The Banner Saga
MS Windows, OS X
For backers of the crowd-funded, game project titled, The Banner Saga, the release of the game a couple of weeks ago was a welcome sight. The game was originally funded via Kickstarter on April 20th, 2012 and raised over $700,000 USD — seven time the amount Stoic was seeking. The additional funds went into the overall quality of the game and helped the creators of the game expand upon the story they wanted to tell. Described as a “mature, story-driven, turn-based strategy game steeped in viking culture”, Stoic sought to offer a gaming experience that isn’t offered as much anymore. Now that the game has been release, or at least the first Act of it, fans and backers can now try their hand and take in a compelling story.
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The Banner Saga is certainly a beautifully crafted game. The art is reminiscent of the sort of animation style one would find in older animated movies like Bakshi’s Wizards or his Lord of the Rings from the late 70’s. The animation used in the game is hand-drawn cel animation. Likewise, the musical score that accompanies the game helps convey a style and feel without being intrusive to a player’s gaming experience. The game play itself mainly involves turn-based combat on a battle grid and is well executed though seems a bit merciless at times. However, the game play keeps the same animation style that the rest of the game showcases so very well.
The story is also a compelling one. For a better part of the game, you find yourself mostly leading a group or refugees across a war torn land during the end of the world. The story itself is told from the perspective of different people but appears to be fairly linear at first glance. If playing through the campaign more than once, key people and events do not appear to change. Many of the decisions made in the game have more of an impact on the state of the caravan — supplies, troops, and clansmen are affected by these choices as is the morale of the group. Since this will affect those numbers, they can impact the larger scale battles encountered during the course of the game. To say that there is no impact on story wouldn’t be the whole truth though. There is at least one key decision made towards the of the game which does have a major impact to the outcome of the first act. If, like me, you were engaged by the narrative, you may quickly find yourself wanting to play the campaign again to see what other changes could be manifested in the tale.
The major stumbling block for some will be the nature of the combat system. Combat dominates the game play as the story only progresses by going through a litany of battles. If the player is tactically inclined and loves this sort strategy, chances are that they will love this aspect of the game. For those that find it too difficult, it is possible to lower the difficulty level but others who prefer a challenge can also increase it. As foes are met and overcome, renown is gained and this functions as a sort of currency in game. Renown is basically ‘experience points’ which can be used to increase a character’s rank, purchase items for characters, or buy needed supplies for the caravan. As a character increases in rank, abilities can also be increased allowing a player to better tailor characters to their liking. Unfortunately, while the many characters encountered are diverse showcasing different character abilities, there is nothing in the game allowing you build a custom character. In a sense, all characters are ‘pre-generated’ as many form part of the story being told. You never have a chance to create and truly personalize a hero and I feel like this might have been a lost opportunity.
While the game has shifted in original concept to the final product, it is satisfying to see that Stoic remained true to their vision. The focus is certainly the story and the many hardships in which the characters find themselves struggling against. Many will find the story here to be engaging and the look of the game wonderfully captivating — the hardships players may face is the nature of combat and a limited scope of a seemingly fixed narrative.
The Banner Saga is currently available on Steam for $24.99 USD.