PAX East 2011: Mysterious Narrator Propels Bastion to Action-RPG Glory
You'd be surprised at how much essence an ongoing, deep-voiced narration can bring to a game.
Out of everything I played at PAX East 2011, the game that got me most excited was an action-RPG called Bastion. Coming out of Super Giant Games, a team made of former EA employees now doing the garage development thing, Bastion could be compared to the RPG version of Braid.
Yes, the two games look alike with their watercolor graphical styles (though Bastion is prettier), but Bastion also gave me the same feeling of knowing I was playing something artistic in both visuals and gameplay that I experienced when booting up Jonathan Blow's time-bending platformer. Aspects of Bastion play out like your average, entertaining action-RPG while others make you feel like you're in a completely unique game environment.
One of Bastion's selling points is a mysterious old man that narrates the player's every move from afar. This might not initially sound cool, but Super Giant implemented the narrator in a way so that the game's story is told through him rather than a mass of text boxes. For example, the opening scene shows the main character waking up in a bed on a small island of tiles floating in the air. The narrator says: "He gets up. Sets off for the Bastion. Where everyone agreed to go in case of trouble."
Obviously, you're in trouble because you're on a bed floating in the air. Thanks to the narrator, you know that something went wrong in the world and you have to figure it out. Later, the narrator will say phrases such as "the Kid goes toe to... something... against a massive Scumbag," referring to an enemy that looks like a giant blueberry. I found Bastion's narration to be a very different story telling device, making me feel like I was playing through a linear storyline with full control of the outcome.
Bastion is played from an isometric perspective. Interestingly, players are led through the world by the game building paths in the air in front of them, which Super Giant studio director Amir Rao explained was done as part of the storyline but also to help guide players so they'll always know where to go. Along the way, you'll pick up various types of ranged and melee weapons, along with a shield for blocking. Each has its own button, so it was very easy to weaken approaching enemies with a bow and then beat on them up close with a hammer. Additionally, certain weapons have special moves such as the hammer's spin attack.
Killing an enemy gives the player experience points, which are used to unlock "spirit" slots that can be assigned a liquid that might give the player +20% health or a greater chance for a critical hit. Enemies vary from hovering tadpoles to scythe-wielding ghosts to the previously mentioned blueberry puffs. Sometimes a battle will require the player to destroy a cart that constantly spawns tadpoles as the ghosts charge up quick attacks while statues fire energy blasts from afar. The Bastion demo featured a good amount of variation like this throughout.
Players eventually reach a hub where they can build structures, such as an arsenal for swapping out weapons. Rao told me that you can also find characters to populate the hub and decorations to make it your own. Enemies drop currency that will be used in exchange for various hub services.
According to Rao, Bastion is partially being assembled in someone's living room, but you wouldn't know it from the way the PAX East demo played. Super Giant Games put together a publishing deal with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and should have the game available on Xbox Live Arcade by summer 2011.