The Banner Saga

Live through an epic role-playing Viking saga where your strategic choices directly affect your personal journey. Make allies as you travel with your caravan across this stunning yet harsh landscape. Carefully choose those who will help fight a new threat that jeopardizes an entire civilization.
Live through an epic role-playing Viking saga where your strategic choices directly affect your personal journey. Make allies as you travel with your caravan across this stunning yet harsh landscape. Carefully choose those who will help fight a new threat that jeopardizes an entire civilization.

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.

In this sense, it borrows from TellTale games, actions have consequences that can be good, or bloody dire.
In this sense, it borrows from TellTale games, actions have consequences that can be good, or bloody dire.

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.

Typical battlefield. I place archers in the back because the game told me it was best and it was my third attempt at this battle...
Typical battlefield. I place archers in the back because the game told me it was best and it was my third attempt at this battle…

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.

WE EARNED OUR STRIPES- Wrong game...
WE EARNED OUR STRIPES- Wrong game…

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.

Cut scenes involve reading what is being said, paying attention to detail will be useful to you later.
Cut scenes involve reading what is being said, paying attention to detail will be useful to you later.

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.

Time to leave the safety of the town for the road...
Time to leave the safety of the town for the road…

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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The Banner Saga

Company of Heroes: Blitzkrieg Mod

A realistic and hardcore version of Company of Heroes. You better tie your laces, because this is hell.
A realistic and hardcore version of Company of Heroes. You better tie your laces, because this is hell.

Company of Heroes: Blitzkrieg Mod (Blitz) is a drastic overhaul for Relics master real time strategy game Company of Heroes. It makes the almost casual, arcadey experience of the vanilla version of Company of Heroes into something gritty, brutal, intense and my god so so so fun. Increased damage, more units, bigger tech trees, more maps, this mod has it all and is topped off with making multiplayer fights with your pals even more fun because of these improvements.

It has a big gun, it deserves that massive iron cross on the mini-map.
It has a big gun, it deserves that massive iron cross on the mini-map.

Assuming you’ve played Company of Heroes (CoH) Blitz won’t change much of the core gameplay elements. You control either the Allies: Britain/America or the Axis: Wermacht/Panzer Elite in an attempt to destroy each other by annihilation (Or if you’re some kind of alien, through victory points). You have units and Commander trees you can embark upon and the main aim of the game is very much the same as in vanilla CoH: Kill the enemy. This is pretty much where the similarities between CoH and Blitz end. Blitzkrieg introduces so much more it’s almost a curse to original experience, I myself feel I can never really go back into vanilla CoH and enjoy it without thinking about the absolute joy I get from playing Blitz! Blitz introduces increased damage, so instead of being able to throw a couple of units at an MG team and managing to make at least 1 get through whilst the other is suppressed, both those squads will inevitably die. It also introduces more units, such as the Airborne Ranger squads and the Waffen-SS who have their respective bonuses and flaws, more tanks, more vehicles more EVERYTHING.

All Commander Trees have been largely increased and improved.
All Commander Trees have been largely increased and improved.

It’s continually refreshing to see different units come into CoH. I’ve pumped around 200 hours into CoH so I’m more than happy with the amount of effort that has been put into this mod. The new units look great and they are all fairly balanced and aren’t too far fetched, for example there’s no American Super Solider squad, but there are Airborne HQ Squads which are basically veteran Airborne squads, so it makes sense that these fight better because they cost more and you have to travel down the Commander Tree to get to them. That being said, the Commander Trees are amazingly well done and diverse that they add another goal to target mid-game. And it’s so satisfying to get to that M7 Priest to go and bombard those pesky Germans. Speaking of bombarding, the explosions in this mod are so brutal you will quickly retreat all nearby infantry squads from fear of them exploding into body parts. Also when vehicles blow up, they really blow up so squads you thought were safe next to that Sherman might also go up in flames.

BURN THEM ALL. BURN THEM.
BURN THEM ALL. BURN THEM. Wait thats a big tank…

Accompanied with these gameplay additions, the sound has improved and the Units have all been brushed up. The sounds of incoming artillery fire will fill your heart with dread, no longer do you just hear the explosion once its hit but you can hear the shell descending and my god it’s awesome. The howitzers raining death upon whoever you fancy also sound amazing, along with most of the weapons in the game, you’ll literally duck when you hear an MG42 open fire, and cry when you hear that horrible low frequency whine of a V2 rocket descending upon your tank column. Blitz also allows you to zoom much further out than CoH does, which allows for a wider field of play and more immersion, instead of at best seeing a group of units, you can now see entire armies. You can also zoom really far in for some bizarre reason, so you can really check if Conrad has tied his fucking laces.

Just one of the many, MANY, new vehicles included in Blitzkrieg.
Just one of the many, MANY, new vehicles included in Blitzkrieg.

This mod has changed the way I appreciate RTS games and more importantly, how I value squads. Its both a gift and a curse to have something this amazing ontop of an already stellar RTS and as stated before, it almost ruins the vanilla game. I would highly, highly recommend this mod for both long-term CoH fans and CoH players who want a grittier experience. However, there are some issues. Some units, such as the Commandos are simply too weak for their supposed expertise, units might get stuck on medics and be useless and some of the descriptions for the units need changing (I.E this tank is Very Effective against Enemy armor, when in reality a peashooter would harm it more) but apart from that, its the perfect addition.

I dare say, this is the end for me.
I dare say, this is the end for me.

Company of Heroes is developed by Relic Entertainment. You can find it on Steam for £6.99 and you can find the mod here: http://www.moddb.com/mods/blitzkrieg .Article written for Spirit of the Robot by TD.

Company of Heroes: Blitzkrieg Mod