I picked up Stoic Games’ turn based RPG The Banner Saga over the weekend for a pretty nice price in the Steam sale. TL;DR If it’s still at that price, I recommend picking it up.
Just a quick note - this review maybe has some spoilers. I’ve been as unspecific as possible but some people might not want to read this, if you’re thinking of playing it later.
I’ve been playing a lot of games recently that don’t really have a story - Games like Civ 5, Sim City, and most recently the puzzle game Mini Metro. So when I came across this in the steam sale I thought I’d take a look at something more story driven. The Banner Saga did not disappoint - there’s a strong focus on story.
And it turns out to be a pretty great story. As it progresses you decide its path based on decisions you make, as you role play a number of key characters throughout the game. From the start you’re dropped in to the middle of what feels like a real place, with a real history between the Varl (giants with horns), humans, and the game’s enemy - The Dredge.
Throughout the game you’re given decisions to make, and every decision has consequences. I’ve played through it twice now, and have had some very different experiences - some better than others! However, there’s a pretty good balance to the game in that I never once felt after a decision gone awry that I had to restart a previous load game - and even if you’re tempted, I would advise against it just to see where the journey take you.
In that way its very much like the adventure books from my youth, where you had to make decisions at the end of paragraphs that would lead you to a different page in the book - I loved those as child so as soon as I made the connection here I was immediately comfortable with letting the game take me down those paths.
The game itself is made up of great turn based combat, dialog scenes, travelling, and location maps. In particular the travelling and location maps are exquisitely drawn. They really give you a great sense of the game world, and pull you in further into the story. Everything is beautifully illustrated, like the various combat areas, and even the in game map.
It took me some time to get used to the turn based combat in the game, having not played many (any?) turn based combat games in the past. I would aimlessly attack characters, and waste willpower (an important resource in combat) on stupid attacks. But once I did get used to it I loved it. You can think of it like a pretty exciting take on chess, or if you’re used to turn based combat you should take to it very quickly.
The combat was hard though rewarding once you put together a string of moves that you had pre-planned. From time to time you might have to fight any of the three races from the game and all require different strategies to overcome. The difficulty can be set any any time if you’re struggling though, I only had to do that once in a particular fight I just couldn’t beat.
The game moves at a pretty good pace, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, having played through it a couple of times. I ended up thinking about the game a lot when I wasn’t playing and even played through it a second time. A really enjoyable game.
I was immediately disappointed at the ending of the game. There’s nothing wrong with it really other than it ends. It was a shock to the system when the credits rolled when they did. In fact, I was writing this review before I learned that this game is a multi part game, a planned trilogy. I searched through the steam page to see had a missed an obvious Part 1 banner, but as far as I can tell only this line, at the very end of the page points out this news1:
The Banner Saga is the first part of a planned trilogy. If you complete this game, your unique progress and storyline will carry over to the next part of the story.
Well that’s a massive relief. Looking forward to the next two parts.