The Banner Saga – Review
Follow Genre: Turn Based Tactical Role Playing Game
Developer: Stoic Studio
Publisher: Versus Evil
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Android, Xbox One, iOS, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS
Tested on: Playstation 4

The Banner Saga – Review

Site Score
8.3
Good: Immersive story telling
Bad: No subtitles during cutscenes
User Score
8.8
(4 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 8.8/10 (4 votes cast)

Vikings, undead and giants. What more could a game need? Nothing, as is proof in The Banner Saga. Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen and John Watson, the developers of the game, who left Bioware, wanted to change things up and make a game of their choosing. They turned to the crowdfunding and after successfully meeting their quota, they started work on The Banner Saga. The game was released on 12th of January 2016 on Xbox One and Playstation 4 and 14th of January 2016 on Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android.

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Story

Imagine a scenario where the sun is stuck in place: No more sunrise and sundown, the complete downfall of dawn and dusk. Day is followed by day and not by night. That’s what happens in The Banner Saga. The game takes place in a Vikings themed universe where the dredge hunt down mankind and giant alike. The giants called Varl aren’t really all that keen on the alliance with men, but the common enemy makes greater allies. This doesn’t mean that they’ll be all buddy buddy, because you’ll soon notice that mankind is wary of the strength of the Varls and Varls are disgusted by the weakness of man. The game boasts a system where everything you do and say carries weight. This is true, but also know that not everything is as straightforward as it seems. Sometimes trying to do good for one will bite you in the ass. So don’t try and think about what the game might consider the ‘good’ option and play to your instincts. The best way to describe the choice system is: if you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

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The game is really story and character development heavy and thus doesn’t really feel like a game, but more as a playable narration. The writing of the game is also really good. It feels like it has been ripped out of a novel and a very good one at that. When someone gets described as looking like he used to pull the legs from spiders, instead of just ‘looking cruel/evil’ it colours your opinion of them. This said some of the writing is really difficult and might deter those who aren’t really fluid in English. The Banner Saga doesn’t keep a fixed perspective, and the story will shift between chapters. This way you’ll see different sides to the story. The game is the first in a trilogy and this shows in the ending. Don’t expect the any closure on the main plot points because you’ll be left hungry for answers.

Graphics

The Banner saga is mainly hand drawn. From the characters to the animations to the backgrounds. The game relies on their theme and sticks with it. Small things will be animated during conversations, either a flapping tunic or hair that blows in the wind. Maybe even a hand that shifts place. The Banner Saga does however get a lot of mileage out of these animations. During a lot of conversations, animations are re-used and the animations are limited. This is something that won’t bother you if you don’t pay attention to it, but after reading this it might bother you. It has to be said though that it would be bland without them so kudos to the developers for not just hanging up their coat when they made the conversations but went that extra bit further to sneak in a little animation.

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Sound

Having different voice actors than the cookie cutter ones and trying new things really does pay off. The Banner Saga does so successfully, however when a voice is gruff, you’ll stand the chance that people will not understand what is being said. Having subtitles would be great or the option to enable or disable them would be even more fantastic. There isn’t an option however and during large portions of the game you’ll have subtitles, but during the cut scenes there aren’t any and if you miss out on what’s being said because of the writing or the voice acting, you are shit out of luck. Which is a bit of a downer because the cut scenes are really well animated and you’d rather want to focus on what’s happening instead of wonder what’s being said.

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The music isn’t going to throw you out of the experience. It’ll help you immerse yourself until you are lore deep into the game. The booming drums during fights are in stark contrast to the tunes when you are on the road, which sound like the wind blowing in the valleys you are travelling through, light and soothing.

Gameplay

The Banner Saga is an strategy turn based role playing game. Whenever a battle ensues you can choose in which order characters will be granted turns and when you are ready you can commence the battle. A turn consists of moving and using a special attack or a normal attack. That is if you are in range of an enemy else, you’ll have to skip your turn.

Moving can be done by selecting a tile upon which you want your character to walk. When you attack you can press L1 or R1 and add extra strength to your attack. Any character has two meters. There’s a blue one which indicates a block meter, and a red one indicating life and strength. If the blue one is high, there’s a high chance your attack  will be blocked and negated. So whittling this down is equally as important as taking down the red meter. The higher the red meter is the higher you hit, but the reverse is also true, if the red bar is low, your attacks will be weakened. When the red bar is depleted the character dies. If all of the characters in your party die, the game is over.

Any RPG isn’t without levelling up, so when you kill enemies, the character that landed the killing blow will be getting renown. If you hit a certain amount of renown with a character, you’ll be able to promote them and you can spend skill points in their stats.

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Renown is also the currency for supplies for your journey and items you might find necessary for your characters to have.

The Banner Saga hones up to its difficult nature. It even warns players that you can change the difficulty at any time in the game, and this does not affect your trophies or story progression. This is majorly positive because if you are going into this blind, you’ll get your ass handed to you on the higher difficulty levels.

As your journey progresses, your supplies will dwindle, the larger the group of followers the faster your supplies will be depleted. Managing resources is vital because once you are out of them, things will get dicy. People will starve, morale will drop. Morale has five stages, from poor to great. Poor gives -2 willpower, while great gives +2 Willpower during battles. Willpower grants your troops the ability to move extra tiles in battle, add extra damage to your hits and makes it possible to utilize their special abilities. So keeping the morale high is important.

Conclusion

The Banner Saga does not try to lure you in with lifelike 3D 4k resolution graphics, but is all about narration through hand drawn animation and writing. This makes the game really immersive. If you are looking for a well written, story heavy turn based role playing game, this will be right up your ally. If you are looking for something with over the top action and exploding set pieces this might not be  your piece of cake.

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Rating: 8.8/10 (4 votes cast)
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The Banner Saga – Review, 8.8 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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First game ever was Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped, ever since then, gaming has been something that I've gravitated to. Reading's fun but not as interactive. Always up for a bout of online multiplayer. If that multiplayer is co-op. So if you are up for a friendly co-op session, hit me up. Rahenik's the name to search on PSN.

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