Friday, July 22, 2011

Bastion (XBLA)

Time Played: 15-20min (Trial Game)

What Happened:

Issam and I tried Bastion for a few minutes at PAX East, but we couldn't hear any of the audio and I've been meaning to check it out again. Since it's part of Summer of Arcade, I downloaded the trial last night. Basically this is an action RPG with really cool art, and a hinted at story in which information is conveyed as you need it - for example, I'm headed towards the "Bastion" but I don't know what hat it, and there was an event called the "Calamity" but I don't know what that is --- but it makes me want to know. :)

You primarily hit things with a hammer, but you also get a couple of different ranged attacks, and can choose (as in most action RPGS) what stats you want to boost, and some degree of what attacks you'd like to use. I've encountered a couple different types of AI, which tend to swarm you in most cases (also like most Action RPGs), and there are also some ranged AI (see below). There is a hub, but I don't know a lot about it yet, since I just played the trial. So far I was able to get information from the "Stranger" character who hangs out there (who is also the narrator ;) ), and choose if I wanted to build an armory or distillery. Then I used a portal to progress to the next level (where the trial ends).

What I Liked:

Art. Clearly very cool, as everyone is talking about it. :) But that also brings me to a negative - it's so cool that I often wished the camera was closer in. Usually the information you need is contained in the center of the screen, so there's not much need for the wide angle of view. I could see this being done strictly for the mood and composition - like, you're this small thing in this big floating, mysterious world - but even still. Particularly because the art is so pretty it would be cool to be a little more up close and feel as though I'm part of the world. It could still be isometric. I'm just glad I finally got an HDTV or this game would have been impossible to play.

Narration. This is the main reason that people are talking about this game and it makes sense. It's pretty cool. :) You feel like you're in the middle of a story while it's being told, and like I mentioned above, you get little snippets of information that make you curious about what's going on - like mentions of the Bastion or the Calamity.

Story. Basically the same as what I was saying above - there's a story that's hinted at, and it's intriguing. I didn't actually learn anything during the demo though - I wonder how much you actually get to find out during the game. That being said, it still didn't hook me quite enough to make me keep at it to find out. I guess I still needed more mystery.

Limited Moves/Heal (Whirlwind). The only thing that seemed a little different from most Action RPGs was that your special move was linked to collectibles - you collected up to 3 bottles of, I guess, alcohol, and each allowed you to perform your special attack once. They were plentiful enough that you could do the move fairly often, but just rare enough that you tried to be smart about it. I guess it was really the same set up as any game which gives you a mana bar - but it was represented by items instead of a gauge. You also were able to heal fairly often - you refilled your '3 swigs of potion' each time you encountered a fountain (which felt often enough). But yeah, I like being able to heal often. ;)

Fall off World. Just as an interesting note, you can fall off of the world. There didn't seem to be a penalty that I noticed - maybe your health bar goes down a little to prevent you from using it as a strategy? I thought it was neat though - after all, you are on a floating island.

Stranger. In the hub you run into an NPC with the title of "Stranger" - who is the narrator! I thought that was a neat touch, to give him a face and a place in the world. I also liked that after you asked him all of the questions he had available, you'd encounter an empty menu and the phrase "sometimes, there's just not much to talk about".

Length of Trial. For me, this was a good trial length. Games get about 5-10min to get my attention, and as is clear from my journal, I usually play in really short chunks. ;) I feel like I got a pretty good sense of what this game was about.

What I Didn't Like:

Traversal Speed. You're just a hair too slow. Sometimes you don't notice... but sometimes you really do. This seems to be the case in a lot of isometric games - I wonder why.

Distillery. This is totally a personal preference thing - but as I said at the top, you occasionally come across distilleries which let you alter your stats. 10% speed increase while blocking, etc. I just really don't care for this stuff - I never really feel that it makes enough of a difference to be noticeable. Clearly they can't dramatic alter the way that you play the game, or it would be hard to balance.. so I sort of feel like I'm pretending to do something. That or maybe I just never play these games long enough, and it actually does make a difference over time... but I never really want to be thinking about numbers when I'm playing a game.

Arsenal. In addition to the distilleries, there are arsenals where you choose your weapons and special moves. I actually just really found this confusing. There are 3 slots - which at this point in the game you really only have 3 weapons anyway (hammer, ranged weapon, special attack) so I poked around and managed to switch which button did what... I guess I just needed more of an explanation. :)

Ranged Weapons. Somewhere in the first half of the trial I got a ranged weapon (I can't think of what it was called... but basically a crossbow) - and then at some point later I got a bow and arrow. I never really figured out if I lost the original weapon? Maybe this is where I should have been paying more attention in the armory, and I had a choice of what to use? But when I picked up the bow I didn't know I was going to lose the ability to use the other weapon, so that was confusing.

Ranged Combat. Ranged combat is super annoying when you use the bow and arrow. There are stationary ranged AI which shoot a semi-constant stream of shots at you which you can block with your shield. In order to use your bow and arrow, you have to hold down the button to pull the arrow back - but generally, the amount of time it takes is less than the amount of time between AI shots. Maybe I didn't understand something, but I was basically just getting creamed in every AI section. I never died though... just got creamed.

Going to Next Level. At the end of the demo in the hub, I got stuck for a few minutes because I wasn't sure how to proceed. :) My first instinct was to go towards the 'magical looking thing' at the top of the level, but I didn't see any button prompts near it.. so I wandered around for awhile. Eventually I went back to it - and this time noticed a prompt. It could have been placed better I think - and perhaps the object itself could have looked more like a portal, or something that suggested activity.

Hub. More personal preference, but because I don't tend to care about stats, I never really like hubs. I'd prefer to just move from level to level with minimal interruption. Hubs to me just feel like double the loading screen time. I'm sure I could be convinced of a use for hubs if they offered a little more... but generally they bother me.

AI Swarms. This is just personal preference, obviously, since it's a standard in action RPGs - but I hate AI swarms. They get so tedious.... I actually find that in cases where I don't have to kill AI, I just run away from them after awhile because I'm tired of fighting.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I think this is a beautiful game, and I think the narration is neat -- but other than that, it's really not offering a unique experience. I think the 15-20min trial was good enough for me. Maybe I'll look for some spoilers online if I'm really curious about the story - but I don't feel like battling my way through thousands of AI to figure it out. :)