The Banner Saga 1 & 2 PS4 Review

The Banner Saga is a fantasy tactical role-playing video game developed by Stoic, a trio of indie game developers formerly of BioWare, and published by Versus Evil. The game takes place in a fictional world inspired by Viking mythology. It was released as a single-player campaign, The Banner Saga – the first game of a projected trilogy – on 14 January 2014, as well as a separate free-to-play online multiplayer game, The Banner Saga: Factions, in February 2013.

The turn-based multiplayer combat component was released on Steam as a free standalone game, called The Banner Saga: Factions, prior to the release of the single-player game.

The drive behind this single-player campaign of turn-based combat engagements is inspired by games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force, with the player controlling and being able to build up a party of different characters with their own unique abilities.

The Banner Saga centers on the return of the Dredge – a warlike race that despises humans – led by Bellower, a nigh invincible Dredge who leads them on a warpath. As a wandering army sent to fight against the Dredge and find a weakness for Bellower, the caravan make many difficult decisions that would shape the fate of both man and Varl. Meanwhile a darkness starts to encompass the world as a giant serpent causes massive earthquakes and breaches across the lands.

The plot of The Banner Saga is an interactive story, meaning that several events may or may not happen depending on the player’s choices.

The game takes place in a Viking legend-inspired world, stuck in a perpetual twilight since the sun stopped moving weeks before the events of the game, mainly populated by humans and giant-like creatures called the Varls, as the Dredge, an ancient race believed to be extinct for ages, returns to kill them all. The Dredge remind me of Khorne bezerkers from the popular table top game, Warhammer 40k, and the traditional animated film the Iron Giant.

The battle set up takes place on a grid based layout with each character taking go’s on a turn based strategy.  So choose carefully when engaging in combat as you will need to choose wisely to defeat the  evil scourge named the Dredge. There are an impressive amount of twists and turns in the story set up against a stunning animated backdrop. The game doesn’t test you until towards the end but you can change the difficulty as you progress through the chapters for a more testing combat.

There are certain aspects of the game which could be bettered with more information in several core concepts which affect the story. The lack of information at hand in explaining the importance or morale and supplies and also some players may find managing their caravan a little too much.

All in all The Banner Saga has a beautifully crafted story with stunning backdrops and a tactical based grid battle system. The stunning hand drawn visual and the music throughout should be commended. It’s no surprise that many players were surprised with how good this title really is and should be encouraged by the prospects of the continuing saga.

Our caravan marches on into the wilderness and now we come across the path that leads us into The Banner Saga 2. There are, as expected, new additions to the saga. If you have either kept or discarded your previous saved data you will be handed two options this time round. You can continue with your previous quest line or pick from one of two  heroes to proceed with. So if you regret your decisions from your previous caravan march you can work from 2 pre set character/storylines. Saying that, it’s truly worth playing the previous Banner Saga to fully understand and attempt to mould the outcome for yourself.

As expected from any additional instalment you would like to see further additions to the game or an improved experience in gameplay and storytelling and of course you’re handed this in The Banner Saga 2.

The choices mattered more than I thought. Although the overall story ends up in the same places, the singular role of the character you choose plays out entirely different and a beautifully descriptive way as you progress to the end. Alette may appeal to many as the more interesting hero of choice, as you progress through this saga it becomes apparent that this is a chronicle of her development as a leader and the choices she has to make in her young age. Where as playing as Rook, you soon discover that previous encounters and outcomes have left this man mad with suicidal decisions much like Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon. The decisions he makes in this saga affect more than the outcome of his dialogue choices. Took trudges off in a suicidal rage of revenge that brings a new strategic gridded map that’s set apart from his companions resulting in a unique situation.

In steps Bolverk, a towering beast of a Varl. At least half of the story follows Bolverk as he leads his caravan through encounters away from the evil dredge. Bolverk as a character is the type that reminds you of a Viking drunk who could end up killing his friends over a drunken insult or out for briefly tiptoeing out of line. He’s in it for the gold and his choices are based on his senseless and selfishness battle for wealth. As you progress through the this saga it becomes apparent that he transforms into the main stay character over his counterparts.

The Banner Saga 2 takes us to new beautiful surroundings. Forests of old, where stranger beings are lurking, caverns where horrors lurk, never ending plains where centaur warriors hunt.

The strength of the turn-based combat fully satisfies where the story does not. It keeps to the excellent design of the original, in which your heroes duke it out with the enemies on the other side of the field, but it avoids its predecessor’s slump into monotony by introducing new units for both friend and foe. Take the new Tracker class, which can disappear on the battlefield and then unleash a stunning attack that rips away an opponent’s armor or the “Horseborn” centaurs, some of whom can trample distant enemies and still ride out of danger on the same turn. Bog people and their bears and a nasty entity that resurrects your fallen comrades and pits them against you enrich the tactical possibilities further.

Their associated tactics find their stride on the new combat maps, which break up tidy strategies by altering victory conditions or forcing you to plan combat around obstacles both indestructible and destructible. Sometimes a harrowing battle can end with the death of an enemy leader; at other times I found myself struggling to clear away snow while the dredge attacked.

 

Their associated tactics find their stride on the new combat maps, which break up tidy strategies by altering victory conditions or forcing you to plan combat around obstacles both indestructible and destructible. Sometimes a harrowing battle can end with the death of an enemy leader; at other times I found myself struggling to clear away snow while Dredge beat on me.

As for the obstacles, they’re only occasionally used to good effect. My favorite maps were the ones where I found myself having to work around crevasses cutting through the grid, while others involved little more than barrels strewn across the map. One of the weakest consisted of a besieged greathall with a room-long firepit, where I outsmarted the AI by staying put and watching as they walked through hell fire to get to me. I get the impression it wasn’t even properly implemented, as the NPCs lining the hall looked more like they were partying than enduring an attack outside on two fronts.

It’s a small sin, ultimately. The Banner Saga 2 exceeds its predecessor in almost every way, and Stoic appears to feel more comfortable with the world it has created. It feels to me that this time around it has a greater outcome to be discovered, leaving this story on a knife edge in the saga.

Overall, although they’re only small changes, the ones that have been made are additions welcomed by myself and I’m sure by others who have adventured into the saga. The news settings and backgrounds, additional units on both sides, the barriers and objects obstructing our paths to victory are great additions to an already beautifully crafted game. As gamers we all enjoy the pleasures of being pulled from our world into another and I’ll certainly look forward to doing that again in the next and final instalment of The Banner Saga.


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