Time Extend

Revisiting Supergiant Games’ Bastion, an action RPG that was far from calamitous


As the Kid takes his first steps in the shattered world of Bastion, tiles rising out of the sky and ether to meet his feet, ragged curtains and broken columns lining the uncertain path ahead, there’s a meeting of sorts. Amid the confusion, clutter and brokenness of what’s before him, he finds “his lifelong friend just lying in the road. Well, it’s a touching reunion.”

The friend in this case is the Cael Hammer: a hefty weapon able to knock aside and flatten enemies. It’s a blunt instrument by definition, its haft about the length of the Kid himself, the weight of it ploughing into stone walls, wooden barrels and floating spectres alike. But it gets the job done.

That’s essentiall­y the feeling we get upon picking up Bastion again, a full decade from its initial release. It’s an old friend that feels half familiar, half unfamiliar; as spirited as any of the games Supergiant Games has released since – the remarkable run of Transistor, Pyre and Hades – but occasional­ly awkward in the hands, inevitably faltering when compared with the studio’s later, slicker output.

Still, it certainly got the job done. Bastion released to critical acclaim, selling millions of copies in the following years. Inspired by both the Western novels of Cormac McCarthy and the colourful, isometric JRPGs of the ’90s, the action RPG casts you as one of the few survivors of an apocalypti­c event known as the Calamity. This cataclysm shattered the city of Caelandia and its surroundin­g landscape into handily bitesized levels, now overrun with deadly beasts and deadlier vegetation.

Despite the apocalypti­c backdrop, there is plenty of colour and life to be found in

Bastion. It’s got charming narration at every turn and gorgeously hand-painted background­s; imaginativ­e enemy designs (ghostly tadpoles, undergroun­d sharks, the usual) and increasing­ly overpowere­d weaponry (cannons and battering rams); and a home that, despite the odd setback, gradually regains some of its former glory.

Starting with the hammer is no accidental choice. While there’s a wide variety of weapons in the game, from

Western-inspired pistols and carbines to spears and flamethrow­ers, it’s the hammer that makes the most sense for the Kid – as a builder, one who uses a tool to both break things apart and put them together.

As much as Bastion is a game about loss, it’s also a story of restoratio­n. While the world around you is shattered, the very act of traversing its haphazard levels rebuilds it, as tiles and objects fly into view in front of you, making navigation its own act of creation, or at least reassembly. You do spend much of your time destroying scenery and slaying vicious birds and beasts, but it’s ostensibly (as you’re reminded by the narrator, Rucks) to make a better world for them. And eventually you do indeed get the opportunit­y to restore everything to the way it was before the Calamity struck.

The game’s designers originally intended Bastion to have a gardening element. That sadly didn’t make it to release, but this sentiment of growth and nurture lives on in the accumulati­on of mementos, friends and even pets around your home base, the Bastion of the title. Bringing together the highlights of this charming world in one central, curated plot of land. Planting seeds for a better world than this one.

Playing Bastion in 2021, it’s impossible not to notice the seeds that would blossom in Supergiant’s later games, in particular its most recent release and breakout hit, Hades, a dungeon-crawling Roguelike set in the eponymous underworld of ancient Greek mythology. It’s no surprise that the latter game feels more advanced and polished, being the cumulative result of the studio’s work over the years. Revisiting Bastion, though, it’s clear that this is where the template for Hades was establishe­d.

The two games have much in common. Just on the surface level, they share the isometric perspectiv­e, action-RPG combat, strong narrative element, deep-voiced narrators and customisab­le weapon loadouts. Of course, a small team of persistent staff will usually result in consistenc­ies such as these. Bastion was, incredibly, made by a team of just seven, developed in the living room of a staffer’s parent – humble origins which the game’s lasting popularity has far exceeded. While Supergiant has since grown to a team of 20 – a still-compact

headcount at odds with the studio’s name – that core of seven has remained in place.

We’re told by creative director Greg Kasavin that the studio’s game engine has been “extensivel­y updated and overhauled since the Bastion days”, restructur­ed in an effort to aid porting between different platforms. Kasavin puts any similariti­es between Hades and Bastion down to the shared isometric perspectiv­e, “more than anything about the engine itself”. And yet, there’s a ghost that lingers. At times the motions of enemies feel eerily similar across the two games: the Gasfellas with their miners’ picks halt in the area for a moment before their weapon plunges down, just as the Wretched Thugs in Hades bring down their clubs onto Zagreus; the widening of a Squirt’s eyes before it rushes forward anticipate­s Hades’ Numbskulls.

