The Banner Saga is made by 3 guys that are calling themselves Stoic games and is a game that has come out of the whole fiasco brought about by the popularization of kickstarter. No longer must you sell your soul to an evil publisher to get your game funded, instead you can go directly to your fans. I have mixed reactions about kickstarter, and that’s coming from someone that has backed quite a few of them. But enough of the background, this game was actually released so it is, at least to some extent, a sign that kickstarter can help bring about smaller indie games that wouldn’t normally be able to get their foot in the door.
The game is a story driven adventure that you experience through cutscenes in which you speak to party members or other individuals, through battles played out in a strategy Rpg sections, and through supply management movement sections.
The word cutscenes may be a bit of a stretch, as not much movement happens during them, but it can be forgiven when they look like this.
Many of the choices you have to make during these sections affect what you do and all of these decisions have consequences, whether these are good or bad , you must live with the consequences. The story switches from multiple points of views, showing you the two races, both the Varl who are giant viking creatures with horns, and plain ol’ humans that inhabit the world before finally their two worlds collide. All in all, the story is presented well, the decisions you make feel important and have weight, and the cutscenes are beautifully illustrated. The only problem I have with this portion of the game is that more often than not the consequences of a decision feel abundantly unclear. Some choices have clear best options while not always clearly being the right choice. To counter this however often times in reality you don’t know the full consequences of your actions until after you make them.
Next is movement and supply management. Have you ever played the Oregon Trail? You move your caravan from one place to another, making decisions as you go and making sure there is food and supplies to go around. That’s the gist of it. If you have low morale your characters in battle will have less willpower, which will be talked about next. Not much else to say except that it can get pretty harrowing when you are running out of supplies and don’t know how many days before you are getting more. You might even make decisions you wouldn’t normally make under these stressful situations.
Now on to the combat. These types of games are really much more enjoyable then they should be. You move about on a grid based area and command your party members to and fro telling them who to attack and how to attack. Every character has a special attack and normal attacks. On top of that every unit, both you and the enemy, has a defense stat and strength stat. What is interesting to note is that your strength stat is the same as your health, so as you lose health you also start to deal out less damage. It looks a little bit like this…
On top of the above mentioned stats each character also has a certain amount of will power. With this willpower one of your characters can either move a little bit father than they normally would be able to or hit a little harder than they normally would. You start every battle with each unit having a couple of willpower, and then every time you kill an enemy you get one willpower that can be divvied to any character you chose. Like typical Rpg fare you level up your characters, allocate points, and get stronger. Unlike most Rpg’s however instead of having multiple pieces of gear to upgrade and switch out, each character can only hold 1 item that will buff them in certain ways. I’m still not sure how I felt about this decision. On one hand it took from me customization that I was accustomed to, but on the other I didn’t really feel like I was missing too much. Lastly, in order to actually level up and raise your stats it is based on the amount of enemies that a character has killed which can be inconvenient if you end up having a character that often deals damage but never closes the deal. On top of that you need to spend renown points in order to progress your level and raise the stats. Renown points work as your money. You use it to purchase supplies, to purchase items you equip to your characters and to level. Which gives you a nice trade off between what exactly you should spend your currency on. This system works relatively well, the only problem I have with the leveling is that for some reason if you have enough kills with a character to level it up, but don’t actually level them up you can’t change your item. This can put you in a situation where you might not have enough renown points to level, but want to switch items and can’t. As far as I can tell this must be a glitch. Oh well.
In the end the game left me wanting more. Usually for this type of game I would normally expect to play 25 to 30 to 40 hours, but unfortunately I plowed through the game in about 12 hours.However, this game gets a break on length due to both the price at which it was purchased, and the fact that was there was so well done. My biggest complaint with the game is that it was too short. Luckily this is only the first in a trilogy of games set to be released so hopefully Stoic games delivers their promise for this one.
My final verdict on The Banner Saga is a 9/10