The Banner Saga
If History channels “Vikings” had a PG rating
No seriously, have you watched that show? The script is bland. The characters aren’t worth remembering. The plot does little to drive the narrative. The only redeeming aspect of it is the action scenes and they’re so few and far in-between you wonder if you’re just watching a Nordic themed soap opera. Take all that and put it into a videogame with 2D comic graphics, subtract all the boobs and swearing, and you have The Banner Saga.
And yet I can’t stop playing this friggin game. Really. It’s addicting. It’s the pizza of videogames for those of you who don’t eat the crust. You know how you like to pass it off to your little sister or brother or that weird friend that dips everything in ranch? Yea. It feels like that. You know if my daughter was ready to start reading I’d pass her the controller during the repetitive 30 minute story scenes and tell her to call me when a fight was about to happen. Meanwhile I’d do something fun like chew my toenails or churn butter by hand…
But yes jokes aside, the gameplay itself is actually pretty fun. For starters, your decisions effect the overall story and not in that “I’ll just save and retry a different option to see what happens.” Nope. Not this game. Some guys have perma death, this game has perma save. Yea that’s a thing. Your decisions are set in stone with an autosave feature that you absolutely cannot shut off. It’s not an option, making this game a linear experience that will punish you at times for making the wrong calls. Oh and yea there actually is perma death too…. Luckily however it’s story driven and not combat driven. So go ahead, let your favorite archer fall unconscious in battle. She’ll come back.
Ok that’s not the best tactic…see while your characters don’t die in combat they do get injured if you let their HP fall to 0. And injuries can last for (in game) days at a time and drastically impact their performance in battle. They also can’t participate in bonus combat battles which give a chance to collect loot, leaving your party understaffed should you choose not to run.
The one aspect I dislike about gameplay is character leveling and buying items/goods are both managed by the same resource, known as “Renown.” Often I’ve found myself struggling to decide whether to level up my party members or buy supplies. It’s maddening I tell you. Especially since supplies are quite necessary to manage the caravan you have following you… Oh yea I didn’t mention? You’re pretty much the leader of a small village on the run from an invading force of monsters and an impending apocalypse. And you need to manage your daily supplies to feed them all. As in game time passes, your people will die off day by day if you run out of food. Fortunately you don’t have to manage hundreds of npcs one by one and you just kinda have this overall HUD that tells you how many people you have and of what type: normal clansmen, fighters, or varl…which are pretty much fighters but from the race of Giants instead of humans. Varl also kind of hate humans so occasionally you find yourself playing peacekeeper with your given choices…
Sounds a lot more immersive than I initially gave on right? Exactly. And that’s why this game is so addicting. But like I said, the exciting bits are few and far between. I’ve got about 10 hours into the game and I think I’ve spent nearly 7 of it just reading story and watching my band of vagabonds travel across the map. If you’re the type that can grind through hours of lackluster story though, then there are some rewards to be had. (Think Dragon Age II)
The combat is tactical grid/turn based. You can set your parties initiative pre-battle and set their starting locations on the map. Level progression is smooth and intricate. Characters each get various unique abilities similar to table-top D&D feats, one passive and one active. Their combat stats are 100% up to you and don’t follow a static progression, though the max caps of each stat are dependent on character class. An archer will not have as high a max Armor rating as say, a shieldmaster. Makes sense right?
I will be replaying this game once I beat it. And I’ll probably play it again after that. I know, I’m contradicting half of this entire review. The gameplay really is that fun, and the perma save feature is making me curious as to what else there is to see. The story might be boring because of the choices I’ve made trying to play a goody two shoes clan leader. It has had its moments. Like when that random warrior I let join me 3 hours (and multiple perma saves) ago randomly decided to murder half my fighters and attempt to assassinate me….. yea eff that guy.
Overall, not a bad purchase for $5 (I got it during a psn flash sale.)The Banner Saga will be much more appreciated by older generations of gamers who don’t need flash and constant action to enjoy a game. There’s minimal voice over and subtitles are available. And while the music isn’t annoying, it isn’t great either. One could easily mute the game and cut up the stereo for some day time play time. It’s summer time anyway. Open the windows and let your neighbors know how you get down on your days off.
Replay Value: 10/10 if you have patience