Xbox’s marketplace has been flooded lately with upstart games, indie games and remastered games that it makes it hard to sift through all the garbage to find the few gold nuggets. Back in 2014 there was a buzz around Stoic Studio’s release of The Banner Saga on Steam and later to iOS and Android. This unique RPG that aimed for a more adult crowd where players had to choose the best option in dire circumstances that affected the entire course of the game as well as the core characters has finally made its way to the console and surfaced among the surmounting games library. Can a game that is a couple of years old make a splash in today’s market or are you best looking for that hidden gem elsewhere?
Banner Saga takes place in a Viking style world where giants (Varl) and humans live side by side and are met with a threat from the past, the Dredge, while living in a world missing a sun and in the midst of a perpetual winter. With a story deeply rooted with European mythology players will be drawn into the tale through the characters they meet and interact with as your caravan fights for survival. Dialogue drives Banner Saga and the choices you make affect your entire party from beginning to end. Maybe you take an offer from some passing merchants for a few days of supplies because you helped clear the Dredge from their path only to find that the meat has been tainted and ruins many more days of supplies than you received, or find a few soldiers wanting to join up with your procession only to have them cause discord among the rest of the group.
As the game progresses you’ll find that each individual choice carries a weight greater than you may imagine. Each decision you make is made through a series of text prompts that play out like you’re reading a story book. Assessing the situation and using your best judgment often allows twists in the plot and actually gives players an incentive to replay Banner Saga for more than a single playthrough. Even the visuals propel the whole story book feel with the hand painted characters and backgrounds like cartoons from yesteryear. The beautifully rendered artwork portrayed in rich detail shows the harsh environment and immerses the player into the world. Add in the wonderful soundtrack that embodies the entire landscape and theme of Banner Saga and you have a superb combo that sucks the player in like few games manage to do. While the musical score excels it is hard to overlook the fact that the game would have been exponentially better if voice acting was incorporated into the majority of the script.
Banner Saga does an excellent job of telling the story while steadily progressing the player through climatic experiences without losing their interest. You’ll jump between two different sides of the country with two very distinct groups that make up the core of the game. As discussed earlier every choice in the story can have major consequences, main characters can be killed off or become frustrated with your decisions and leave the group all together. Each character levels up throughout the game so keeping your favorites content enough to follow
you to the end can be a challenge and in addition you must allocate renown points to rank your characters up and keep your caravan fed. It is a teeter-totter chore to make sure everyone survives and your fighters are leveled high enough to take on the next Dredge challenge.
Battling against the Dredge comes in the form of strategic turn based action where you must arrange your characters on a grid to destroy the enemy. Finding the strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities of your fighters is key to coming out unscathed. Initially understanding how the intricacies of combat works is difficult, but as you progress you begin to understand that certain attributes pertain to the type of character you are using at the time. Archers don’t require as much armor and strength as the front line combatants who wield two-handed weapons or massive shields. Enemies with higher armor ratings must have their protection attacked first before you start damaging the main health bar, and if you ignore the armor and go straight for a kill there is a good chance the attack will be deflected. The longer a battle goes on the weaker your fighters become which means a lower chance of survival. Tactics are everything and players must calculate the most efficient placement of their fighters to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. If combat is too difficult you can always dumb down the AI, but the challenge on normal is accessible even to newcomers to this genre.
Overall Banner Saga is a compelling strategic RPG that engrosses the player in an unforgiving world where all choices impact the final outcome of the game. The stunning visual artwork and alluring musical score combine to wrap the game up in a perfect package many will find hard to resist. Combat helps break up the story enough to keep you pushing for the end, but sadly you’ll be faced with some cliff hangers in the plot line because this is just the first of four planned games with Banner Saga 2 due out sometime this year. Players won’t be disappointed with the purchase of game that encompasses so many great elements into hours of gameplay even with a steep price tag for a game a couple of years old. If you haven’t had a chance to try out Stoic Studios compelling work clear some space on your hard drive and jump into a fantasy world like no other.