Bastion often gets labeled as an “Action RPG.” This might bring to mind games like Diablo, but Bastion is designed with nearly the opposite kind of approach. The immediate rewards come from sharp action mechanics rather than loot or leveling up and the promise of narrative resolution becomes that carrot developer Supergiant Games dangles in front of the player as a long term goal rather than early glimpses of ultimate armor sets or the hope of reaching the end of a dizzying upgrade tree. The long term potential isn't as satisfying as it could have been because the plot gets stretched too thinly but those action mechanics make Bastion worth playing anyway.
You play as the Kid, who has awoken on a floating island in the sky that used to be his bedroom to find civilization destroyed. With each few steps, more of the world begins to pop up in front of him. What happened to everything? What happened to everybody? You'll get pieces of the answer early on but these initial breadcrumbs only provide more incentive to keep looking. Much of the early loot you find offers no benefits except little bits of information and the best finds are even more rewarding than leveling up.
To add a novel twist, this doesn't play out purely from the Kid's perspective. Instead, the camera is pulled back to an isometric view and an omnipresent narrator gives voice to many of the Kid's actions. His dialogue might just tell you the limits of the level (like why falling off the walkway doesn't kill you) but the best lines add a bit of meaning to ordinary actions. Once I got my first weapon, I started clobbering any breakable objects around me like I often do when things in the environment can be broken. The narrator decided that the Kid was angry at the state of things. It cleverly subverts the video game norm of focusing only on the big melodramatic choices we often have to make like saving a village or destroying it.
However, this early promise in the storytelling is never quite fulfilled. The game leads the Kid well out of his hometown and leaves behind much of the relevance to the central questions of “What happened?” and “What is the resolution?” You will eventually find out, but before you do you'll have to go through distractions about (among others topics) discovering landsharks and the pioneering of a group called the Marshals. This isn't Skyrim where players travel where they want and find vaguely tangential lore as a reward. Bastion is very linear in its level design and these big detours feel like stalling. Even once you do know the answers, they are marred by trite “big choices” that the early stretches of the game managed to work around.
However, as the plot stalls, the mechanics are what will keep you playing. If nothing else, the disaster that struck the land has turned docile goons into angry ones. You level up, but this happens so slowly that it's not a short term goal. Instead, it's the act of defeated these enemies that is its own reward. There is the option to dodge or block and counter. These choices may seem redundant, but you can hold two of the numerous weapons at once and each feels a little bit different. I tended to block more while I crept just close enough to enemies to stab them with a spear or let them group close together for my shotgun-like scrap musket. Other players might dodge in between blasts of a machine gun-like weapon or let enemies get close to be crushed by stationary swings from the Kid's hammer.
There are a bunch of different weapons and even more potential combinations, which is pretty impressive considering how different each weapon feels. There are only a few different combat inputs but Supergiant managed to add a unique hook to each weapon. To go along with all this weapon variety, there is a wide range of enemies to use your tools on as well. As soon as one set of enemies wears out their welcome, another rolls in to spice things up. Birds gather in flocks, turrets section off parts of the level, gas clouds keep you moving, hopping behemoths can only be attacked from behind, and more mean that you'll want versatility in your weaponry.
So Bastion winds up showing promise but being little more than a glimpse at a (hopefully) bright future of developer Supergiant Games. They have a knack for game feel and an eye for what makes a genre tick. Still, it's hard to come away from Bastion as anything but disappointed. The lack of following through on great ideas means we get an average game from a developer who, with the recent Transistor, has already proven they are capable of much better.