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The Banner Saga Preview

Posted by Matthew Hewson On Monday 23 December 2013Comments Off

Coming to PC l Published by Versus Evil l Developed by Stoic l Unclassified l Supports 1 player l Due to arrive 15.01.13

I do love a good turn based combat game. Heroes of Might and Magic, XCOM and Civilization all receive plenty of attention on my PC. It’s just the perfect style of game for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Hours have a way of disappearing as I negotiate tense combat situations that require thought rather than fast reflexes. That’s why the first chapter of The Banner Saga, a new fantasy RPG from three ex-BioWare devs, should appeal to me. Unfortunately, there are a few rough edges to be worked out before it becomes a serious contender for my turn based time.

…there are a few rough edges to be worked out before it becomes a serious contender for my turn based time.

One thing that certainly isn’t rough, though, is the game’s art. The hand-drawn look is impressive and it’s immediately clear that the game has been designed with a lot of love. The exceptional level of detail shown in the characters puts most Saturday morning cartoons to shame. The environments are equally striking, with vibrant backgrounds on display throughout.

Another detailed element of the game is its Norse inspired backstory, which is a mightily confusing mess at this point in development. I feel like I’ve stepped into a story halfway through and therefore have no idea what the hell is going on. Perhaps if I was more familiar with Vikings and their legends I wouldn’t feel so lost. This is a very difficult tale to get into and nothing in my few hours with the game have helped to clear things up. This alone could put potential players off and it should be a high priority for Stoic to fix before the full game is released.

Luckily, when I get down to the nitty gritty of the game, the turn based combat, my enjoyment levels rise dramatically. Combat has quite a Heroes of Might and Magic feel to it, with each battle starting with a positioning phase that allows me to place my fighters in certain areas around the map. What differentiates The Banner Saga from other turn based games is that each character has both a shield and a health meter. The key to success is knowing when to attack which meter. If I get it wrong, I often find myself dying in short order. This game can be brutally difficult. While it clearly makes no apologies for this, I do hope that some of the more noticeable difficulty spikes can be sorted for the final release.

…when I get down to the nitty gritty of the game, the turn based combat, my enjoyment levels rise dramatically.

While I enjoy the combat side of the game, I do find the other elements a little lacking. The moments I find myself in the camp talking to others really come across as time fillers. Half the time it doesn’t even progress the plot. The RPG elements are also very light. Progression happens slowly and there isn’t much reward when I finally level up. Sure my existing stats are improved, but that’s about it. No new skills. No new customisation options. It comes across as a wasted opportunity because a detailed levelling system could really help overcome some of the game’s other shortfalls.

My anticipation for The Banner Saga has dropped a little since playing this preview build. I came in hoping for the next turn based time suck, but I’m leaving feeling more than a little underwhelmed. The combat is great and the graphics are stunning, but the remainder of the game leaves me wanting more substance. If the developers can address these issues, I will be more than happy to revise my thoughts and dive into this world. As it stands, however, The Banner Saga has a long way to go to reach its potential.

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