In 2012, the talented trio of Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen, and John Watson decided to leave their comfortable jobs at Bioware and venture down the challenging road of creating an ambitious RPG of their own. This experiment resulted in the forming of their independent game studio Stoic and a Kickstarter campaign for a game they referred to as The Banner Saga.
About roughly a week after the campaign went live, the Banner Saga was successfully funded and ultimately ended up receiving approximately $723,886.00 in contributions from thousands of backers. After having had a chance to play this unique strategy game in its entirety, I can safely say that The Banner Saga is a turn-based triumph and an absolute must play for any and every fan of the genre. Here are a few more reasons why this game is worth the $19.99 price tag currently attached to it.
The Banner Saga could be best described as a Viking-themed turn based RPG that is partially inspired by Norse mythology and standout strategy games from the late to early 90’s. The story revolves around two separate groups of protagonists who ultimately join forces and are tasked with building and managing their own caravans as they embark on a quest to save the world from extinction. Teams are comprised of both human and varl characters, giving the player over 25 different characters to choose from during intense battlefield sessions against other humans and heavily shielded creatures called dredges.
On the surface, the deeply emotional and serious tone found within this game’s narrative is typically what you would expect from most strategy games today. However, The Banner Saga essentially ups the ante in this area by allowing players to make meaningful choices throughout the entire 7 Act campaign. As seen in games like Mass Effect and The Walking Dead, certain choices can kill or endanger the lives of people in your group and ultimately ruin your credibility as a leader down the road. Adding this clever dynamic of risk to the equation evolves the strategy element beyond combat encounters and truly gives you a sense of the ins and outs of survival on a day-to-day basis.
When it comes to the turn based gameplay mechanics, The Banner Saga has a deeply rich combat system that remains fluid throughout with help from the beautifully hand drawn 2D character animations. The battle screen depicts portraits on opposite sides that clearly illustrate the order of initiative when attacking. Ally and enemy factions are easily identifiable thanks to the blue and red circles that appear below them. Additionally, hovering over each character reveals their strength and armor health in full. You could opt to leave this option turned on so that you can always visibly see how much damage your inflicting upon each opponents.
An alternative way to devise a strategy would be to examine the numbered circles that appear throughout the areas on the board where your attacks would be the most effective. This task can be highly risky at times because pulling off a calculated attack may leave another teammates wide open to an even more powerful one. Successfully killing enemies allows players to build renown and willpower, two dynamics that can help to improve overall morale and character abilities moving forward. The last player left alive on the opposing team is automatically thrown into Pillage mode and can be ripped to shreds by the opposition. It’s important to remember that certain characters who die on the battlefield will stay dead forever and thus you have to exercise caution regularly to get the best results.
Rounding out the final elements of strategy gameplay lies in the way you choose to manage your caravan while exploring. In addition to making smart decisions with each passing conversation, you’ll have to watch your supplies sparingly and keep the morale high so that everyone doesn’t turn on each other. Juggling all these tasks at once are destined to test your wits and keep you busy until the very end. Having this clever combination of strategy both in and outside combat scenarios is a task that Stoic has passed on with flying colors.
While The Banner Saga does have beautiful art direction and an exceptional musical score, the two areas that people may grow a little frustrated with are the repetitive conflicts and difficulty spikes towards the end. Several of the issues you encounter while traveling start to become similar in resolution and you can already gauge what will happen next based on previous actions. On the combat side of things, bosses tend to become increasing more difficult and have the ability to make you skip a turn by temporarily stunning you. These aren’t deal breakers in anyway, but rather just serve to remind you that the game may offer a few annoyances here and there.
Overall, The Banner Saga is a wickedly good RPG and a landmark achievement from the team over at Stoic. If you’re a fan of turn based RPGs with a great combat system and rich graphics, then you owe it to yourself to tryout this game.
This review was based on a digital copy of The Banner Saga for the PC provided by Stoic.