The Banner Saga

In video games, one of the most underused eras of our history is the Vikings and the Norse mythology they worshiped and believed in.

Their traditions and cultures and way of living have always fascinated me yet none of this has really been translated in video games. Now though, developers Stoic Studio have created a real time strategy game based purely on this age in time in their PC title, The Banner Saga. My ears pricked when I heard of its existence and just had to review it and I knew I wouldn’t have problems running it as it does use and kind of 3D effects. So as I pick up my sword and horned helmet, I trudged on forth through this interesting entry in the RTS genre.

Banner saga

Banner saga

The Banner Saga tells a tale of a few Nordic warriors who are in a constant battle for survival as they travel across the land to escape an otherworldly menace slowly invading called the Dredge. These mechanical fiends pack a punch and have strength in numbers however the warriors have a weapon that can help hold their own against them called the Varl. These horned humans tower above regular humans and have the strength to boot. It makes for an interesting and engrossing story which is laden with colourful characters each with their own individual personalities. There are cut-scenes that link the real meat of the game play together however most dialogue is shown through 2 dimensional illustrations and text. Every now and again players will be made to make some sometimes subtle but otherwise impacting moral choices, what did you expect from a studio of people who are former Bioware employees?

The aforementioned meat of the gameplay is real time strategy similar to games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Final Fantasy: Tactics. You control a group of warriors who you manage from a hub screen consisting of an illustrated view of a few labelled tents or if you are in a town, you will be able to choose certain buildings. From here you can choose to upgrade characters that happen to be in your party to allow them to learn new abilities or increase their stats and give them any trinkets you may have obtained which have special properties attached to them. Once you’re done, it’s time for battle. Locking horns requires you to take turns with the NPC opponents as you strategically take them down using nothing but the mouse. Characters in play are categorised such as Archer, Raider and of course the Varl whom is subcategorised to Shield banger and Warrior and each have their own style to take note of like archers should be used to attack from afar and is recommended to stay away from close quarters whereas Raiders is the opposite. Varls are the tanks of the battlefield able to withstand a huge amount of punishment before falling. Varl characters can also unleash devastating attacks that can inflict huge damage on a few enemies at once. Special attacks can only be used by using up Willpower. Willpower can also be used to make standard attacks stronger and once the Willpower points have gone, they can only be replenished by resting through turns but I don’t need to explain the risks of doing this. Dredge enemies come armoured therefore you must take down their protection before hurting them. Some hero characters in your party have attacks purely for damaging armour thankfully however you need to decide when it will be best to use them as the Dredge are formidable in every way and fighting big groups of them makes for some tough battles.

The Banner Saga has a slight learning curve however the difficulty is ramped up significantly a few fights in. It’s challenging but not impossible; it will really test your management skills and strategy. Winning carries a hefty sense of satisfaction which is rewarded with more of its compelling story and unique art style which takes its inspiration from classic Disney films. It’s cartoony but mature so you won’t find The Little Mermaid here which goes hand in hand with the mature story filled with tension and tragedy. Characters have great animations in battle and the cut scenes are brilliant to watch although there is very little to distinguish characters apart, some of which only have different attire and hair styles and their Viking names like Oddleif, Mogr, Hakon and Egil makes it difficult to become familiar anyone.

Summary

The Banner Saga is a fantastic real time strategy game with a brilliant narrative shown with a gorgeous bright art style. Blemishes though are the inability to relate to any of the characters thanks to their Nordic names and their very slight differences that make them unique or eccentric. The battles are excellently balanced and require an impressive amount of strategy making victory satisfying. A brilliant Viking game.

Story - 4/5

Graphics - 5/5

Gameplay - 5/5

Overall - 5/5

Version Reviewed - PC