Both games share a love of variety, too. Bastion will drop a new weapon halfway through a level, forcing you to change your strategy and adjust to new conditions in the thick of battle, possibly even removing the use of your Secret Skill (tied to a nowreplace­d weapon). Meanwhile, the making – or breaking – of a Hades run can come down to a single randomised Boon, electrifyi­ng the swipe of a blade or deflecting a death blow to give you the slight advantage you need. Both games circle around a trio of customisab­le attack options, and incentivis­e you to try every weapon, skill and power in earnest.

The most vital thing that Hades and Bastion share is a desire to restore, rebuild and return people to each other. The slick combat and continual Boon upgrades may be what pushes you from room to room, boss to boss, but it’s the prospect of reuniting

Zagreus with his mother, and restoring her to her rightful place in the underworld, that really drives him, and us. The subplots echo this sentiment, encouragin­g you to find ways to end the torture of eternal souls, help separated lovers and family members see each other again, or forge bonds with the Olympic gods themselves. The action, varied as it might be, is only a tool to serve the greater satisfacti­ons of a drink shared with a


whip-wielding Fury, or of living to hear the praise of the lord of the underworld himself.

Bastion has nothing like the scale of Hades, of course. You can whip through it in around eight hours, including the occasional setback or distractio­n. (The most substantia­l of which is the Proving Grounds, where you compete in time trials and minigames in an effort to master individual weapons: the Fang Repeater, Scrap Musket, Brusher’s Pike.) Its successor bakes repetition into the action itself, finding ways to encourage everchangi­ng weapon and upgrade loadouts, so you could spend hundreds of hours trying every combinatio­n, unearthing every side quest and unheard dialogue tree.

Bastion’s limitation­s are evident. There are only four central characters in the entire game, including the Kid, and no

dialogue, aside from the commentary of Logan Cunningham’s narrator. (Cunningham would, of course, go on to become a regular collaborat­or. He narrates Hades too, along with providing voices for several of its characters.) The rest of the supporting cast are very much dead. You’ll come across countless dust statues across Bastion’s levels – morbid outlines of civilians, each with their own names, sombrely remembered by Rucks’ voiceover. Supergiant only had “four or five” character models for these. As Kasavin explains in Noclip’s Bastion documentar­y, they’re all “scaled differentl­y, flipped horizontal­ly and so on, to create the impression that it was this big group of people, almost in a Pompeii style.”

The game manages to carry these restrictio­ns with confidence, even style. While levels are essentiall­y linear, the selfassemb­ly of the ground beneath your feet as you traverse them brings a sense of endless possibilit­y, as if you can wander anywhere, do anything. Even the limits – say, when you simply wander right off a walkway into the depths below – are lent personalit­y by the narrator’s winking retort: “Only fooling”.

This voiceover is perhaps the element that defines Bastion more than any other. It lends so much to the atmosphere that it might come as a surprise to learn that the narrator was a late addition, a solution intended to drip-feed lore and story beats without halting the action. It’s this deft use of the tools at a developer’s disposal which makes Bastion still feel so fresh and light, soaring skywards over the obstacles that might have tripped it up.

Given the game’s success, a sequel might have seemed the logical next step. Kasavin tells us, though, that Supergiant “actively chose not to make more Bastion games.” Besides, while the studio may have decided against developing Bastion 2.0, per se, there’s no denying the influence this debut had, or how firmly it laid a template for its work in the years afterward.

In Bastion’s final moments, you are forced to decide whether to restore the lost world, resetting the clock to a time before the Calamity and risking it happening all over again, or simply to evacuate the Bastion with all your friends and attempt to start afresh. The Kid has to choose whether they want to return to, or move on from, the past. But, as Bastion’s successors have shown, sometimes you really can do both.

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 ??  ?? It’s hard not to feel affection for the ramshackle Bastion as you gradually rebuild its shops, shrines and distilleri­es
It’s hard not to feel affection for the ramshackle Bastion as you gradually rebuild its shops, shrines and distilleri­es
 ??  ?? Enemy movements can feel eerily similar across both Bastion and Hades. If you’ve played the latter, you’ll know how to navigate this Scumbag’s attacks
Enemy movements can feel eerily similar across both Bastion and Hades. If you’ve played the latter, you’ll know how to navigate this Scumbag’s attacks
 ??  ?? The floating city is designed so that you can see the sky, despite Bastion’s isometric perspectiv­e. Just don’t jump off the edge
The floating city is designed so that you can see the sky, despite Bastion’s isometric perspectiv­e. Just don’t jump off the edge
 ??  ?? Getting pickaxed by a Gasfella will hurt, but Logan Cunningham’s voiceover makes every moment worth it
Getting pickaxed by a Gasfella will hurt, but Logan Cunningham’s voiceover makes every moment worth it
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