The Banner Saga (Video Game Review)
The Banner Saga features a grim storyline that is based deeply in Norse mythology. Players find themselves in control of a caravan headed away from an oncoming war that threatens to eliminate any normal life left in the land. Humans and creatures known as the Varl, large human-like with demon horns, fight the oncoming war against a force known as the Dredge, and it's a war they cannot likely win. The caravan heading away from the war also features characters from the same two races, though many of them will perish along the way thanks to the horrible conditions resulting from the impending war. The Banner Saga has a bleak storyline where more characters seem to suffer throughout the game than in nearly any other video game in recent memory, but players will have a grand storyline uncovered by persevering through the darkness.
Gameplay in The Banner Saga can be summed up in three main parts. The game's storyline is not unlike a Telltale Games release. Players will often find dialogue choices through any section of the game and will also be presented with multiple options on how to react to the given situation. The game doesn't feature voice actors, and while that's a real bummer, it's comforting to know that choices have important and far reaching consequences most of the time throughout The Banner Saga. Players can be sure when they are making decisions in the game that characters will do more than simply "remember this." Other characters will turn on the player and fight for the other team or even die for the choices made throughout the campaign, and an unforgiving autosave mechanic ensure the choices stick.
Another important aspect of gameplay in The Banner Saga revolves around the caravan and traveling through the fantasy world that is on the brink of war. This part of the game is easily comparable to the classic Oregon Trail, as players must carefully manage characters' morale, supplies and how often to rest when traveling between towns. If morale or supplies drop too low, then bad things will obviously happen, but many character specific events can be triggered while traveling as well. During these minor cutscenes, players can typically choose from a variety of reactions that will affect morale or even part of the game's storyline.
Combat in the game is made in classic tactical RPG fashion with a few changes. Players will move across a battle arena made up of grid squares and attack enemies in turn-based scenarios. It's important for players to always be aware of how many actions they have remaining in a turn, though there is an ability known as Willpower that allows characters to perform additional actions in combat at a great cost. Characters also have special abilities that can be activated in combat to deal extra damage or hit multiple enemies in a specific area. It's almost necessity for players to think about their moves in advance and react accordingly to ensure victory in a game that is as difficult as The Banner Saga even when played on the Easy difficulty setting.
There are 25 playable characters featured in The Banner Saga that include humans and Varl. There are various class like character models, but characters can also be leveled up through combat as well. Renown allows players to purchase additional weapons and supplies but additional skill points are also earned in the same way. Skill points can then be allocated to a number of different statistics including the previously mentioned Willpower, Armor, Exertion and other statistics with no restrictions based on class or character. The customization options for characters aren't very deep, but being allowed to customize a character to the player's preference helps ensure nearly every game will be different from another player's experience with The Banner Saga.
The Banner Saga has a solid presentation that begins with a fantastic art style. The aesthetic is the first thing any gamer will notice about The Banner Saga, and it's quite possibly its best feature. The game harkens to classic animated films from Disney and other children's classics with hand-drawn art that doesn't feature many animations but is a pleasure to look at all the same. The game also has a great fantasy soundtrack to compliment the game's great look, though it's a shame that the game doesn't feature any voice acting or narration. Players will also appreciate in-game menus that help explain the intricacies of combat and other popups that help explain the game's often convoluted storyline and history.
The Banner Saga is a great strategy RPG that has been released at a time when there are very few options available to challenge it. The game may be too pricey for some gamers, but anyone willing to drop the money to download the new release will not be disappointed. The game features a great storyline, challenging combat, interesting ideas and some of the best hand-drawn art that has been seen in the history of the industry. The Banner Saga's storyline may bum you out, but you definitely won't regret purchasing this new release, so download your copy on Steam today!
The Banner Saga is now available for PC and Mac and can be purchased for $24.99 exclusively via Steam. For more information on the game, check out the official The Banner Saga website.
- Single Player
- 25 Playable Characters
- Digital Deluxe Edition Includes Official Soundtrack
- Steam Trading Card Support
- Achievement Support
Publisher: Versus Evil
Platforms: PC (reviewed) & Mac
Release Date: January 14, 2014
- Great storyline
- Fun fantasy soundtrack
- No voice acting