The Banner Saga is a very successful Kickstarter project by Stoic Studio, a 3 member indie developers formerly of BioWare. It was published by Versus Evil back in January 2014 for PC and mobile platforms. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One got their versions in January 2016.
The Banner Saga’s lore is heavily inspired by the Viking culture. However, they have their own set of mythology and history. The choices you make actually matter in the game and each choice has its own consequence for your people and army. Are you ready to take the journey?
The Banner Saga’s greatest strength is its storyline and lore. There are three major races introduced in the game; these are the humans, the varls, and the dredge. Humans are created by the Loom-mother, and they are essentially the ordinary people, with the exception of the menders. They are humans trained in magical arts.
Another major race is the varls, a crossbreed of an animal and a human. Thus, they have large horns. They are far stronger and larger than humans and they live longer, as well. Hadrborg, their creator, is actually a disciple of Loom-mother, and all varls seem to be all males, hence, they cannot reproduce like humans.
Humans and varls had confronted each other for territory until one of the gods, who loathed his peers, had created the dredge. Dredge are humanoid beings made out of stone, they are bizarre twisted creatures. They were so powerful that humans and varls had to unite just to push them back north. The menders, eventually, managed to bury them deep once the dredge’s forces were pushed back to the north.
Several years later, the sun has suddenly stopped showing, and the gods are now considered dead. Worse, another great war is forthcoming.
You play alternatively in two perspectives in The Banner Saga. This is a great opportunity to explore the world with different reactions and choices that make up your own journey. The choices you make actually matter here, and you have to choose wisely as each has its own consequences.
One of the major perspectives is Hakon and his army of Varls. They are escorting the prince as they came back from paying their tribute to the king, and in return, prince Ludin is sent to the Varl’s capital. Little do they know that they are about to clash with the dredge. On the other hand, Rook, a hunter, with his daughter, Alette, and Iver, a varl, do not expect to encounter the dredge and they are forced to run away from the threat.
The storyline may sound cliché, but the narration and pacing of the story are amazingly pulled off. Again, choices matter, and it is up to your own conscience what to choose. You can save other villages, or steal their food and kill them all. All you have to do is survive and reach the next destination.
Most of the characters in The Banner Saga have their own unique characteristics and background stories. It is actually hard to pull off with this many casts in the game let alone have compelling stories for each of them. Some characters feel like cannon fodder, though, since they do not really affect the story after they are introduced.
If you love reading about lore, feel free to check up the world map as you can see each location’s lore and it is a very good read.
The visuals of The Banner Saga look like a moving painting. It is filled with vibrant colors and it is very atmospheric as well.
The backdrop when you are in a caravan mode can be a bit dull at times since you are the only one moving in the world. However, there are scripted events that the backdrop represents the urgency and amazing events that happened in the world, such as a moving serpent in the background. Honestly, it is one of the goosebumps moments of the game.
The designs for battle maps can be repetitive, especially if you actually like grinding for renown (renown = in-game money), and fight all the battles that are available throughout your playthrough.
Towns and cities are wonderfully made as well as the character models in the game. Each town, city, and character have their own distinct nature, and I honestly like it.
This is definitely one of The Banner Saga’s strongest points, albeit there can be a lot of improvements especially in caravan mode.
There are three main gameplay aspects to tackle in The Banner Saga. First is the Caravan. To progress in the game, you will be traveling with your caravan. A caravan needs supplies/foods since the morale of your caravan is based on how many supplies you have for the remaining days. Morale can impact your advantage in battle so make sure to fight if you have at least normal morale. Anyway, you cannot travel for long since morale is going down every single day, so you have to set up a camp. In the camp, you can talk with other characters or train yourself. You can also buy items or promote your heroes if you have enough renown, the in-game money.
Another main gameplay aspect of the game is the choice selection. Throughout the game, you are given choices that will change small things in the game such as party members, supplies, and people in your caravan. It may increase or decrease depending on the result of your choice. Picking a good choice may also give you additional morale and renown. Also, renown is a vital piece of gameplay as it is scarce. Most of the time, you will be having a dilemma whether to use it for supplies or for promoting a unit.
While traveling in the world, you will be getting several scripted and random events that may lead to battles. This comes the third main aspect of the gameplay, the battle system. It is a tactical-based system very similar to many SRPGs. However, instead of having linear turns for each side, it is using alternative turns like a chess game, meaning that after your character moves, the enemy will move next, so on and so forth. This makes it hard to be more tactical and to actually set up a foolproof strategy.
Each fighter in the battle has his/her own corresponding armor and strength, making the battle system much more complicated. A high armor means lower chance to get higher damage on the strength of a fighter. The strength, on the other hand, is the fighter’s both attack power and health. Basically, a fighter cannot damage an enemy if he has low strength, but he can still damage the armor.
Fighters have different class types, and each class type has its own subclasses. The subclasses only differ in their special abilities, but they are mostly identical across the board. Speaking of special abilities, you can use them in a battle with a cost of their own willpower.
This gives more depth and you have to choose your 6 ideal party members. The game does have a permanent death once you let a fighter gets frequent/stacked injuries. However, most of the time, you will lose a major fighter if you manage to select a bad choice, which is kind of stupid.
A certain number of kills in battle lets you level up/promote your fighter’s rank. Promoting your fighter means you can add 2 points to his stats. Stats are permanent so choose wisely. High-tier items can also be equipped depending on the fighter’s rank. Abilities will be unlocked once a hero reaches rank 3 and rank 5.
The narration for The Banner Saga is top-notch. The voice-acting is solid, especially with the skald/Viking accent. Sadly, I wish that more parts are actually narrated or have voice acting since the narration is only there when passing through a village, a Godstone, or having an event.
The soundtrack is composed and produced by Grammy award nominee, Austin Wintory. It’s extraordinary and perfectly fits the game’s atmosphere and lore. Moreover, the ambiance of the game is high quality as well, some parts may even give you goosebumps as it is accompanied by amazing background music.
The Banner Saga has an abundant lore, a very detailed story, and an awesome soundtrack. This also includes having top-notch narration, a very atmospheric ambient, and a very stylish graphics.
But what went wrong? The simplistic and boring gameplay drags this game down. It is quite basic and way underutilized. The battle system was average at best, and may even annoy you because how the turns are set to alternate.
The random events are so scarce, it made the game painfully linear, as the choices you make do not matter at all in the grand scheme of things.
There is also lacking a way to get food and renown, so this lingers a bit especially when you want to play it for the third time. Fret not though, this game is only the chapter 1 of a trilogy and hopefully, the developers will make a better game and better gameplay mechanics.