The Banner Saga - AGE Review

After a successful Kick Starter back in 2012, came The Banner Saga from developers Stoic Studios. It was originally released on PC back in the January of 2014 and has now made its way recently to the current generation of consoles. This is where I had the pleasure of experiencing it, on my PS4. In a nut shell The Banner Saga is a narrative driven cut scene and turn based tactical combat game that feels like it has been ripped straight from Norse mythology. The core of the game is a single-player campaign of turn-based combat engagements inspired by games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force, with the player controlling and being able to build up a party of characters with complementing abilities.

The Banner Saga centres on the return of the Dredge - a warlike race that despises humans - led by Bellower, a nigh invincible Dredge who leads them on a warpath. As a wandering army sent to fight against the Dredge and find a weakness for Bellower, the caravan makes many difficult decisions that would shape the fate of both man and Varl. The Varl are giant human like beings with massive tattooed horns on their head and they tend to hit very hard. There is an alliance between the humans and the Varl due to having the same enemy.

With the exception of the combat which I will touch on soon, the game is primarily a 2D story teller where decisions have to be made. With these decisions there is almost always multiple different things to consider and sometimes it is choose and cross your fingers. One option I was presented with was whether to take on a band of thieves into my army, therefore costing resources to keep fed and happy and the unnerving feeling they could rip me off at any time. On the flip side if they remained loyal I had the addition of good fighters to choose from before heading into battle.

The story consisted of plenty of narrative, often delivered in the form of text, a dense and abundant amount of text. This is by no stretch a knock just more of an acquired taste. Due to the large volumes of the written word and the multiple amount of choices there are to make, one cannot be blamed for feeling like a co-author to the tale that ensues. This is a good method of engaging the player but also maybe only very appealing to a niche pool of gamers. In my opinion The Banner Saga would have been a gamble to bring across to the consoles but by no means does it not have a home here.

The finest part of this title is its tactical combat. Well at the very least it was the aspect of this game that stood out to me. The grid style tactical combat felt very nice and had me reminiscing of my time with tabletop gaming. The initial phase was to select from available combatants and then strategically placing them on the starting grid in a manner which best suited itself to the enemy's setup. Each different unit had their own set of available move spaces and attack ranges. Each combatant has a life and a shield stat and the choice whether to attack the enemy straight out or try to lower their defenses for a more critical strike also played a major part in the decision making process. Each successful battle resulted in a currency known as renown and the renown was either spent upgrading your warriors or on rations to maintain health and morality within the party. So the aspect of surviving on a day to day basis becomes a large part of the decision making once again. 

Engaging story and in depth combat has only been emphasized by the quality of the soundtrack that would not have been out of sorts if featured in something like The Lord Of The Rings. It only added to the overall feel of the game and helped keep the player engaged. The sound effects of battle at times felt a little dull but if that is the only audible knock on the game I don't think it is a major one. All in all it really helped wrap this game into a finished product and gave an overwhelming legitimacy to the time period.

Taking into consideration that I believed that this genre of game could have felt like a gamble to bring across to this generation of console, I believe it does deserve a home here. There are notions of this becoming a trilogy and I would like to think it will make the jump across to console quicker than the original. At the end of the day this ten hour campaign of decision making and the responsibility of the wellbeing of a band of warriors coupled with an engaging battle system, I can truly recommend this as a game that deserves to be in any fantasy lover's library. I would love to hear your comments on this game in the comment section below or across at our Facebook page.

Cheers Red

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