The Banner Saga (Xbox One Review)

When we talk of fantasy most will recall grand tales of elves, orcs , and sorcery. We will talk of epic battles fought on vast wooded landscapes, molten volcanos, or even dark dungeons filled with creatures based in figments of our nightmares. Some might even discuss wizards and magic. Although it is rare for us, or it was rare in a pre-Game of Thrones world, to think of the wintery north and ice laden scenery. Back in early 2014 Versus Evil saw a gap in this market and sought to create a tactical role-playing game like no other with The Banner Saga.


Banner Saga hoarde

The Banner Saga is firmly grounded with a deep sense of Nordic lore and split between two main parties; Prince Ludin’s part and Rook’s party. Instead of the aforementioned fantasy tropes The Banner Saga looks towards the Varl, an ancient race of towering, horned giants who now live alongside a race of humans in harmony, and humans in the parties. Talks of longboats, pillaging, and axes are plenty between the two in what is presumed to be a time of peace as the first group of Varl escort Prince Ludin across the lands, although something is clearly wrong. Shortly in to the journey the group encounter the Dredge, little is known of The Dredge aside from the facts that they are merciless and feared across the known world, and have to stave off their advances as the current leader of the Varl falls in battle protecting Prince Ludin. It is at this point in which the scene ends and we are introduced to Rook, a human archer, caught off guard with his daughter Alette by the Dredge just outside their village. From there on both parties follow their respective paths, coming up against increasing numbers of Dredge and other issues along the way. The story of The Banner Saga is gripping and far more grounded in the story of its characters than any grand war or battle. There is a wonderfully human element to it all as the story starts to grow and take shape with your decisions impacting upon the caravans of survivors and soldiers you lead throughout the game.

Banner saga screamAll of these characters are beautifully hand drawn with vibrant colours, not unlike the more vibrant scenes in older Disney animations. The blood red banner of Rook’s part effortlessly flutters in the wind as we watch them traverse the world and so does Prince Ludin’s party, led by Vognir/Hakon. Between battles the player is presented with stationary portraits of the characters as they converse, although they are a pleasure to behold they do lose their appeal over time as there is little to no change in the characters stance or appearance. There are times, however, in which the game comes to life in some amazing moments in which The Banner Saga is fully animated and really shows the capabilities of the artists who quite clearly poured their heart and soul in to developing these characters. There is a great variety as well when it comes to the characters, with no two looking alike. Even the Varl who are very specific in looks managed to feel new and original with each new character. The only issues I ever had with the art came from the stuttering of scenes when I first loaded the game and potential frame rate issues with the cut scenes early on.

Banner Saga Bar fightOnce you’ve overcome the magnificence of The Banner Saga’s scenery, it is time to start cutting down the Dredge and anything that would stand in your way on the long journey ahead. The combat in The Banner Saga is not unlike Final Fantasy Tactics or XCOM, in which you navigate a set playfield and move your character around a tile based board. It is the type of combat that is easy to understand, you either choose to beat down the opponent’s armour to weaken them or do health based damage to kill them. But it takes a true tactician to master, especially in the harder difficulties. It’s one thing to move a character forward but manipulation of the space and the formation of your team can prove vital in certain battles. Something as simple as front loading a series of Varl warriors in front of your human archers is vital. There are even troop types that break convention and attack or move in a variety of ways that creates a wonderful synergy with other troops, creating situations in which you can corner and attack enemies while remaining shielded behind your more hearty troops.

Out with standard battle there is very limited interaction in The Banner Saga beyond the choices you make and dialogue that may lead to renown, a currency used to buy items/supplies for the caravan or upgrade troops. There are circumstances in which you will face a battle that spans more than you tight knit parties ability called “War” and you will have to make tough decisions that may cost you troops and even morale overall. This morale level can be remedied by taking less chances, partaking in dialogue trees, and resting in camp while on the long journey. Ultimately many of these choices feel inconsequential beyond achievements and the potential of different endings that will snowball in the proposed trilogy.

Banner saga snow fight

Overall I loved The Banner Saga, it is a series that remains unique in a genre relatively unfamiliar to myself. It has some unique art and enough character to keep you wanting more. That being said there are some teething issues in the choice of controls while being ported from PC to consoles, using both sticks to navigate a map that does not pan felt unintuitive and the same can be said for the finicky nature of movement during battle that can take a bit of getting used to, and there are far too many loading screens to allow you to fully immerse yourself in the story. Although The Banner Saga wasn’t perfect there are so few games that offer what it does currently on the Xbox 1 and PlayStation 4 that it is 100% worth the asking price.

The Banner Saga

8.5

Overall

8.5/10

Pros

  • Beautiful Artwork
  • Great Characters
  • Unique Story

Cons

  • Lots of Loading Screens
  • Stutters at Times

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