Game Review: The Banner Saga

You know what I love about fantasy games? The freedom to include whatever the hell you like? Make a game with two headed unicorns that breathe fire? Go ahead! Mountains that smell faintly of leather and apple? I encourage it. Humans living alongside giant bearded men with horns? I would feel insulted if they weren’t included. And the latter is just what you will discover when you get a chance to play The Banner Saga when it is released.

Now, when I first got a taste of this game, I was very intrigued by the concept of how the game plays out. It’s played in different parts; all should be thankfully familiar to fans of games, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting to grips with the game. One aspect reminds me of Oregon Trail (and Organ Trail for those who never go t a chance to play the former… like me), where you must travel through an unforgiving and traitorous land, trying to survive until you reach the haven of an inn and supplies. One the way, various events occur, requiring you to make an informed choice which could affect your collection of supplies, warriors and civilians. You may end up lucky and discover new allies, more supplies… or you could be me, and get enough bad luck to equal walking under 17 and a half ladders.

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I had a drunk traveller causing some trouble, and everyone wanted him out of the convoy. Now, being the nice guy, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. That soon came back to bite me in the left cheek. Needless to say, the little toerag ran off before I could deliver the swift boot of justice to the gonads of deceit. But that’s strangely what I enjoyed about the game; it’s hard to tell what decision is the correct one, so you’re always thinking one or two steps ahead. It’s the same reason I enjoy FTL: Faster Than Light.

Another mechanic is the battle system. It’s turn-based, like most RPGs (Persona, Lost Odyssey, Dragon Quest, and so on), but the battle field plays out a little different. You move your team of warriors around a grid to the ideal location, and you choose whether to attack the enemy’s health or armour, or even use a skill. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, from archers with high accuracy but low health, to the Varl who are like tanks… if tanks could grow beards. Good for defence, but bulky, and an easy target.

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Unlike most RPGs, where you can just fight random battles to get so powerful you can take out Cerberus with a tap on the nose, Banner Saga punishes you for going all out without any sort of strategy. I had a few close calls, all because I didn’t think two moves ahead, and just leapt in like a cat in front of a pool of wool. And in case you were wondering… The Varl are the giants with horns I was telling you about. Imagine if Santa Clause suddenly discovered his Viking roots… and headbutted a bull in celebration, and you get the idea.

This is what the game has taught me… Always… Always think at least two moves ahead. It’s like an epic game of chess, only the punishment for losing is getting the king shoved up your nose without hesitation. Every junction in this metaphorical road gained my full attention, as I was thinking what could happen if I made one small choice.

The Banner Saga is shaping up to be a very interesting game, with a deep, juicy storyline, ripening up just right for the hungry audience so they can sink their teeth into it. I recommend anyone reading this to give the game a go.

Released 14th January on Steam for more info visit www.stoicstudio.com/

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