Approximate Time Spent playing at time of writing: 22 hours
Modes of play: Single Player, Online Leaderboards
Bastion looks & sounds really pretty and it’s quite novel these days to see an action adventure game from an overhead isometric viewpoint rather than a 3D one. This gives rise to more space related gameplay as it’s much easier to judge the overall action from your overhead viewpoint & play more tactically. Controls feel great although I would’ve preferred there be a bit more ‘heft’ to the contact in melee combat and a bit more obvious feedback when you’re taking damage. The weapons and special attacks you can make are, at least initially, quite varied and interesting too, as are some of the different enemy types.
However where Bastion starts to go downhill is with the lack of interesting challenge it offered me & the grindiness of the re-play and upgrade and unlock structure. When you’re mowing down all enemies with ease regardless of your weapon or the type of enemy, you’ve got stocks of unused health & special attack potions with more than you need dropping all the time, and you don’t really need to worry about positioning very much, a lot of the good points of Bastion start to become completely wasted. All of the weapons and enemies just mush together and become much of a muchness. This is compounded by the fact there are too many weapons and many of their abilities start to overlap.
The same grind & unlock & upgrade structure that damages games like Bullet Witch is again sadly on display here, but thankfully it’s in a much reduced format. You only need to play through the game a bit more than one time to unlock everything, and the 2nd time around the game doesn’t actually get any more difficult, so it’s obvious you are going to waltz even more easily through everything. Instead of a difficulty setting there is the option to switch on “the Gods” in Bastion which act as difficulty modifers in various ways, much like ‘Skulls’ in a Halo title. But in the regular levels there’s little incentive to actually use these Gods, because although they offer you more money & experience points for using them, you’ll get plenty enough of both of those anyway by other means so it’s not much of a reward. It’s the same problem again as Bullet Witch et al, where you’re giving a player quite granular control over their difficulty setting, but then they don’t really know what it will mean from level to level. It’s also offset by the fact as you gain more money & experience, those levels then become easier again… so… yeah, it’s really just a bit of a mess. Still, I played the vast majority of levels with at least a few Gods on so at least I had some small level of challenge. Another problem with the game is, as you power up your weapons, many of them actually take less skill to use. For example the addition of ‘homing’ attacks on ranged weapons is extremely worthwhile & powerful, yet at the same time really dumbs down the use of any of the weapons. Almost all of the ‘weapon challenge’ levels in the game can similarly be made extremely easy by powering up the relevant weapons.
One thing however that is quite a fun challenge are the options to take trips to ‘Who Knows Where’. These are essentially extra challenge levels in the game that are unlocked as you go through the full campaign (and one can only be unlocked in your second run through) where you get many waves of enemies to fight. Unfortunately on the default settings these ‘Who Knows Where’ levels are still extremely easy and they mainly act as an area to practice with different weapons if you want to, and also as an alternative option to grind for money & experience. However where these levels do come into their own is that they do offer Achievement rewards for doing them with increasing amount of ‘Gods’ switched on. Some of these eventually actually get to be genuinely quite interesting and tough challenges, even once you’ve fully unlocked every weapon power-up and are at a max level character. In fact a couple of them got so hard I didn’t actually manage to complete them with all 10 Gods switched on. I suspect I could do it if I practiced enough, but they were also becoming so punishing as well as so challenging that I didn’t feel I was enjoying them enough to be worth it. Often the best way to play them would be to play extremely slowly & carefully, yet if you fail, you’d have to repeat 10 minutes of constant battling with enemies, and because of this I realised the punishment levels were beyond my interest in these challenges. And much like VVVVVV I could find more interesting challenges to take on than this that tested skills I find more interesting in more competitive arenas that would appeal more to me.
There’s also a Score Attack mode which I did not really investigate as it involved playing the whole campaign through again – and by this point I was rather too bored of Bastion to give it a try. If I ever come back to it and find there is a really interesting challenge tucked away here, I’ll be sure to re-review it.
…And that is only if you bother to get through the requisite grind and try to do the ‘Who Knows Where’ levels with multiple Gods on. Otherwise this would be edging towards one star.
Competitive Gaming Design Review: N/A
Competitive Game Review: N/A. The leaderboards on this game are actually pretty good, although it’s a bit of a mystery how some of them are scored, you can have a bit of fun competing with your friends scores etc.
Interactive Story: The narrator tries desperately to keep you interested, but in the end the story is very basic and really kind of dull. The idea of using a narrator to tell the story whilst you’re playing is a good attempt to meld the fact that gameplay and great stories are pulling in opposite directions, but it still doesn’t really work.
Toy/Experience: Postitive. This is probably what’s made this game popular, as it’s very toy-ish and mongy & all about ‘the experience’ for players rather than any kind of challenging gameplay.
Grind: Negative. Quite a bit unfortunately.
I’m reluctant to give this my ‘recommended’ score as I can only really recommend this as a ‘mong’ game & for the very limited challenges of a few interesting ‘Who Knows Where’ levels. However the general control and mechanics are just so nice that along with the beautiful graphics and music, it just edges it for me. But it’s such a shame they didn’t do so much more with the decent base of this game.