The Banner Saga 2 Review
Reviewed on Apple MacAlso available on PC, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Two years ago indie outfit Stoic Studio released the first part of The Banner Saga to highly favourable reviews. With a team comprised of ex-Bioware employees it’s no surprise that The Banner Saga involved making meaningful choices that directly affected not only those under your banner but also the world in which they inhabited. Always billed as a trilogy, the first game’s success paved the way for the team to continue the story. Where will the journey take us now as the story continues in The Banner Saga 2?
One of the first things that hit us about The Banner Saga 2 is its art style. Like its predecessor the whole environment is beautifully drawn with an almost classic Disney feel to it. It brings with it a wonderful tinge of nostalgia and when coupled with moody music score it creates quite a haunting atmosphere. Let’s not forget that overall this game is about survival, loss and overcoming what seems to be unsurmountable odds all in the name of making sure you and your clansmen survive. Make no mistake, The Banner Saga 2 is not a game full of happy endings and rainbows. There is a dark and menacing foe at work and in times like these sacrifices must be made.
Each choice you make on your way has meaningful and long lasting consequences. However, so as to not spoil the story which is one of the anchors of The Banner Saga 2, it’s fair to say that almost at every turn more sacrifices are having to be made. As the journey progressed we got the feeling that each new choice carried more weight than the last. With dwindling numbers and clans seemingly annoyed at our leadership it’s fair to say we weren’t surprised a coup wasn’t enacted. However the fact that a game made us feel this way is a testament to how well the story is written and how, only by dialogue, we felt the ramifications of a choice we just made. We were almost reluctant at times to make one in fear that it would be our last or that we’d fall to another ambush.
Speaking of ambushes, combat in The Banner Saga 2 is presented in a classic, turn-based, style. Before the battle commences we were afforded time to choose our heroes, equip one special item and, once on the battlefield, place our chosen heroes within a set area. It's worth noting that the order in which you choose your heroes determines their play order. After clicking the giant “Ready” button battle commences with the turn order shown at the bottom of the screen. This really aids in planning battle strategy as knowing which enemy moves next will influence where and how you attack as well as when to use your heroes’ special abilities.
In a world seemingly bound by honour it’s no surprise then that the currency of the world is renown. Each felled foe earns renown as well as winning battles and certain dialogue choices. This can then be used to promote your heroes, buy special items to equip your heroes with but most importantly it can be used to buy supplies. As each day passes a set amount of supplies are used. If you run out of supplies the morale of your caravan will decrease and, unsurprisingly, they will start to die of starvation. The less clansmen you have the less foraging they will do on the road and you will also have no-one to train as fighters should those numbers dwindle. The fewer fighters you have the more dangerous the next battle becomes.
Morale is also vital as a low morale can have appreciable, negative effects should you go to battle. What’s more is that to increase morale (and heal heroes) you need to camp and, for every day you rest, the more supplies you use. It can leave you in a very tight spot if you fail to plan ahead. This added piece of micromanagement increases the depth without adding too much complexity and really makes you take a personal responsibility for those under your banner.
However, if this is your first entry into the series like it was for us you may find yourself at a disadvantage in the care stakes. The first thing we were required to do was pick who we were to play as. Backstory is given but it’s light especially with regards to supporting and minor characters within the game. Whilst those who played The Banner Saga are able to import their save and carry on from where they left off as a newcomer we felt at a loss. For the first hour or two of our playthrough we found it hard to engage in the characters introduced having only just met them.Thankfully as we progressed the strong story came to their rescue and by the final few, crucial hours, we found it hard to make those ever more difficult decisions.
The Banner Saga 2 is a game that warrants multiple playthroughs not only so you can learn and appreciate it’s simple yet nuanced combat but, like any choose your own adventure, so that you can experience every ending. Given how many choices we were asked to make on our first, twelve-hour playthrough, we get the feeling there’s plenty of replayability here. Overall though it's a game that rewards those who have already played the original The Banner Saga. Without the Spanish Inquisition style start that Mass Effect 2 gave those who had not played the first game it can make it hard for the newcomer to break in and start caring for those at their charge. Whilst the questionnaire start to Mass Effect 2 took a while it meant those playing for the first time had a say in how the universe they were about to enter was comprised. In comparison, beyond choosing the main character everything else is that went before The Banner Saga 2 is predetermined.
Whether you’ve played The Banner Saga or not if you give the game time hopefully you’ll experience the same wonderful, meandering tale that we did; one that rewards any player who loses themselves in the story and the world that Stoic has weaved full of fantasy and wonder.