E3 2011 – Bastion Hands-On Preview

Xbox Live Arcade’s Summer of Arcade promotion has always produced some of the best downloadable titles available on the console. In 2008 we got “Braid” and “Castle Crashers.” In 2009 we got “‘Splosion Man” and “Shadow Complex.” In 2010 we got “Limbo” and “Monday Night Combat.” Now in 2011, we’ll get “Bastion.”

Bastion is an action RPG from the small independent development team over at SuperGiantGames with a strikingly beautiful and colorful visual art style and lots of really cool features that set it apart from the mold.

The game‘s story puts players in the shoes of a young kid who wakes up after a catastrophic event has ravaged the land. The boy isn’t quite sure of what exactly happened, but he does know that if s**t goes down, everyone is supposed to meet at this place known as the Bastion. Upon reaching the Bastion, the boy finds only a mysterious old man, who also happens to be the narrator of this tale.

The old man tells the boy that he’s able to fix everything, but he’ll need help. With that, the journey begins to rebuild the world by using remnants from the past.

If all of this sounds very much like a storybook kind of plot, then that’s good, because the atmosphere of Bastion feels very much like a storybook.

Much of that is thanks to the brilliant reactive narrator that comments on nearly everything you do and everything that happens around you. This serves two purposes. One, it’s entertaining and often times quite funny to hear the narrator comment on your successes and failures as you play the game.

One particular moment that stood out happened completely on accident as I was playing the game. Not used the controls yet, I accidentally rolled off the edge into the abyss, only to be met by the narrator saying something “and then our hero fell to his death…” Then when I respawned he quickly added “Just kidding.”

The second purpose the narrator serves is to provide a very clever way of introducing tutorials. Rather than breaking up the action and forcing the player to read more text to learn how to fire the bow and arrow, the narrator simply says something along the lines of “The kid remembers that he should pull the bow back all the way to bring down his foes,” which translates to “I should hold the button down for the bow as opposed to just pressing it like I used to do with the gun.”

Combat in Bastion is simple. You have two buttons that you can assign a ranged and a melee weapon to, a button to evade, one to bring up your shield, and one for a special ability.

Though this is an action RPG, the developers at SuperGiantGames made it a point to stray away from that Diablo style of simply tanking the mobs of enemies that charge toward you and instead opted for a much more involved combat system that focuses on intelligently evading enemy attacks, using your shield to reflect projectiles back at enemies and mixing things up between your melee and ranged weapons.

Aside from the narrator and the combat, the next thing that stands out about Bastion is its distinct hand painted art style that brings a little bit of greenery to the typically grim apocalypse.

Jen Zee, the Art Director of Bastion, said that she had wanted to get away from the typical brown and gray art styles that typically were found in games with post-apocalyptic settings like “Gears of War” and “Fallout 3,” and that one of the goals with Bastion’s art design was to show that there can be a sort of beauty in the path of destruction.

It’s hard not to be enchanted by Bastion’s charm. The combat is superb from what I played of the demo and is sure to only get better as more weapons are obtained, the reactive narrator is a genius idea and is implemented perfectly with a great voice to go along with it and it’s a unique spin on a genre that seems to have been focusing too much on the loot aspect and not enough on the actual combat.

Don’t let the omniscient narrator of Bastion down — use GameFront’s text and video walkthrough to win your happy ending.

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