Let me tell you a story, it was in a time when the Gods were dead and the sun did not move in the sky. It is a tale of heroic deeds of days long gone. Tales of worthy Men, Women and Varl who made their mark on history. This is the Banner Saga.
As I touched on in my Preview of The Banner Saga last year, the game looks great and has an in-depth system of choice for you to work through. Now that the game is in its finished state, we can delve in and take a proper look at this turn based Viking styled beast.
The Banner Saga Review
From Stoic comes a brilliant looking game that has you walk across a Nordic looking land full of perils at every step. The Banner Saga forces you to make some hard choices along the way. Don’t expect to please everyone.
The music composed by Austin Wintory (flOw and Journey) gives amazing amounts of life to the setting. From the moment the game opens your ears are swelling with an excellent score of music. The album for The Banner Saga alone makes for excellent listening and is available through iTunes and Amazon.
The story is grand and split across two main groups as they both march on ahead of danger. Varl and Human characters bicker between each other and have enough depth of their own motives and schemes. I struggled to keep track of the Varl for a while though, maybe it’s because I’m a silly Human.
Prepare yourself to read closely as all the core dialogue in this game is written. In my preview I touched on this a little. It’s hard to follow because I’ve probably grown accustomed to Skyrim and Mass Effect giving me huge amounts of spoken dialogue, now with Elder Scrolls Online announcing a voice cast I’m giddy. One must take into account that this is an indie game, an underdog in the big gaming world. There is some narration spoken though which is great I just wanted for the Heroes as well.
The art looks good when talking to characters sifting through the camp and generally walking across the wastes. I found the more complex animations a little repetitive in combat. They’re all from the same angle and it can look like some of the Varl are wearing pyjamas at times.
Choose Your Saga Wisely
Walking across the country side you’ll have to keep an eye on your Clansmen, Fighters and Varl. Will you press on hoping the next town is around the corner? Perhaps it would be best to stop here the night, raise morale and heal wounds before pressing on.
This is where you’ll learn to bulk of the story and make the hard decisions. Two separate groups travel along, one with a Yellow Banner and the other Red. What’s interesting is how you need to adapt your choices depending on which camp you’re currently playing.
The choices you make end up impacting your party in a number of ways. Once choice could end in a loss of supplies, another means you’ll lose a hero or the third one could mean a loss of troops. The game doesn’t tell you what the outcome of these choices will be before you make them, as a commander you need to make the tough decisions. This may lead to multiple playthroughs or frustration depending on your personal style. Expect not everyone to be happy with you.
The Yellow team has Varl to spare when it comes to battle. The only humans you have contact with are the 3 playable heroes. This means when it comes to big battles, you’ve got a sizeable force and can sit back a little more if need be.
Through combat and choices you will earn renown which is yet another resource to manage. ‘Renown’ will let you upgrades you Heroes or buy supplies and items. Each time a hero is ready to gain a level it requires ‘Renown’ unlock the next step. This predictably starts becoming more and more expensive with each level. Again we see the theme of choice and balance, will you upgrade just one hero of a high level, two of a lower level or but some supplies in case this is the last friendly place you’ll see for a while.
Turn Based Fighting.
You’ve got some heroes and enemies on an isometric grid, what more do you need? The Banner saga handles the combat a little differently.
Instead of pure health, characters have armour and strength. Reduce armour to be able to do more damage to strength. Strength indicates how hard you can hit and is also your remaining hit points.
Instead of being based on an initiative or speed, each turn alternates between the two teams. This means that if you’re outnumbered you still get the ability to react. That is until one of you has one hero left and then it’s the Pillage/Last Man Standing mode with the sole survivor getting one turn before his enemies pile on.
Having played Fire Emblem recently I was ready for my heroes to be dead if they fell in combat. Thankfully not as the combat is difficult and ‘downed’ heroes remain injured until you camp to rest enough. Injured heroes are still useful on the battle field however they are at reduced strength.
Going to WAR
Going to war involves squaring off your troops against the enemy. Here you can choose if you want to run headlong into battle screaming, “Charge” or if you want to act a little more cautiously and let the army do some of the work.
In the beginning I would burden myself with as much as I could to prevent losses in my armies, however the battles do start to take their toll. If you take on fewer foes during the combat, it makes life easier but you’re more likely to take heavy casualties in fighters.
This was a lovely element of choice, what I thought was a bit dull at first did become a pivotal choice in the health of my traveling army. Again it comes down to balance as you can’t be the hero of everything.
The downsides to the WAR battles though are that there aren’t any visuals to go along with them. It’s hard to care about these fighters dying when they are just numbers appearing briefly on the screen. To be fair though, this isn’t Rome: Total War but I wanted something a little bit more to convey the loss.
The Banner Saga has all the makings of an epic game: Vikings, the end of the world and an unstoppable force unleashed. If you’re only into AAA games, I’m surprised you got this far in the review. Stoic has put on a great display for what is a Kickstarter project we must remember.
Some parts of this game shine like a Red Banner on white snow lifting the feeling of a great story and adventure. There are still a few bits of The Banner Saga that have fallen just short of hitting the mark though. I look forward to seeing the next game the release in this style as with a bigger budget, a lot of my gripes can be wiped out.
I recommend giving this a go if you want to make choices you’ll be second guessing. If you want to be everyone’s hero and total saviour who can do no wrong, it might be worth looking elsewhere.
The Banner Saga is currently available on PC and MAC for Steam. See more on our Preview of The Banner Saga.