailored to my liking. I generally relied on the Breaker’s Bow for backup. It was a standard bow that had a fun mechanic granting a powerful shot if I released an arrow at just the right moment, kind of like the Active Reload from Gears of War. Together with the War Machete, I was equally prepared if foes were across the map or at arms’ length.
The Breaker’s Bow was one of the first weapons in the Kid’s arsenal, and once I came across the War Machete, my loadout was essentially complete. By sticking to this combination though, I think I stripped some of the enjoyment out of the game; combat grew tedious. Honestly, while I loved the fast-paced swipes of the War Machete, it may have been the most boring weapon in the game. I still experimented with each weapon though; when the Kid found a new weapon, I pretty much had to complete that stage with it. And, there were also weapon specific Proving Grounds stages, which offered unique challenges and tiers of rewards based on my performance. But, knowing that each stage was going to introduce a new weapon, and that I wouldn’t have much time to test drive it before another was introduced, became overwhelming.
At some point, an hour or so in, it was just easier to fall back on my trusty loadout. Since I was proficient with the War Machete and Breaker’s Bow, I’d be able to complete the game with less resistance and I wouldn’t have to think about new weapon pairings. Essentially, my playthrough of Bastion devolved into a chore. Instead of relaxing, and playing it because I wanted to for so long, I was just trying to reach the end so I could check it off my backlog. I’ve done this before, as recently as my playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and as in that case, there was something else vying for my attention. No, not Pokémon Sword! It was actually a genealogical binge, brought about while digitizing a family photo album. Considering the personal importance of this activity, there’s really little else that could’ve been able to compete for my free time. If I was smart, I would’ve shelved Bastion for another week, and started it when I could give it my full attention.
So, was Bastion a good game? Most definitely! Even though I turned it into a chore, I can’t deny the action-RPG combat was refreshingly varied. It wasn’t all about hacking and slashing, though. Returning cores to the Bastion and building it up with new shops, in turn helping to build out the Kid’s abilities, was a rewarding gameplay loop in itself. Fully powering the Bastion was the ultimate objective, but unraveling the mystery of the Calamity was just as important. Rucks, a fellow survivor, narrated backstory and world building tidbits as I progressed through stages, in addition to cleverly commenting on what I was doing at that moment; usually, it was falling from a ledge. And all the while, Darren Korb’s self-described acoustic frontier trip hop soundtrack solidified an identity for the world of Bastion. So yeah, it was a pretty good game. And one of these days, I’ll start a New Game Plus playthrough and really enjoy it.