*DISCLAIMER: ALL VIEWS IN THIS REVIEW ARE MY OWN AND DO NOT COME FROM THE COMPANY THAT HAS KINDLY PROVIDED THE GAME*
In the Banner Saga series, "Who lives, who dies and the decisions you make can affect everything now and in the future games. Embark on your own epic journey in Banner Saga, the critically acclaimed tactical RPG where your strategic choices directly affect your personal story and the world around you. Leave your home and strike out on a desperate journey to save your people. Lead your caravan across stunning environments and into war with enemy clans and vicious Dredge soldiers. Build relationships and make choices that will shape the future of your clan as you scramble to survive in this beautiful, bleak world." - Official Website
Banner Saga 1 was developed by the company Stoic and published by Versus Evil. The Banner Saga was the companies debut game, but the team behind Stoic were previously known for their work at Bioware. The entire team worked on Star Wars: The Old Republic back in 2012, when they decided to leave together and create their own studio so they could make their "dream game". This first instalment in the Banner Saga series was released in January 2014 onto Windows and Mobile. This release was funded by the crowdfunding site Kickstarter and the team managed to raise $723,886, with an original goal of $100,000. The game received huge commercial success with reviewers rating it an average of 80/100 on Metacritic.
Unlike the first game, Banner Saga 2 was not crowdfunded. It was announced at the Game Awards back in late 2014, and was initially planned for release in 2015, but was later delayed until 2016, when it was released on the 19th April. This second instalment carried on from the first with save data being transferred between games. This created a unique experience for most players and lead to the game being rated higher than the first game, with an average score of 82 on Metacritic! Fast-forward to 2018 and both games are announced for the Nintendo Switch platform. The first being released on the 17th May, receiving the same success as it did back in 2014, with a current rating of 81. The second instalment came out today (7th June), and so only time will see at how well the port performs on the Nintendo platform.
I became interested in The Banner Saga due to its storytelling. Each part of the Saga (of which I have finished 1 and 2; 3 drops this summer) continues the story. I was enraptured with the idea that my choices would carry over from each entry into the next. I had never played a game like that before. I was also interested in playing a game where my choices actually mattered in the end. On both counts, The Banner Saga did not disappoint.
The sun has stopped.
Everyone is on edge. How could they not be? How would you feel if the sun had just decided one day to stop moving in the sky and leave everyone in a perpetual twilight?
And forget the sleepless nights. The sun isn’t to blame for that one. The Dredge have themselves to blame. Immortal and the personification of darkness, the Dredge feel no remorse, only the incessant need to slaughter those living things they come to find. Men and Varl alike are now on the run, gambling their lives each time they sleep, hoping and praying to long dead gods that they last long enough to just keep moving.
Rook and Alette must lead the humans to safety, depending on experienced fighters (including their own skills as archers) to keep them safe from the Dredge. Varl warriors, Hakon and Ubin, giants with rough horns to match their humor, also fight in upcoming battles. For once Varls and human lay their differences aside, for the sake of surviving another day. But the world around them is changing, darkness looming around every corner. Can they survive what is to come, or will the Dredge strike them down and claim another victim?
For the first time in a long while, I can say I really and truly enjoyed the story of a game. The characters each felt unique, and I enjoyed having the ability to play as several different characters over the course of parts one and two. I found myself actually trying to decide how each character would respond, not just how I would. I might actually be able to say that this is my first real role playing experience with a video game as well. I had a ton of fun, felt connected to the characters, and even felt remorse during the deaths and losses.
The only downside to the story is that it just throws you into a fully formed world with little explanation. It can be hard in the first chapter or two to understand what the characters are discussing. But you overcome that very quickly, at least in my experience.
The Banner Saga is a very standard tactical RPG, and it will not disappoint fans of the genre. The battles are incredibly easy to fight (mechanics-wise), and the range of characters you can place on your team opens endless strategies. When it comes down to it, the battle gameplay does not do anything revolutionary, and if you have played any tactical RPG, you’ll definitely understand how The Banner Saga plays. That being said, it does everything within the battles very well, with the controls being simple and easy to grasp quickly.
Outside of battle, the player has more options to influence the overall story. Depending on which group you are following at the time, you will have access to different characters and their stories. The groups are on a constant trek across the map, with very little interaction with the player; this is not a downside however. It reminds me personally of a very Viking-esque “Oregon Trail” sort of vibe.
