GAME REVIEW: The Banner Saga Complete Pack (PS4)

The Banner Saga is one of the best games I hadn’t played. The opportunity to play both games had passed me, and the third game is on its way. Fortunately, I have the chance to play both in succession. Playing The Banner Saga 1 and 2 has been one of the most beautiful, depressing, exciting, and crushing game experiences I’ve had in some time.

The Banner Saga

When we first put eyes on a new game, we usually take in the art and animation first. The Banner Saga reminds me of animation out of the 1970’s or 80’s. I theorize it looks that way because The Banner Saga takes place in a mythical age, and the developers, Stoic, seemed to adopt a vintage art style to represent an ancient time. The hand drawn feel definitely works for The Banner Saga. I don’t think I would like the game less if the characters were fully 3D CG models, but Stoic’s design choice makes me feel like I am reading from the pages of an aged book.

The Banner Saga is a tale of humans, Varl, and Dredge. You know humans. They’re your run-of-the-mill folk. The Varl are humanoid, but they are long-lived giants with horns growing from their heads. The Dredge, our antagonists, are dark versions of the humans and Varl. They relentlessly attack human and Varl civilizations, leaving both races to come together if they want any chance to survive. In the game, you take the role of several people, but you will be making decisions as the human, Rook. Rook is a widower and father of a skilled archer, Alette. As Rook, or as these other characters, you have opportunities to talk to these warriors and clansmen. There are important decisions to make, decisions that could end in the death of a party member, the deaths of clansmen, or the loss of supplies. You are leading caravans across the land, and as you travel, your day’s worth of supplies deplete, and the morale of your caravan members will dip down.

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You are given the option to take breaks and set up camp. When you set up camp, you can rest, which can boost morale- at the cost of supplies. You can also arrange your party in the Heroes tent, or practice strategy in the Training tent. There are certain scripted moments where you can also speak with a character in camp. Camp is also made when you make it to a village or city. It’s good to reach civilization, especially late in the game. There are random events that happen as the caravan is moving along. Dredge can attack, or you may encounter other humans, other Varl. You may end up gaining more people and supplies for your caravan. Or you may have to fight other unfriendly or treacherous humans. I feel like I was most often a terrible decision maker. Towards the end of the game, people were dying left and right, and I was out of supplies on a few occasions. I definitely didn’t feel like I gained enough Renown during my playthrough. Renown is the currency of the game, and it’s also how your characters rank up, increase in their stats. Having Renown be used for two purposes leads to more tough decisions. For me, leveling up took priority over buying items, even items that would’ve made battles easier.

Painful choices makes you care about your party, about your clansmen, and about the battles. You gain renown during conversations, but you can also gain it in battle. Every enemy you fell leads to more renown, but these Dredge are tough! The battles take place on a grid. You have to strategize well, because you can only move a certain number of steps on the grid, and you are limited in how much damage you can deal. In the fight, we have close range and long range fighters. Archers typically don’t deal much damage, but can attack from a safe distance. Those who use swords or axes are usually more durable, but have to risk fighting up close. Larger Dredge are harder to kill, because of their high armor stats. This adds more difficulty to combat, because you may have to waste your turns chipping away at armor. If you’ve played strategy games like X-Com, you are familiar with hit percentages. Depending on your weapon and your distance from a target, your hit percentage will be different. Take a wrong chance, and that could lead to the death of your whole group. I love strategy games, but they are so trying.

Speaking of trying times, I did run into a technical error while playing. I ran into three game freezes during battles. When a turn came, I couldn’t issue any commands, or an enemy would not go through with their turn. I could exit the game, pause it, and use other menu functions, but I would have to start from my last save. I don’t know if my PS4 was too hot, or if it was the game at fault. I am playing other games on the same console, and I do not run into a problem with freezing gameplay. I expected some trouble with the game being ported from PC to console, but I didn’t expect an error such as this.

I want to get back to gushing over The Banner Saga. The game’s audio is magnificent. I would’ve preferred if there were more voiced lines, besides occasional narration. The Banner Saga compensates for a lack of voice acting with its soundtrack. As is to be expected from a story out of viking myth, all of the music is composed using classical instruments- wind and stringed.

The Banner Saga 2

The choices you made, especially before the final battle in The Banner Saga, impact The Banner Saga 2. When you begin a new game, you can choose to import your save data from part 1, or choose an  alternate path. I chose to honor my foolish, foolish choices and load my save data.

As the game opens, I can tell that things have improved some. There is still little voice acting, but The Banner Saga 2 opens with a cutscene, an animated retelling of the first game. We are still running from the Dredge, hoping for some greater solution to their menace. More characters join the fight, and you have more hard decisions to make. Battles have not changed too much. Destructible obstacles have been included on the battlefield, but the fighting has stayed untouched.

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They have made training more important. Sure, training helps you better prepare for future battles, but in The Banner Saga 2, there are objectives within the training sessions, and you earn renown for it! That is good thinking from Stoic. Outside of the main game, there is a survival mode. I guess people wanted an even harder challenge. I may check that out, but after I complete the story mode- and wipe the tears away. I hope you join me in making some poor decisions and horrible strategic plays. The Banner Saga 1 and 2 is a tremendous couple of games. If you fancy Norse myth, you’re a fan of the show Vikings, or you just want to play a good strategy action game, make a note of this series. The Banner Saga Complete Pack goes for  £29.70 (€34.98 , $37.99) on the PSN store. It’s available on mobile and PC, but I can only speak for the version I’ve played.

Rating: 4.5/5

Reviewer: Vichus Smith

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