E3 2011: Bastion preview – hands-on and video of a beautiful indie action RPG

A would-be hero sleeps peacefully. Suddenly, he springs awake, saunters out of his home and gets swept away on an engaging quest, ultimately saving his world from destruction and a greater evil. This plot descriptor may sound like your typical action RPG setup – Link to the Past anyone? But with gorgeous artwork, levels that build themselves as you go, an exotic world and a grizzled narrator who somehow adds immensely to the experience, developer Supergiant Games is making sure Bastion sets itself apart from the vast horde of typically mediocre action RPGs out there.

For starters, Bastion is a cornucopia of charm. Set in the titular world of Bastion, your awaken in a land that has been utterly decimated. As you make your first steps, a narrator coolly introduces your character as the hero the world needs. A narrator, eh? It sounds odd, but it totally works. Around you the world is in shambles and it appears as though you’re in a floating castle bedroom that has been reduced to rubble. The background appears to be nothing but hellfire and brimstone stretching to the distance. As you wonder where the hell you’re supposed to go, the world starts rebuilding around your steps, forging paths and branching areas. The narrator chimes in: “Ground firms up ’round his feet. He don’t stop to wonder why.” Just as you realize the world is forming as the story is being told, Bastion has its hooks in.

Before we go any further, we have to blurt this out: Bastion is beautiful. The hand-drawn isometric 2D/3D graphics are like a cross between free MMO Maple Story and long-forgotten PS2 fave Odin Sphere. We’d be remiss if we uttered the word “cutesy” in this preview, but Bastion is storybook gorgeous, and with a dark-fanged edge. From character animations to the way the world kinetically rises into view piece by piece as you walk, Bastion treats your eyes every second.

Back to the demo, You’re quickly introduced to your first melee and ranged weapons. First is a giant hammer, at which the narrator coos, “A touching reunion.” Before long, you add an arrow-firing repeater with unlimited ammo. Almost immediately, your dexterity is measured as miniature eel enemies attack in swarms, while ghouls with scythes (“gas fellas”, the narrator calls them) take deadly swings at your melon. Combat feels smooth, effortless, but challenging.

Soon after, your move set expands with evade rolls and shielding. Then, you’re thrust into combat that relies on how quickly you smoothly transition between your attacks and defensive maneuvers. Enemy statues pop up to fire balls of dark energy at you. Time your shield correctly and at the right angle, and you’ll bounce these energy blasts back at the statue, causing a critical hit. Then, we arrive at a boss battle – a massive enemy whose weapon actually destroys the ground wherever it hits, leaving a hole in the floating battlefield you’ll have to navigate around to keep from falling through.

Add to this a couple chubby gas-bag enemies and the swarms of smaller, tadpole like critters flowing from two popcorn machine-looking devices in the corners, and you have yourself a challenge. Not to mention how awesomely satisfying it is to hear the narrator – complete with Southern-Gothic drawl – dictate your accomplishments in real-time: “The kid pops him good.”

After that, something even more interesting happens: We reach the end of the level and are teleported to the hub level that will serve as our home base. Here, we learn just a little about the game’s meta-quest: We need to rebuild the world, and we can start with an armory, which offers weapon upgrades, or a tavern that supplies us with liquor-esque potions and buffs. Tough choice, but in the end, it has to be Miller time. Then it’s off to the next area (there are 40 in all, which you’ll conquer with 10 upgradeable weapons).

We’re truly excited to get the full version of Bastion. Check back for more and watch XBLA this summer – you’re not going to want to miss this one.

May 26, 2011

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