As the group traverses the landscape before them, a HUD menu is always present for the player at the top of the screen. It shows the number of fighters, Varl, and clansman that the group still has alive. It also keeps the player aware of the number of days that have passed, as well as the number of days left before the group runs out of food. In relation to that, the HUD also possesses a Morale meter, which will slowly decline with each passing day that the group continues walking. This leads the player to decide how long the group must go between resting. Resting will increase the group’s Morale, but it will also cost the group a day’s worth of food.
Whenever the group is moving forward or in a town that they have come to in their travels, the player will experience different story events. Each will require the player to choose responses based on a provided list of choices, and each will have its own unique outcome. Some events will pass without much of an impact, whereas I have had events that lost me half of my group (due to my own poor choices). It can really create scenarios where the player feels connected to the story and characters, trying to choose the best option for the most beneficial outcome.
Overall, the gameplay is solid. I love the ability to choose my characters and plan out my strategy for battles. I also love having my decisions impact the game. Whether it is a small change to the overall group, or large changes like character deaths, I felt my choices actually mattered. It was a very satisfying experience.
I loved, loved, loved the art style of these games. The characters were all uniquely drawn and I loved every cutscene I experienced. It was a gorgeous game to experience, and I never felt bored by what was on the screen.
The quality of the game was solid overall. I only had one crash during my playthrough of both games, which happened during a scene change / loading screen. I feel like this could be the game’s fault or the Switch’s fault, honestly. The Switch seems to have game crashes more frequently than other consoles, in my experience. But that could just be me.
I also experience some slowdown/glitchiness with the story scrolls as they appeared on the screen, but again, it was nothing to major that can’t be ignored. Generally, the scrolls would appear on screen in a very fluid manner, but every so often, they would stutter slightly on their way in. It could be a poor optimization of the game, which I definitely believe could be patched. But it isn’t anything game breaking.
The one major complaint I had was a glitch I experienced during my playthrough of The Banner Saga 1. At some point (and I was unable to replicate it, so I have no idea what started it), my game stopped using resources. I could choose to rest (which should spend a day’s worth of food), and while the day counter changed, the food stayed the same. This also caused my characters to not experience any healing effects that resting would have given them. I had to completely shut down my game and restart it to regain the function. While it did not cause me to lose anyone or stop playing, it did cause my day count at the end of the game to be quite high (due to manually resting several times while trying to figure out the problem). Many players set goals for themselves during their playthrough of how many days they can allow to pass, so this could ruin the experience for some players.
The music was beautiful and the voiceovers, while few, were very well done. I really enjoyed playing the game with headphones, as it felt like the world wrapped itself around me through the music. The battle sounds and music also were great, which helped the game stay immersive, even during times of struggle and battle. I did not expect to enjoy the music and sound as much as I did.
In the end, I recommend this game 110%. It has a few flaws in the quality department, but I see those as patchable and very minor hindrances. The game was an absolutely beautiful and enjoyable journey to experience, and I can for once say that I am actually sad to see it end. I think I will definitely be playing it from the start again, this time making different decisions along the way. I really hoped to enjoy the game when I purchased part 1, but I am still just amazed by how much I loved it. I am actually completely stoked to play the final game when it releases this summer, but a little sad to see the Saga end. It’s been a very long time since I felt that way after a game experience.
|Platforms:||PC | PS4 | Xbox One | Mobile | Switch|
|Price:||£17.99 | €19.99 | $19.99|
|Story Completion Time:||BS1: 10 Hours | BS2: 12 Hours|
|100% Completion Time:||Combined: Unknown, due to Switch not having achievements.|
|Interesting Story and Characters.||One crash during my playthrough.|
|Unique and polished art style.||Long load times between scenes.|
|Voiceovers felt perfectly placed within the game, not over used.||Glitch during BS1 playthrough that stopped the use of resources.|
|Ability to migrate saves.||Story scrolls sometimes feel slow when opening.|
|Arbitrary Final Score|
Review by Bonnie
Banner Saga 1+2 is available now for Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, PC/Mac, and Mobile for, £17.99/$19.99. Thank you to Stoic, Versus Evil, and Plan of Attack for supplying the game (Banner Saga 2) and assets used in this review. Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.