At the start of Bastion, the Narrator feels like a contrivance. His flat, grizzled delivery sounds like an affectation, and as he begins to narrate the game's events, you wonder if he'll be so intrusive the whole time. Chief among Bastion's many feats is how quickly the Narrator becomes integral not only to your understanding of the game, but your enjoyment of it. His wry comments on the action start to feel authentic and meaningful, and by the end of the game's brief campaign he has begun to feel like a friend. Which is good, because in a place as desolate as this, you need all the friends you can get.
While the Narrator gets all the dialogue, the player's avatar gets all the action. Known only as the Kid, he is one of the few survivors of a cataclysmic event called the Calamity. He awakes and sets forth for the Bastion, the safe haven that his people were supposed to seek in case of trouble. He gets there. Hardly anyone else does. The story of Bastion starts as the Kid's attempt to restore the world he knew, and ends as a rueful meditation on the causes and costs of war.
Most of this comes from the Narrator's delivery, and the words he speaks. The story and dialogue for Bastion were written by Greg Kasavin, formerly the executive editor of Gamespot, back when it was a good site and had not yet started firing its writers under pressure from ad buyers. Kasavin has a keen ear both for wordplay and for the natural rhythms of speech. More impressive is his restraint. The Narrator's thoughts are unadorned, free of sentimentality, and ultimately quite powerful as he reveals the truth behind the Kid's journey.
For its narrative sophistication, Bastion plays like a standard action-RPG, albeit an uncommonly well-designed one. From an isometric perspective, players guide the Kid through mostly linear dungeons, smashing through beasts and collecting loot from their corpses. It's anything but a grind. Each map has a twist to differentiate it from the others, without deviating from the character's basic skill set. One level in which the Kid and his enemies were obscured under thick foliage was a particular delight.
Bastion has the sorts of upgrades and character customization you'd expect from the genre, but remains superbly balanced. Of the 10 weapons you can find, each can be modified in distinct ways. "Proving Grounds," which present challenges for each specific weapon, are a testament to the weapons' versatility. A task that seems impossible with one configuration can be easily toppled with a few tweaks. The same is true in endurance runs to a place called "Who Knows Where," which isn't critical to the quest but offers up big bonuses and illuminating backstory.
The attention to detail extends to every facet of Bastion. Passive upgrades can be mixed and matched to make the Kid feel like a different character altogether. Players can even customize the game's difficulty: rather than selecting easy or hard modes, you can activate in-game modifiers that give the game's enemies special abilities, and corresponding XP bonuses. The whole production is so well thought out that Bastion feels like a place that will be worth revisiting.