If going on lengthy Viking journeys is your thing, you might want to take a look at The Banner Saga. It’s the first part of a trilogy which takes you into battle with an army who need to be kept happy and fed, pretty easy, it’s the fighting that might be the problem.
I said quite a bit in the preview which can also be said in this review, but obviously, it would be silly of me to go and copy and paste segments of that. In an attempt to bring more diverse content to you, I punish myself by playing these turn-based strategies, when they look as nice as The Banner Saga, it’s all groovy.
I’m not the best strategist and for a game that specialises in sophisticated tactics, I was soon out of my depth, despite it feeding the newbies enough tutorial to satisfy the hunger, it might as well have been in Viking language due to me forgetting most of it when it came to putting practise into theory.
You become part of an epic story and unless you really put yourself in there, it may not make much sense. You’re given a couple of characters who are bigger than humans called Varl and because they’re giants, they take up more tiles. It’s the old grid-style movement system with a slight difference of being able to move extra spaces by using Willpower.
The artwork is magnificent, but not overly complicated or cumbersome, so you’re not swamped with a whole lot of everything going on in your face. Character detail is kept nice and simple which helps keep it running smoothly, even on my 4-year-old laptop which, to be fair, is actually quite capable.
Dialogue between characters consists of mainly just text and you sometimes have to choose a response, that’s where what you decide is which path you will follow. While it’s fairly linear, it’s far from shallow. The characters have a story, the battle system has the stats you need to work out who you send to fight against who and there’s renown to gain.
All this doesn’t occur in one place, you become part of a caravan travelling to Grofheim whilst having a few encounters along the way, it’s while on the road you’re first shown the map. Pretty much everything on the map is clickable to give some information, nothing much, just a little history of the location.
The caravan will set up camp now and then for the men to rest and give you a chance to promote anyone who has earned it through kills, this is where a tactical mind can shine. Promoting costs renown, but it gives you points to use on improving their stats. While in camp, you can train and this can be beneficial to honing your strategic technique with any existing or new heroes, especially helpful as you can fight against other Varl who are just as strong or maybe stronger than any in your team.
It’s worth training more than once, learning who does what can make the difference between winning and losing, this is where The Banner Saga sucks you in. Don’t underestimate the little guy with the axe and wooden shield, you may laugh at him with your mighty Varl, but you’ll be surprised at the damage he can deliver. It’s the Dredge you need to worry about, they’re tougher than what you train for, but then, it also depends on your position at the start of the fight.
I have to say I took an instant dislike to Dredge, during the preview, I played on Normal difficulty, but when playing the full version, I opted for Easy and I was still slaughtered. The problem I found was that it became repetitive. Travel, camp, train, rest, fight and repeat. The multiple choice dialogues that pop up seem nothing more than an adventure book which you turn to a page to make a choice.
While the end product looks and plays magnificent, there are still some things you’re not going to like. Using renown points for promoting and buying supplies seems a strange form of currency, the constant threat of losing people to some form of death is a prospect you don’t want looming over your head.
In some battles, there seems to be no tactical decision that doesn’t end in one or two of your team losing consciousness and the need to click twice to confirm an action irritates me slightly, probably because I feel it’s unnecessary, but I can’t fault the mechanics too much, it works very well.
The Banner Saga decision.
It’s had quite a bit of hype and rightly so, amazing artwork just enhances the eye-popping visuals of the beautifully crafted world, the only thing to mar an otherwise almost perfect game is mentioned in this review. Spectacular animations deliver a slightly underwhelming experience and while the gameplay is good, it’s not going to please everyone.
It’s certainly a worthy contender of its genre and not to be totally dismissed, if the planned sequels achieve the same quality, you would be proud to give it a home in your collection.