I remember finding The Banner Saga while randomly looking through the Steam store back in 2014, the same year it was released no less. I’d never heard of the game or its developers, but I was sold the moment I saw the screenshots for it, and I was even more interested when I’d found out that Stoic (the developers) had once worked for BioWare. I bought it, played through the whole nine hours it took to finish it, and I came to this conclusion: it was one of the best games I’d ever played.
The gameplay was great, the visuals and the music were beautiful and the story was incredibly well told. It was filled with memorable characters which I actually cared about, choices that mattered and really hit home when you were shown the consequences of your actions, and it had a heart wrenching ending. In my opinion, no game is complete unless you feel terrible at the end of it.
Publisher: Versus Evil
Reviewed on: PC
Also Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac OS
Release Date: 19th April 2016
It also ended in a way that pretty much guaranteed they were making The Banner Saga 2 and I think this is what excited me the most about this budding new franchise. The story, the world the characters; all of it is just too big to contain in just one game. So when Stoic announced they were making TBS2, I was over the moon. Yes, I wasn’t particularly jazzed about having to wait for 2 years but I guess in the case of this game, the old adage of “good things come to those who wait” definitely rings true.
The Banner Saga 2 begins shortly after the events of the first game, with a few new or missing faces depending on the choices you made earlier. Your choice at the end of the game also decides who you’ll be playing TBS 2 a – Rook, the hapless father, or Alette, the daughter who wants to take charge of her own life. For those unfamiliar with The Banner Saga, the game is a side scrolling, story heavy RPG with turn based combat.
Essentially there are two main gameplay elements – watching your caravan of survivors and warriors traverse beautiful landscapes in order to get from one place to another, all while making choices that have an impact on how your people survive. The combat portion of the game where you have to fight to keep your people safe. The game draws very heavily from Norse mythology, but rather than ripping it straight from the Sagas the devs have created a completely unique world with an incredible history behind it. This might be the thing I respect the most about Stoic – the fact that they poured a lot of attention into the lore. You just need to look at the in game map to understand what I mean. Every city, village, town, mountain range, lake and region has a name and some history behind it.
I think the first thing you’ll notice, unless you’re the kind of person who doesn’t appreciate beautiful things, is how incredible the game looks. While some people might not be into cartoonish art styles, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t think The Banner Saga 2 is a great looking game.
Every landscape in the game is amazing to look at, even ones that were intended to be sinister or bland. It’s the kind of game that makes you want to explore every hill, every mountain and every tree. While the 2D nature of the game makes that pretty much impossible, I think it’s speaks a lot in the games favour if the background on its own makes your mind wander a little. If you ever watched some old Disney movies like Bambi or Fantasia, you’ll definitely see some resemblance. The fact that the developers took inspiration from such a classic style of drawing is very cool, and despite how serious the game is the art style works incredibly well.
Earlier I mentioned the two levels of gameplay within The Banner Saga – the caravan portion and the combat portion. What I like about the caravan portion of the game is how well it fits with the narrative of The Banner Saga 2. Basically, the world is slowly coming to an end. You’re in charge of leading a group of refugees to safety, which means you’re also in charge of supplies and keeping their morale up through some of the choices you’re given. The story hammers down the feeling of hopelessness from the start, and you’ll definitely feel that when the caravan gets going.
I might just be really awful at micromanaging hundreds of scared refugees, but I found myself getting them killed through some really poor decision making or having them starve to death (unintentionally of course) and yes, you don’t want your people to starve to death – hungry people aren’t happy people. Compared to The Banner Saga 1, there are a few subtle changes that definitely enhance the overall experience. You’re now able to train the refugees into fighters which will help you out when a battle is a little too big for you and your team of handpicked heroes.
Then you’ve got the combat part of the game, which is also incredibly fun and ties in with the caravan segment perfectly. There are quite a few named characters in the game, all of which fill a specific kind of combat role. Once you’ve put together your squad, you then deploy onto the battlefield, where you and your enemies take turns to move in to position and beat eachother to death. It’s fairly simple, but I’ve noticed that no battle plays out the same way. The battles can also be quite challenging. I’ve been trounced more times than I can remember, and it mostly had to do with the morale of my caravan. Like I said – hungry people aren’t happy people. And much like the caravan portion of the game, the developers have also spiced things up with the combat.
When your team members level up you can allocate points into one of 8 stats, much like in the first game. However, once you max out a stat you unlock a talent which adds even more uniqueness to each of the fighters. On top of that, barricades have also made their way into the game, adding a new level of tactics to the game. Speaking of which, barricades won’t always work in your favour. If you don’t position them correctly, you can put yourself at a disadvantage.
The story continues just as powerfully as it started and introduces a few new faces, as well as expanding on the stories of some old ones. However, this isn’t the kind of game that you can just jump in to. I think this goes for most games, but to really get what’s going on you really need to play the first one. While that isn’t really a criticism in and of itself, it’s something that might sour the experience for a few people.
The game is available on PC, Mac, Xbox One and PS4 for £14.99. Along with the first game, this is one of those hidden gems that will gain a strong following once the third game comes out.