Platform reviewed on: PC
Also available on: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS, Android, Linux
The Banner Saga is a tactical strategy/ RPG hybrid released back in 2014 and it is influenced by Norse folklore. In its world, the sun has vanished and almost everything has been covered by snow and ice. If this were not enough, a new threat has emerged, the so called dredge; golems that have the bad habit of exterminating human beings populating villages and cities.
The main protagonists of the game are Rook and Hakkon, who are the leaders of 2 caravans and are burdened with the task to safely guide their caravan through perils from point A to point B. As you might have guessed, you end up trying to save the whole world.
Your caravan consists of clansmen, fighters and Varl, anthropoids with more strength than humans and enormous horns on their heads. As you progress through the game you are obliged to make crucial decisions that will affect the livability of your caravan as well as the life of your party members. For example, I once accepted as a party member a person who later betrayed me, stole a large portion of my supplies and killed another person in my roster, that I had already squandered a hefty amount of time and effort levelling him up.
The only downside as far as the plot is concerned is that there are no cut scenes and you have to read a lot of texts in order to comprehend everything. At first it will not bother you but eventually it will become very tiring.
The graphics of the game are slightly above average. As the caravan moves in a 2D plane, you will see varied environments; dense forests, snowfields, mountains, lakes etc.. Everything is hand drawn and is a treat for the eye. A lot of attention has been given in the character models as well, but unfortunately only when they speak when out of battle.
In battle, the perspective swifts to an overhead ¾ plane, however without the ability to move the camera at all. As a result, not only your characters lack the detail of the ‘’cut scenes’’ but you will also have difficulty seeing everything on the battlefield. In addition, the battle plane while brimming with colours, it lacks detail and eventually you will feel that you are battling in the same environment over and over again just with a different colour scheme each time.
Also, I personally disliked the design of the Varl. I think that they are uninspired due to the obvious resemblance with the humans and I would prefer the inclusion of other races such as elves, dwarves etc.. Eventually, the effects in battle, while very simplistic, they generally get the job done.
Apart from the sparse narration, which is quite decent, there is absolutely no voice acting. The characters speak through text messages appearing at the bottom of your screen. Credit has to be given to the soundtrack of the game which is instrumental and quite fitting. Battle sound effects are OK but nothing spectacular.
This is by far the strongest part of the game. While not as deep and complicated as the XCOM series, the game play is surprisingly addictive. As your caravan traverses the world, you encounter a lot of NPC characters that are potential party members, provided you make the right decisions.
Each character has his own unique abilities, such as being able to raise the armour of nearby units or shoot piercing arrows through multiple enemies. This gives the player freedom in combat approach and you get to incorporate a lot of different tactics. These characters can be levelled up using renown, the ‘’currency’’ of the game which is simultaneously used for purchasing new items. When out of battle, you are stuck watching your caravan travel while you are paying close attention to the caravan’s supplies, your caravan’s morale as well as the amount of clansmen, Varl and fighters that you have left.
When engaging in combat, things are very different. The game states that it is very challenging from early on, because most of the times you are outnumbered and overpowered and you have to incorporate every asset at your disposal in order to advance. Even the initial placement of your units on the battlefield is of utmost importance, due to the fact that you have to stay out of your enemy’s range as well as be able to reach him when it is your turn. I would have liked more vertical levels and obstacles scattered around the battle environments, so as to add a bit more variety in combat. In addition, when in combat, you have to take turns hitting the armour and the strength of your enemy in order to be able to dispose of him quicker. The amount of strength (strength here is also the health bar) that a character has influences the damage he can inflict on his enemies as well. For example you can see an axe wielding varl that is very imposing inflicting only 1 hit point of damage because his own health was reduced to 1. In the end of the game, there is a huge difficulty spike that will put off a lot of players; only the dedicated ones will see the end credits!!
Value for money:……7
I think that this game is quite controversial; either you will like or you will hate it, due to the amount of text that you have to read In order to understand the plot as well as the very demanding combat. I bought it for 5 Euros on sale and dedicated to it around 15 to 20 hours. The game has a decent replay value, because if you make different decisions from the ones you did in your last playthrough, you will have a whole different experience. Generally, I liked it for the most part but to be honest, I have no intention of playing it again.