The Banner Saga – As We Play

Imagine a world where men and giants work together to fight dark forces and preserve tranquility throughout the realm. Imagine armies and caravans having to butt heads with Brigands while dealing with treachery within their own camp, managing a poor load of supplies while on the road to their next location.

Imagine all of this visualized in a 1950’s animated Disney style, mixed in with the art-work of Don Bluth and inspired by Core Design’s Heimdall.

Blend all of that with the characterization and decision-making you’d expect from a Bioware game, and the tactical potency of XCOM.

Hold that thought: that’s The Banner Saga you’ve got right there. Feels good, doesn’t it?

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The Banner Saga will melt the eyes inside your head. The game is just so visually appealing and so completely refreshing that it deserves an entire article all on its own. The bold graphical direction instantly brings these mostly static, voiceless characters to life in an instant. The text boxes and words become voices in your own head, and a fascination will soon fester as you yearn to learn more about this exciting new realm.

But it does come with a price. The narrative is incredibly detailed and thrilling to get through, but the world is mostly denied to you. There is no open world to wander around, no additional side characters to speak to when the thought occurs and each environment is nothing more than a passing slideshow. The Banner Saga is much like an interactive story-book and completely focused on telling its story at a pace that is comfortable for the game, not you.

The Banner Saga isn’t afraid to introduce you to a character, only to eliminate them moments later or cut them out of the story entirely. But the choice is always yours. You can pick to leave people at the road side, or take a chance on them. You can ignore their pleas entirely and never let them be a part of your story. The decision-making in The Banner Saga is brutal and taxing, and is sure to come back to haunt you in the parts two and three whenever they get made.

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But we’ve established the game’s strong Bioware-story based roots. The bulk of the action is turn-based combat. As you switch roles between races, Giants can take four tiles at a time, where humans take one. Naturally, this means changes in combat strategy. Players click an enemy and either attack them or break their armor. Breaking armor opens the enemy up to increased damage when you go in for an attack. If you go in to attack an enemy without breaking armor, you run the risk of causing minimal damage, if any at all.

Gold tiles are also available to players, allowing them to move further forward at the expense of willpower. This is limited, but if a player doesn’t move on their turn, they can regain an additional willpower point. It also sets up purple attacks which enable the character to produce a special unique power which can cause extra damage, or even produce beneficial effects for all characters on the board. When there is just one enemy left, Pillage mode is activated. Pillage mode means characters moves are in order and there are no more guaranteed turns.

The renown of a character grows with each enemy they defeat. Renown can be used to improve characters, developing their strength, health and other attributes.

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And that’s about it. The game is around 20 hours in length and the narrative really keeps up throughout. The turn-based element naturally grows tougher as you progress and have access to a larger army of various character-types.  Unfortunately, the narrative of the game almost does itself a disservice. You will want to see more of this world, explore things in greater detail and therefore feel like your actions carry something of greater significance. There’s a lot to like here, but monotony in mechanics and frustration with limitations will start to take hold during the game’s final third.

  Areas for Development

  • Subtitling could use some improvements. Some punctuation, spelling and capitilisations errors noticed
  • Some dips in frame-rate
  • Occassional screen-tearing
  • Some cut-scenes turn out pixelated and green
  • Black travel screen bug
  • Infrequent changes from fullscreen to window and in-game freezing
  • Game sometimes gets stuck on loading screens
  • A more expansive, exploratory world in future installments.

Final Analysis

Despite the seemingly large number of issues, they are all infrequent and irregular, but do crop up from time to time. The Banner Saga runs a dream and is a mostly pleasurable experience. I’m not sure if another game of more of the same would be beneficial to the future of the saga, and believe the next project needs to be more bold and experimental, but this is a refreshing, engaging title that is entertaining from start to finish. With a lengthy campaign, fantastic characters, beautiful art and wonderful music, there’s not much to dislike here. The Banner Saga is a journey everyone should take at least once.

     

Technical Competency – 7/10

Graphical State/Sound Quality – 9/10

 Network Competency – N/A 

Overall – 8/10

About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,