Bastion 

Bastion begins when a sulky white-haired boy wakes up from a night’s sleep and notices that everything is gone: There’s the bedroom, then nothingness. The kid is your hero, aptly named The Kid, and you have to decide what to do next. Naturally, you walk right out the door, because what else is there? As you step into the void, a path rises out of the aether and forms under your feet. This beautiful effect not only feeds into a fragmented, dreamlike aesthetic, it also establishes the central ethos of this game, where forging ahead is itself an act of creation.

Bastion is an action RPG where combat is rich without being complicated. The Kid’s armory includes a stabby thing, a slashy thing, and a bunch of shooty things, so the tactics are familiar. All the weapons have a wonderful crisp feel, and they each have little backstories, which emerge on side quests and add a pleasant depth. At The Bastion itself, an idyllic meadow perched on the edge of oblivion, there’s a temple where players can shift the dynamics of battle by activating idols of the old gods. Invoking a particular deity might, say, increase the ferocity of Bastion’s Hayao Miyazaki-esque monsters, but in return, The Kid will level up more quickly. Compared to the typical easy/normal/hard difficulty setting, this is a flavorful way for players to tweak the game to their liking. The same goes for the closet full of spirits—the booze kind, not the ghost kind—that grant The Kid special powers.

The game is fun and colorful throughout, yet within that spirit of fun, the level design evokes a remarkable range of emotion. Bastion takes players through its moods like a savvy DJ laying down the right tracks at the right moment. The frenzy of a collapsing-bridge escape gives way to the sad, sleepy mystery of an overgrown swamp, and the sensation of both is heightened by the contrast.

The Kid assembles a modest support crew in The Bastion, foremost among them Rucks, who serves as Penn to your Teller. As your mute hero fights, Rucks narrates the proceedings in the weathered tones of an old cowpoke who has seen it all. He sometimes comments on the action and sometimes talks about the old world, before The Calamity blew everything to pieces. The technique works beautifully because the writing is so tight. Rucks only speaks when he has something to say, and the old man’s words play off your actions as the young Kid to produce wit and insight.

Bastion is a post-apocalyptic work, yet it’s almost never grim. Its premise is that even when the future seems to have been consumed by past calamity, the only way to go is forward. But does moving ahead after a disaster mean rebuilding what was there, or creating a new world? When all the earthly things have been destroyed, how much does the soul of the past persist? Bastion leaves those questions open; its philosophy is that only the survivors can decide. Thus near the end of the quest, you must make choices that determine, in essence, what your journey has been about. It’s a powerful conclusion to an extraordinary game.