Bastion is a game that's confident in what it has to offer--and for good reason. It's a beautifully detailed action role-playing game that doesn't waste your time with anything less than its best. Simplicity and variety permeate the entire game to create a wildly customizable experience that always leaves you excited for what's coming up next. Stages consistently end on a high note, and the number of ways you can tweak your character is extensive. There's a lot to discover in Bastion, and even after you've seen it all, it's still a game that's hard to put down.
While you were sleeping, the world ended. As The Kid, a rare survivor of the catastrophic Calamity, your best chance for survival lies with the bastion--a massive, floating island hovering untouched in the sky. The only problem is this: It's not yet finished, and its remaining pieces are scattered across a ruined and hostile landscape. With your very first steps this damaged world springs to life as the pieces of old bridges, stairways, and city streets reform at your feet thanks to a small piece of the bastion The Kid carries on his back. In addition to its visual appeal, this technique very subtly drives the player forward and helps direct your progress.
Combat requires that you stay light on your feet. Its challenge stems from spatial awareness and knowing which targets to strike first. While the world of Bastion does rise up around you, it only extends so far. The danger of falling over the edge is always present--thankfully, the penalty for this is only a slight loss of health. Some enemies like attacking in swarms, others lay down constant strings of projectiles that can box you into a corner. All throughout your time in Bastion new and varied enemies are introduced. To survive, the game forces you to act quickly and lash out at those most likely to lay on the hurt with a variety of different weapons.
The Kid can bring along two weapons at any given time, as well as one secret technique. You earn new armaments to equip at a constant pace throughout, and each has its advantages. For instance, the hammer may be powerful, but it has a low attack rate. On the flip side, the sword is incredibly fast, but it doesn't deal as much raw damage. This lets you tailor your loadout to suit your style or address a particular challenge. Upgrading your weapons helps with that as well. Each weapon has five tiers of upgrades, with each tier broken into two improvements. The first tier of the hammer is a choice between extra damage or critical hit chance. While you can only have one of the two improvements active at a time, the game lets you switch back and forth between them at will. It's a welcome bit of flexibility that is too often lost in other role-playing adventures.
Each weapon also unlocks its own challenge stage. These stages test your martial prowess and teach you some new tricks with each armament--though they are hit or miss. The best are puzzles that force you to destroy targets in certain patterns to earn the best time. Others just test how fast you can mash a button. For your efforts, you can earn upgrade items or even secret techniques. Most of these techniques are tied to a specific weapon and are generally powerful attacks performed at the expense of collectable potions. You might unlock the ability to fire ricocheting shots from your bow or perform 360-degree swipes with your sword, for example.
Deciding which weapons to bring isn't your only means of character customization. As you fight, The Kid gains experience and levels up, which unlocks slots for you to equip various tonics. Swapping between these tonics can improve your character's stats, allow him to carry more items, or provide other benefits. Instead of giving yourself an edge, you can also make things harder by invoking the various deities at a shrine. Activating each one layers on an additional challenge, as well as increases the amount of experience you gain. For example, Micia, the goddess of loss and longing, lets foes slowly regenerate health (as well as provides a five percent experience boost). Together, all these customization options keep you mixing and matching throughout your time with Bastion.
All of this preparation pays off when you venture down to the world below. Each stage wastes little time getting you into the action, and they all play a little differently. One might have you racing through a collapsing resort while scores of flying enemies are nipping at your heels. Another puts you on a decrepit ferry boat that's under siege from all sides. No matter the setting, they are all quick, tightly focused outings that leave you excited to see what the game will throw at you next.
Whether you're at the bastion or in the field, you're always accompanied by the grizzly voiced narrator--and he's got something to say about nearly everything you do, even if you're just messing around. Somersault around the screen too much or stumble off the edge of the world and he won't hesitate to take a jab at you. The narrator also connects you to the plot. Everything--from the places you visit to the tonics you equip--has a story to tell. Instead of being taken out of the action and asked to watch a cinematic or pore over numerous journal entries, the narrator does all that for you. You can absorb his wisdom if you wish or simply mute him in the options menu.
While the narrator is quick to talk about his world, you have to venture into your own psyche (literally) to learn more about your character. In this dreamworld, the goal is to survive numerous waves of enemies. During the break between each wave, the narrator chimes in with another line about The Kid's colorful past. If you want to hear the whole story, you have to press on until the very end. After that, it's all about ranking up on the leaderboards. However, the game is unclear on how exactly your score is calculated. The instructions state that your score depends on how many pantheon members you've invoked, but it seems some members influence the score more than others. You may also find that after you complete the survival challenge the first time, future attempts won't be reflected on the leaderboard even if you invoke more gods.
The world of Bastion is brought to life with some truly exceptional hand-painted environments. Every stylish bit of scenery is filled with tiny touches that add to the game's fairytale vibe. While the world may be filled with color, its muted tones help underscore a somber tale that grows darker and darker as you progress. It's a wonderfully crafted adventure that presents a fun and focused challenge you can customize in all sorts of ways. Once you finish, a new game-plus feature opens up that lets you carry over all your weapons and experience from the previous game. Even though it may be the end of the world in Bastion, it's still an amazingly good time.