The Banner Saga Review

~A Song of Pain, Death and Hardship~

After a very slow and confusing start, The Banner Saga captivated me with its incredibly well told and emotionally invested story. Over the course of my roughly 15 hours playing the game I was faced with hard decisions and cracked under the pressure, my weak leadership was exposed many times which led to the death of many people in my caravan of over 500. My leadership was questioned as I wasn’t able to make the hard sacrifices, that you need to make in order to survive in the brutal world of The Banner Saga.

Once you start The Banner Saga you are warned that the story will change based on the choices you make, as you switch between lead characters and unfold the tale. I almost scoffed after reading it as I’ve seen and heard this many times with other games only to be left disappointed as only minor things get changed while the game follows its set story. The Banner Saga on the other hand is completely different, your choices really matter and have weight to them, even though there is no timer in the game when you have to make a bold decision which has become so popular in games, you still feel under pressure as if the floor will cave in and swallow you whole, if you don’t make an immediate choice, and once you do make that choice which could be the difference between life and death somewhere later down the road, you’re always left pondering whether it was the right thing to do, questioning your leadership and hurting when you must deal with the consequences and outcomes.

The Banner Saga follows the story of two characters, saying that isn’t really fair because I felt the game did a great job of showing me the journey and story of the other characters that get less time on screen. Such as Ludin a young Prince, Ubin a very old warrior and Alette a sweet young girl forced to fight against her will in order to live another day. But the game is told from the perspective of the two main characters, Rook and Hakon, two completely different people with different values and personalities in very similar situations, thrown into leadership out of the blue with no choice but to survive with the whole weight of the world on their shoulders. The story is told with the help of the narrator going over the events of the game through his eyes on his long journey, otherwise you will mostly be reading the story told from the main cast of characters, and when I say read, I mean read as the game is full of dialogue throughout the course of the game, you will have to read if you want to understand the story and what’s going on in the world. There isn’t much voice acting in the game but it’s worth taking your time to read everything and every detail, the world is interesting and I wanted to know more about the struggles, pain and suffering that the people face. The story is an emotional roller coaster that wouldn’t let me off, I became annoyed at myself if I missed any conversations due to me clicking the skip button by mistake and would get stressed out over decisions I made that impacted the story. Top this off with the great presentation, beautiful art style and the harsh Viking inspired world, then The Banner Saga is a game worth investing your time playing.

The Banner Saga being a SRPG, naturally there is going to be a lot of combat, that said combat is definitely my least favourite part of the game. That’s not to say the combat is bad in this game, it’s okay but I expected more, it cannot compare to Final Fantasy: Tactics or the very established Fire Emblem series. Combat felt dull at times and I couldn’t wait for some of the skirmishes to be over especially as I was fighting the same few enemy types all the time. What also doesn’t help is that the combat fields where fighting takes place are very small and don’t leave much room for imagination or tactics to be used. You either go straight towards your target and group up on them or sit back and wait for them to advance to you. Because you play the game in the perspective of two different characters who are on the other side of the world to each other, you have different characters that fight with you, the max number that you can take into combat is 6, but combat also suffers from the lack of different and varied classes, they all felt very similar with barely any room for stat building, better upgrades or making them stronger. All in all The Banner Saga is fun to play but combat gets repetitive and becomes a chore.

When you’re not in combat or having deep conversations that reveal the story or show the relationships that the characters have with one another, you are travelling from location to location on a long trek with your caravan in the deep white snows and icy howling winds to anywhere that is safe from the evil race called “Dredge”. For me this is where The Banner Saga shines the best. When you’re on the road with your caravan full of clansmen, fighters and the Varl (giants with horns), you have to manage resources such as morale and food supplies. As you travel the days go by one by one and morale will lower and supplies will get used to feed the camp. You have to plan carefully and get a good balance going because once supplies run out people will die or leave, and if you don’t rest morale will become at its lowest and you will suffer in terms of combat and more people will die when your caravan goes into mini wars with the enemy. If that wasn’t enough hard work, you are faced with everyday challenges of having 100s of people relying on you to survive. You have use your better judgement and be prepared to do stuff that you wouldn’t normally do. Will you kill innocent civilians because you want their supplies? The supplies they wont give to you because they need them, that you need so you can last a few more days to make it to a town so you can buy some of your own. People are going to die, either you kill them or your people will die in the cold snow due to hungry. Will you risk your whole caravan and put them in dire danger in order to save a few people from a burning village? That’s full of the enemy killing the townsfolk or will you turn a blind eye and use that distraction as an opportunity to get past unscathed. Those are only a few of the small decisions you will have to make and there are even more that will heavily impact the story.

The Banner Saga felt like a journey for me, I felt like I was right there with them, the life they live is a hard one, death and violence is common, survival is key. I learnt that I was a terrible leader and I made some terrible mistakes, everyone in my caravan died or left at one point in the game. The game is depressing at times and reminds me of HBO Game of Thrones TV show, every story doesn’t have a happy ending. The Dredge felt like a real threat leaving death everywhere they go, and once the game ended I sat quietly in silence as the credits rolled. This was a fantastic introduction to the series and I cant wait to continue the story with all my decision intact from part 1 of the saga.

*(This The Banner Saga Review was conducted on the PS4 using a review code provided by the developers of the game, Stoic Studio)

Score: 85%