The Banner Saga is a 2-D strategy RPG with decision making elements enrolled into the story. Its a narrative driven game, which is backed by some fantastic writing and story elements, making each character you play with a unique asset to your game. The art-style is gorgeous, adapting a hand-drawn style that compliments the soundtrack and the overall feel of the game beautifully. The gameplay is tactical and engaging, forcing you to make clever use of different characters and their abilities on the battlefield whilst attempting to keep moral high and your caravan fed as you trek through the harsh world.
Starting up Banner Saga you’ll be presented with the gorgeous splash screen that I showed in the first picture, this represents the art style throughout the game and is constantly refreshing to see how the artists have designed each part of the world as you move through it. The main aim of Banner Saga is there is an oncoming horde of colossal invaders; The Dredge. You have to seek safety as best you can. The story follows two narratives through Hakon and Rook. Hakon is a Varl warmaster: A giant horned race, and Rook is a human hunter. Both the stories are separate and face different challenges. When you’re not on the battleground, you’ll be travelling on your quest; this is where the game shows itself off, the landscapes are simply gorgeous, from rolling mountains to religious sites, fields to the sea; all drawn by hand and my god are they pretty. The effect of the banner that is trailing your caravan as you travel is also very neatly done. In short, this game is stunning.
So you’re probably wondering what the actual fights look like right? They operate on a grid like basis, similar to that of X-Com or Might and Magic, with each character and enemy taking up a grid slot, or four if you’re fighting/playing with Varl characters. Each character has a unique ability making them original and it makes choosing them from your roster equally important. An ability to “Mark Pray” where they’ll give them a slice and all in range allies will also attack, is as valuable as “Sundering Impact” which will decimate nearby enemies. Characters also have a passive ability that will boost defense, attack and other things. The enemy AI is clever and tactical, focusing on either weaker archers that you’ve left exposed or surrounding your main tank and giving him a few good smacks before you twirl your axe around and knock all of them down to 1 health. Its a gripping battle style and as I said, makes planning the layout of your characters a must if you don’t want them all to die.
Characters also have “Willpower” in battles. This acts as a kind of stamina for your special abilities and can be used to move further by a tile, attack with more force or use your special ability. The attacks in this game have two kinds, armor or health. Obviously a big tanking Dredge is going to need to be worn down with attacks to armor first; unless your characters boast a high strength in which you can bet you’ll be able to chink away their health over time. Battles work on a turn based system, with you being able to pick the order of your heroes. You do your turn, the AI does its turn and you repeat. It can seem a little tedious but its a tried and true formula to do strategy games: It lets you plan attacks that may or may not work depending on how the AI thinks. At the end of a successful fight, you’ll have gained xp with your characters and some may even become promoted, allowing boosted stats and traits. You’ll also gain Renown which acts as a currency that you can use to buy equipment that will boost a characters stats or more importantly, supplies.
I mentioned that there are decision making parts to this game and I did so for the reason that they create tension in the story. Faced with an approaching Dredge attack but limited on supplies, do you run the risk of gathering more supplies and be prepared to fight or do you flee and hope for some salvation down the road? The outcomes to these choices will either boost your caravan or cause you to be stuck in a fight you didn’t want to be in. There are also social decisions to make: brothers murder their former town leader, do you allow them to join your caravan as solid fighters or do you refuse them and send them on their own way? It keeps the game fresh and presents you with new dilemmas to solve without taking away from the narrative, which is vital to a game so good at telling the story.
Overall, this game is a must play for RPG strategy lovers. Its a shame I’m not overly in love with this kind of game series, as I love both RPG games and Strategy games. I can however, admire it for its style and story of which are going to be the lasting memories I have of this game.
The Banner Saga is developed by Stoic Studios. You can find it on Steam for £14.99. Article written for Spirit of the Robot by TD.
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