The Banner Saga Review (PC)

very good
key review info
  • Game: The Banner Saga
  • Platform: PC
  • Gamepad support: No
  • Reviewed on:
  • Written by: Andrei Dumitrescu
  • Show system requirements
Tactics driven

At one point, The Banner Saga inquired whether I was willing to continue my attack and use the hard earned advantage to take out some more enemies or if I was willing to let them run in order to keep my own force largely intact.

I decided to continue the assault and destroy as many of the Dredge as possible, while also offering precious experience to my combatants, which meant that a new wave of enemies rose up around me and I prepared to deploy my forces once more.

The game surprised me by keeping all the damage that my own characters had already received, which increased the difficulty level of the fight and resulted in two injuries that I really did not want to carry for the next few days.

I loved that little change of the rules and how it affected my experience of The Banner Saga and I look forward to never doing that again when under pressure in battle.

The game is developed by Stoic Games and manages to create a very interesting world that includes one of the best turn-based combat systems I have seen in the last few years, with clear rules and a lot of systems that interact in innovative ways.

Story

When I first played Faction, the Banner Saga multiplayer components, I thought that the game did a good job of creating a faux Viking style with some added horns, but after spending more time with the single-player campaign, I came to really appreciate the way re-interpreted history and then mixed it with fantasy.

The story is a dark one, with the sun literally disappearing from the heavens just as supernatural enemies called the Dredge, big slabs of metal and death, attack the world.

To make things worse, the alliance between humans and Varl, giant horned creatures, which has kept the enemy at bay, seems to be fraying at the ends and the fates of all those involved in the current fight seem to be tinged with tragedy and loss.
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Combat situation
Banner move
The entire narrative is told sparingly, with characters that allude rather than directly accuse, with small stories about mundane problems that blend into each other to show a world that’s slowly disappearing despite the constant fight back from its inhabitants.

I initially had a little trouble following the constant changes in perspective, but overall, Stoic manages to make The Banner Saga intelligible and interesting, dropping small details here and here, hinting at a heroic past and a grim future.

The dialog is well written, but the pace of the story and the constant betrayals might create an atmosphere that’s a little too dark for some players.

Gameplay

At its core, The Banner Saga takes the system that was already present in Factions, adds a number of new ideas and uses it for battle against the Dredge instead of humans, with very solid if sometimes repetitive results.

Before each combat sequence, the player can select the team he wants to use and he is then able to deploy it to make sure that he is in a good tactical position.

Once fighting starts, each character can move once and he can then either attack directly or use a special ability, with morale points available in order to cover more ground or deliver more powerful strikes.



There are plenty of classes for characters, both allied and enemies, and a successful player needs to learn about each and its abilities and maximize their combat efficiency while denying the enemy space to deliver powerful blows.

Once one side is down to just one fighter, Pillage mode is activated and the rules change slightly, but by that point, it seems pretty clear who is winning and the main concern is making sure that I keep the hit points of my characters as high as possible.

The Banner Saga offers a simple but important progression system for each class, designed around their special abilities and other characteristics, and there are also rare but powerful items that can further enhance some abilities or stats.

The Dredge are very tough enemies and the best strategy I’ve found is to always play a little defensively, trying to make sure that none of my characters gets injured while I take out the biggest part of the enemy forces.
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Character progression
Dredge battle
The campaign, which focuses on two distinct groups of humans and Varl threatened by the Dredge, asks the player to constantly balance the need to use Renown, obtained from killing enemies, for a variety of tasks and very different results can be obtained by distributing it among upgrades, items and supplies.

The layer of strategy that complements the tactical combat is interesting, but I got a feeling that the game never truly ends if you make a bad decision because it understands how frustrating that could be.

The big problem with The Banner Saga is that the combat can become a little tedious in time, especially once a gamer settles on a line-up he likes and develops a solid routine for tackling the Dredge, despite the efforts to create variety that the developers have clearly made.

Graphics and audio

The Banner Saga is a beautiful game even if it never aims for photorealism or for accurate pixel representations of the art that inspired it.

The development team at Stoic understands that the mind of the player is eager to get hints and small ideas and then build a bigger picture around them and that’s why the game is focused on characters and on battle spaces, only talking about the wonders of the world in which it is set.

The user interface is well developed and informative and I never felt like there were details about combat or characters that I was missing.

The music is also very adequate to the overall theme and I liked how even when I was doing well and winning battles, the soundtrack was suggesting that the world of the game remained dominated by loss and peril.

Multiplayer

The Banner Saga itself does not include a multiplayer mode, but all those who like the tactical combat and are interested in seeing how it works against another human can easily download and play Factions, the free-to-play component where it’s easy to set up a scenario and then test one’s skills.

The one big addition that I would love to see in the near future is an option for one of the involved players to actually play as the Dredge, using the skills of the metal enemies, although that could be very hard to balance for multiplayer.

The Good

  • Turn-based combat
  • Lore-filled game world
  • Player choices

The Bad

  • Battles can get tedious
  • Atmosphere can be too dark

Conclusion

The Banner Saga is a great game as long as the player is willing to accept its theme and its overall tone, while also harboring at least a little bit of love for the turn-based battle system.

Stoic Games understands how to create atmosphere and how to deliver emotions without using huge explosions or impressive character detail.

Once combat is engaged, there are tons of options and tactics that a player can try out as long as he is aware that the penalties for defeat and even the consequences of victory can be severe.

The Banner Saga is a game that requires tough, careful choices and solid tactical thinking and even if the story doesn’t change much, I can’t wait to find the time to play through it a second time.

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story 9
gameplay 8
concept 10
graphics 7
audio 8
multiplayer 8
final rating 8.5
Editor's review
very good
 

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