The recent release of Indie Action RPG Bastion as playable via Google Chrome browser is as good a reason as any to finally give it its due.
And I never should have waited this long. While action RPGs have struck a chord with gamers since the heyday of Diablo, the years have seen a rash of them. Simple hack-and-slash game play with the dangling carrot of increasingly powerful loot has served to distract gamers from the genuine innovation and elegance that the heights of the game style can enjoy. Bastion is solidly in the company of such action RPG greats as Diablo 2 and Torchlight though it lacks their deeper RPG customizability in favor of a more approachable arcade style.
A great Calamity has fractured the land of Caelondia and The Kid must fight his way through the broken landscape to attempt to piece it back together. The world assembles itself beneath your feet as you travel and you must hack, slash and shoot your way past hordes of enemies that assault you on your journey. Which all seems very par for the course in describing a video game. But that is exactly part of the charm. The Kid is a scraggly-haired silent protagonist trudging through an Ur-Video Game Plot. You outfit The Kid with a variety of upgradeable armaments and as you progress you unlock new buildings back at the Bastion. You can buff your character with potions from the distillery or layer challenges upon your quest at the Shrine.
Bastion’s accessible controls — dodge, shoot, block, bash — are tight and satisfying and the added precariousness of fighting on the edge of a world makes every encounter more thrilling than you’d expect. Your ability to easily tailor your arsenal to your tastes keeps you going at the game’s more frustrating moments as it encourages a level of experimentation that is often absent in a button-mash-focused genre.
From its charming art to the dynamic voice-overs that narrate The Kid’s tale based on player actions, habits and choices, Bastion is a surprising delight. It is a superbly crafted game that gently encourages you to experiment and to challenge yourself. The port of Bastion to the Chrome browser places one of the best games of 2011 into the largest install base quickly and cheaply. While it could stand to have some console controller compatibility, the mouse & keyboard suffices. Under no circumstances should any self-respecting gamer — console, PC or MAC — pass by this gem. A — Glenn Given