Bastion is a game about rebuilding a world, a game in which every step you take sees a lost landscape flinging itself back together around you, as fragments of paving tile and shards of scenery spin upwards to meet your passing feet. It feels like a magic trick, but it’s not. The real magic trick lies with the other defining feature: narration.
That’s because Bastion is also a game about the spoken word, a game in which one of the NPCs isn’t just there to dole out the waypoints, shuffle you towards the next fight and keep the potions flowing, but to link the worlds of the couch-bound adventurer and his silver-haired onscreen avatar by detailing his exploits as they happen. It’s pure sleight of hand, dazzling and disarming: a complex latticework built from simple sentences and triggers, and then drawn together by your choices.
Brilliantly – and this is a game of a hundred glittering brilliances – Bastion’s monologue doesn’t just react to the big, world-rupturing decisions that occur towards the end of the adventure, but to your moment-to-moment fancies at every step of the way. Which of the dozens of onscreen enemies to shoot first, when to opt for a ranged or melee weapon, whether to glug a tonic, go on a rampage or accidentally fall off the lip of this half-finished universe: nothing escapes the narrator’s eye. He never repeats himself, and yet he never lapses into prosaic football chatter, either. You can put thoughts of Hansen and Gray presiding over the isometric pitch of this sprightly action-RPG aside: this is about pummelling one swarming monster into the next in the company of a whisky-voiced American ancient who shares his numinous hillbilly wisdom whenever the moment pleases him. “Words can’t express what happened,” he says on one occasion. “But they’re all I got.”
He’s a confidante rather than a commentator, and so it’s not so much a victory for storytelling as it is for basic emotional resonance. Strange as it sounds, you shouldn’t expect the voice in your ear to untangle Bastion’s plot for you (truth told, it’s still a thick fantasy snarl, albeit an unusually earnest one). Instead, it will bind you tightly to the unfolding action, weaving a conspiratorial spell that creates an unexpected intimacy as you move from distanced lock-on fire to more immediate button mashing. By the end of Bastion, you’ll feel far closer to the game than you might have expected. You’ll be invested in its outcome in a way that, say, merely understanding what’s going on could never have achieved.