wed 24/04/2024

The Banner Saga | reviews, news & interviews

The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga

Human frailty and a dread enemy give this beautiful tactical battle game an edge

'The Banner Saga': Beautiful stylised visuals and a real sense of dread

Set in an icy, fantasy Norse-influenced world, with an art style based on the 1950s work of Disney artist Eyvind Earle, The Banner Saga is immediately, aesthetically, vastly different from most videogame fare. But it's not just in visuals that it strikes out.

The Banner Saga's key innovation is in making the player feel far less heroic. This isn't about saving the universe, it's about surviving the next battle.

In the icy lands where the game is set the sun has stopped moving, the gods are long dead and to cap it off humanity and their semi-allies, a race of horned giants called the varl, are now threatened by the return of the dredge. This armoured race – half robot, half-walking rock ‑ suddenly return in serious numbers forcing varl and humans to flee their villages and fortresses.

Dumping you straight into the action, The Banner Saga doesn't initially explain why the varl and humans are wary of each other, or why the dredge are back. Instead, you're mainly just trying to survive the approaching enemy, as the backstory and mythology gradually reveals itself. Gameplay itself, as your refugees move around the map, comes in two forms. The most immediate is the battles.

In these, on a square grid, you take it in turns to move your team against enemies you've encountered. Each character comes with special abilities, statistics and equipment to manage; with a host of often difficult strategic options to decide on – do you use all your "willpower" early to cut down numbers before you get tired, or save special moves for finishers later?

The Banner Saga - Norse mythology turn-based strategyThese turn-based battles are tough at normal setting. Although you can scale down the difficulty, the games makers clearly want to push the idea you're fighting for your life. The same sense of dread survivalism permeates the second main element of gameplay.

As you move through the country, you'll stumble over moral or strategic dilemmas to work through: when food goes rotten, do you keep eating it because rations are low, or ditch it and try and restock before people starve? When a band of warriors leave their village, do you turn them back to protect their kin, or let them swell your numbers? These add to the cloudy moral fog and constantly reinforced sense of panic of The Banner Saga.

The Banner Saga - Norse mythology turn-based strategyIt's rare to find a game that engenders such a sense of immersion, with such an interesting backstory. That's not to say it's perfect. There's far too little signposting – so some decisions you make end up not sweated over, but tossed out – a result of getting too little information to actually make good choices. In the same vein, the battles hit a difficulty plateau mid-game and start to get samey.

But despite The Banner Saga occasionally becoming a bit of a grind, it has a unique approach, and it grips like few other games.

This isn't about saving the universe, it's about surviving the next battle


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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