The Banner Saga first released in early 2014 for Windows and Mobile, the fantasy tactical RPG that fast became a cult hit amongst gamers. Stoic Studio and Versus Evil have since brought it to consoles and much recently released it on the Nintendo Switch, so more can play and witness what The Banner Saga has to offer. Shall we call all bannermen? Or is it not worth bothering them?
The sun has stopped moving over a world populated by Humans and Varls, the latter of which are a giant-type race which commonly resemble the towering Vikings from all the stories. All would be fine if a third race, the Dredge decided not to come back from extinction with the intention of killing all in their path.
The events preceding the fight for survival were to bring the two long standing races together in an alliance. Things went awry when one of those leading the caravan across the land to escort the Prince of the Human capital to the Varl capital was slain in combat. From there it is a constant effort to stay alive, seek shelter and look after the many under your care, with the ultimate end goal of thwarting the Dredge’s plans.
It’s a typical fantasy setting that features unique context which makes it feel fresh and un-like anything played before-hand. What I often find annoying about the fantasy style of games is how similar many of them come across in their story, with only a few outliers, this is one of those that manages to stray from the norm.
Gameplay sticks to the common formula used in the tactical genre, particularly in combat. Characters are placed on a grid field at the beginning, there is a preparation phase in which you have a limited set of space in which to place your heroes at the start of a fight. Once ready, the battle begins and the entire field opens up. There is a turn order which sees you go, then the AI and back to you etc. The best thing about this sequence is it doesn’t leave much space in between your interactions and certainly makes it feel more like a chess game as opposed to being able to attack with two or more at once, you are almost certain to take some hits. It feels like each battle there is this sense of urgency to take out the enemy as soon as possible.
When it comes to your turn there are a few options and things to consider, where to move to, who to attack and how to attack. It takes some thought but isn’t overly complex, meaning it keeps the entry level minimum and overall the combat is enjoyable to take part in.
Outside of fighting is a generally more peaceful venture, you follow your caravan on their journey and make choices along the way that will shape how things unfold. There are animated scenes although few and far between and show the travel more than specific actions or dialogue exchanges between characters. The latter of which is usually an image of the speaking character along with the text on the screen and sometimes their voice too.
The animated art style I feel is the perfect choice, it reminds me of the animated Lord of the Rings film and puts a somewhat fresh and fun look on a bleak story and setting. Colours have been used to great effect in showing the wear and tear on the world around you and puts an emphasis on the snow-covered vistas.
The sound design is where this shines the most, every aspect of voice, sound effects and music just fits in perfectly. Tailor-made for the experience and immersing you into the harsh environments and encounters. It all screams tough and Viking, with sounds of wood, metal, wind and even string instruments coming together to draw you in and believe in what’s happening in front of you.
The Banner Saga brings to life old tales in a thoughtful way, filled with endearing characters, impossible odds to overcome and gorgeous visuals. All sewn together with its expertly crafted audio design. The gameplay still comes across as a little slow and basic for what it is, but doesn’t stop this being a great journey to embark upon.
OVERALL: 8/10 – GREAT
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of The Banner Saga, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)