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The Banner Saga Review

Posted by Matthew Hewson On Wednesday 29 January 2014Comments Off

Available on PC l Published by Versus Evil l Developed by Stoic l Unclassified l Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > After the problems with the preview build, it is nice to see that Stoic has smoothed out The Banner Saga experience. More time with this amazingly beautiful turn based strategy/RPG hybrid has also helped to iron out some of my misgivings. It still has a few issues, but I couldn’t help but find myself immersed in this bleak and hostile world. It may not always make sense, but The Banner Saga is a brutally entertaining ride.

REVIEW IN FULL > Just over a month ago I sat down with a preview build of The Banner Saga and I wrote about how the combat was great, but most other things could use a little work. You should take some time now to go and read that article because a) it is the right thing to do and b) I will probably reference the hell out of it in this review. Read it yet? No? It’s okay. I’ll wait. Done now? Good. I can get on with this review.

an entertaining tale filled with an almost Shakespearian feeling of high drama.

Now as you have just read, I was fairly harsh on The Banner Saga in my preview. I felt that, combat aside, there were some serious issues with the game. Well, after now finishing the full release I can happily report that not only did the developers fix some of the issues, but also that some of the problems are alleviated when seen in the context of the full release. The long and short of it is I really enjoyed my time with The Banner Saga and that surprised the hell out of me.

One of the major issues I had with the preview was the confusing story. This hasn’t changed too much in the final copy, but I found that the more time I spent with the game the more it made sense. Gradually a story unfolded and it was an entertaining tale filled with an almost Shakespearian feeling of high drama. The Vikings, their Giant neighbours and the Golem like enemies are all fleshed out in a deeply intriguing world that, once I understood what was going on, grabbed me and didn’t let go. When the game ended on an obvious cliffhanger, I instantly found myself wanting more of this tale and I think that makes the story a success in anyone’s language.

Another major issue I had with the preview was the difficulty spikes that would pop up out of nowhere and cause me some heart crushing frustration. I am more than pleased to say that this seems to have been almost completely ironed out. There were still some instances where I was surprised by the difficulty but these usually had an element of gambling involved. For example, I was often asked if I wanted to pursue fleeing enemies in order to save a few more villagers. If I answered in the affirmative, another battle would take place. On one occasion I was greeted with a pair of low level, easily dispatched creatures. On another, I was greeted with five creatures that decimated half of my already weakened crew. It was a nice bit of risk/reward that forced me to really judge whether a few villagers’ lives were worth the chance that I could lose my best fighters.

It is unfortunate that all of problems I had with the game haven’t been addressed. The RPG elements are still one of the game’s weakest points. I just wish there was more depth to it. As it is, levelling up a fighter simply increases their key stats like health and strength. There are no skill trees and no options to vary from the standard levelling path. I honestly think the addition of a more complete levelling system could have lifted this from a really good game into classic status. Oh well, it does leave room for improvement in the (hopefully forthcoming) sequel.

…the addition of a more complete levelling system could have lifted this from a really good game into classic status.

The one thing that hasn’t changed since the preview is my love of the combat system. The Banner Saga is a beautiful example of why turn based combat can be so satisfying. Watching my well planned strategies play out was a true thing of beauty. Of course when I chose the wrong tactic I was punished quickly, viciously and, most importantly, fairly. This is a hard game, folks, and not once did it apologise to me for being so. It basically screamed at me “Get better or you are going to die a lot.” One point that differentiates it from other turn-based titles is that each unit has two different bars, one for health and one for shields. I had to make sure I chose the appropriate bar to attack, because if I didn’t, I was more often than not defeated soundly. It adds another layer of strategy to the combat and I hope developers of similar games take note.

Finally, I can’t write a review of this game without mentioning the stunning graphics. The hand drawn style is simply breathtaking and let me assure you that the screenshots do not do it justice. The artists at Stoic should be thoroughly congratulated for what is, in my mind at least, one of the best looking games in recent memory. The Banner Saga is proof that photo realism isn’t as important as a strong sense of style and beauty. Truly this game’s graphics could be considered a work of art.

In the end I am simply glad to say I was proven wrong about The Banner Saga. While it does have a few little issues like the simplistic RPG system, it is more than made up for by the excellent combat, intriguing story and utterly stunning graphics. It is clear that the crew at Stoic has poured a lot of love into this game and while it isn’t for everyone, those of you with a hankering for some turn based action could do a lot worse than picking up The Banner Saga. Now if you would excuse me folks I had best get back to eating this humble pie. It won’t eat itself you know.

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