Bastion isn’t really an RPG. I guess it’s classified as an action-RPG. Really, I would just call it an arcade game with RPG-style progression.
The gameplay requires quick reflexes. It’s very linear, there’s very little NPC interaction. There is a pretty large variety of weapons and skills. However it’s one of those games where by the end, you will have all the weapons and most of the upgrades. So it’s fairly restricted in terms of progression variety and character development.
So just to start with, this really doesn’t sound like a game I’d like. However, it’s extremely polished, and does so many things right from game design perspective. There’s nothing terribly original in Bastion (with the exception of the narrator), but it is designed to a high degree. I’ll just list things in no particular order.
The gameplay doesn’t stagnate
If you take a look at a game like Bioshock or Alan Wake, they have pretty similar gameplay mechanics throughout the whole game. You end up feeling like you’re just doing the same thing over and over again – it gets very repetitive. What Bastion does right is to keep introducing new mechanics throughout the entire game – even in the final level.
But it’s more that just the gameplay mechanics that change. Even things you would normally expect to be static – such as your “home base” area from which you launch missions – suddenly go through big upheavals part way through the game. Just when you think you’ve detected a pattern in the way the game is laid out, the designers change it up. It’s almost as if they stepped back and tried to analyze all the parts of the game that felt repetitive or monotonous and tried to mix it up.
Everything is a game
This is something many other games do, so not too surprising, but it’s a nice touch. What I’m referring to are just minor things like:
- Your home area is an actual gameplay area (and at one point in the game, things go down in this spot)
- The points you get for killing creatures are not automatic. They are physical entities that you need to suck in by getting close to them.
- Even “exploring” (I use that term loosely because the levels are generally linear) is satisfying, as it causes pieces of the world to slide up into place from oblivion. The world appears before you as you walk through the level.
- The weapons training is actually training. In addition to the standard training grounds, there are also “dreams” you can go into where you can practice putting all your skills together.
Game play mechanic variety
They eke out almost every kind of gameplay mechanic that you could in this type of game.
The weapons vary widely in strength, range, accuracy, area affects, firing rate (in addition they each have special skills, and one of them has bullets that even continue through hit objects). The number of enemies is pretty vast considering the relatively short length of the game (it is a good length), and there is almost every kind of enemy you can think of. Just when you think things might be getting a little repetitive, some crazy new enemy appears – whether it be something that releases poison gas, or one that moves around underground and only appears for a short time when you’re near, or ones that move with amazing rapidity and suddenly appear right next to you, or ones that spit goo on the ground that eats away your health. Each enemy has their clear strengths and weak points, and distinct attack patterns that you can learn to anticipate.
I suppose this is kind of expected, and Bastion isn’t breaking any new ground here. But it is well done, and new concepts are introduced continually throughout the game.
Even the nature of the levels changes. At a couple of points you end up doing battle while on “air ships”. At one point you’re in a jungle where you can barely see your character or the enemies.
Not much more to say than a lot of effort went into the pacing in this game. The highs and lows are well put together. Just when things get really crazy in a level, they lighten up again to give you a rest. Just when things are kind of quiet, chaos breaks loose.
Hey, it’s really beautiful “painted cartoon style” art. The levels all look different.
This type of twitch gameplay is challenging enough for me, but as usual in games like this there are options to increase the challenge. Even better is that this isn’t just a “easy/normal/hard/insane” menu choice. Instead, in your home base you can activate idols in a shrine. Each idol makes a specific aspect of enemies more difficult (stronger, or they leave exploding turds, etc… there are about 10 different ones). In exchange for that, you gain more experience points for killing them.
Other nice touches
Sometimes there are monsters that look just like an enemy, but are actually your friends. They emit hearts from above their head. A nice way to indicate friendies.
Bastion has a voice narrator. It’s one of the more unusual aspects of the game, and it is one of the best, most polished piece of voice work I’ve seen. It’s basically a gruff, somewhat sarcastic, man’s voice giving a play-by-play of what you’re doing as you’re doing it. In addition, he explains bits of lore and plot development along the way.
It really is incredible how unobtrusive they have made it. It feels completely natural, and even near the end of the game (I haven’t quite finished it), it still doesn’t sound repetitive at all. They put in an enormous variety of “alts”, or at least it seems they did. I think many other game developers will be taking lessons from how this was implemented in Bastion.