Quantcast
Preview: The Banner Saga - Destructoid

DestructoidJapanatorTomopopFlixist



The Banner Saga  




Preview: The Banner Saga photo
Preview: The Banner Saga

6:00 PM on 12.20.2013

A brutal yet beautiful journey


It isn't difficult to see why The Banner Saga secured over $723,000 via Kickstarter. The Viking-themed tactical role-playing game is just gorgeous, resembling something along the lines of a classic Disney picture. And it vaunts some serious pedigree too. In addition to being developed by a team of BioWare veterans, the music comes courtesy of Austin Wintory, the composer behind the Grammy-nominated and BAFTA-winning Journey soundtrack. 

Yes, that certainly seems like a recipe for success.

The Banner Saga (PC [tested], Mac, Linux)
Developer: Stoic
Publisher: Stoic
Release: January 14, 2014

Having spent roughly five hours experiencing what's apparently the first quarter of The Banner Saga's campaign, I can safely say the art direction is as lovely as you might expect. The style evokes the work of Eyvind Earle, featuring intensely detailed landscapes that really steal the show.

The visual showcase is headlined by a myriad of wonderful subarctic vistas. The attention to detail here is outstanding. The art is just so lovingly crafted (or perhaps painstakingly rendered) that it really gives the game a sense of place, decisively hammering home the fantastical Nordic setting.

The soundtrack is equally felicitous. Strings, horns, drums, and chants are paired with ambient natural sounds. It's often somber, as is much of the narrative, but rises to the occasion, drumming up excitement when needed with epic tracks one might expect to hear accompanying Vikings at war. 

That's where things start to go a bit awry though. The story is incomprehensible -- at least at first. Due to an utter lack of exposition, it feels like one is dropped into this tale in media res. I slowly pieced together a plot following two separate groups at opposite ends of the wilderness, each beset upon by an ancient race called the dredge.

Men and horned giants called varl form tenuous alliances to survive the scourge. Forced from their homes, refugees unite under banners. Caravans wander from one place to the next, merely attempting to survive as their demonic foes threaten their very existence. It's the end of the world. 

Because of that, the game is pretty linear. Imagine something along the lines of The Oregon Trail, but with battles akin to Fire Emblem posting the way, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what The Banner Saga entails. Players will be sent in one direction, almost as though the experience were on-rails, and left to react as best they can as the game throws curveballs, forcing players to make one difficult decision after the next.

Choices have impacts on everything you could possibly imagine. One's judgement can turn the tide of battle, result in gaining supplies, or lead to losing a valuable party member. On two occasions I lost my most vital comrades because of stupid decisions. This is a difficult game, and losing the most vital cog in your battle formation can really sting -- so choose wisely.

Battles are turn-based and take place on a grid. It seems like a pretty standard tactical role-playing game at first, but there are definitely some wrinkles. One aspect of the combat that will have players changing their approach is armor. Players are given the opportunity to go for the kill or whittle away an enemy's protective coating. Sometimes the latter route is vital to one's success, as some foes have virtually impenetrable shielding.

Another idiosyncrasy is willpower. Units have a supply of surplus energy that they can use to hit harder, move further, or perform special abilities. Willpower doesn't regenerate automatically, however, so players will need to rest their heroes or kill enemies to replenish these reserves. Knowing when and how to utilize these abilities frequently proves to key to emerging from a skirmish victorious.

There's a great deal of potential in The Banner Saga, but it's not without its frustrations. Everything feels so painfully slow and arduous. And I'm not entirely sure how intentional that is. It seems to mirror the narrative, reflecting how bleak the life of a refugee warrior in this cold, barren world on the edge of Armageddon must be. It can come across as a slog, which doesn't necessarily lend itself to being fun. 

Combat frequently proves to be a battle of attrition where one wins merely by the skin one's teeth. Pitted against long odds, and always outnumbered, edging forward can seem like a chore. The story never goes out of its way to make sure you understand what is going on or why you should care about these characters. After a gorgeous animated opening, players are left to wade through miles and miles of text and still images. 

My time with the game seemed evenly split between being in awe and feeling terribly discouraged and disheartened. Again, perhaps that's the intent. Perhaps, I'm supposed to feel like I'm walking a tightrope or along a knife-edge. But despite all my frustrations, all the times I felt disengaged or confused, I found myself wanting more. By the end, I wanted to spend more time in that setting, with those characters, even if it's just to see where it's going and what is going to happen next.








Comments not appearing? Anti-virus apps like Avast or some browser extensions can cause this.
Easy fix: Add   [*].disqus.com   to your software's white list. Tada! Happy comments time again.

Did you know? You can now get daily or weekly email notifications when humans reply to your comments.





timeline following:
The Banner Saga



5:00 PM on 07.27.2014
Apple, Banner Saga studio frustrated by iOS game market

The Banner Saga is coming to iOS, but porting isn't the developer's major concern. That's pretty much already done. Stoic's main dilemma is how much the game should cost on the platform. "Apple is frustrated, along with every...more



7:00 PM on 06.26.2014
You probably read English, but The Banner Saga's now in six new languages

By most accounts, The Banner Saga is a dark and emotional journey that evokes strong feelings of vulnerability. Now, a whole new diverse group of people will be able to experience that uneasiness, as the game has been lo...more



5:00 PM on 01.22.2014
Candy Crush dev now trying to block Banner Saga trademark

Candy Crush Saga developer King is playing hardball. Early this week we learned King successfully trademarked the word "Candy" in the US as it pertains to videogames (and clothing!). It already owns the "Candy" trademark in E...more



8:10 AM on 01.14.2014
Review: The Banner Saga

An animal is most dangerous when backed into a corner. Given little choice, and with everything on the line, the imperiled can go to great lengths just to continue drawing breath. Desperation is a terrifyingly powerful thing....more



5:00 PM on 12.06.2013
Here's how combat will work in The Banner Saga

So we've seen about how the travel system works in the upcoming title The Banner Saga but now we've got a good look at how the turn-based combat will work. Whilst turn-based on a grid isn't a new mechanic it's good to see ho...more



2:30 PM on 11.21.2013
Here's a trailer explaining travel in The Banner Saga

Yes, The Banner Saga still looks amazing. Great, now let's move onto some of the actual strategy mechanics which are explained in the trailer above. The traveling system relies on three resources: morale, supplies, and popul...more



8:00 PM on 11.08.2013
The Banner Saga will be out in January 2014

After playing the free multiplayer version of The Banner Saga, I've been left wondering when the single-player part would be released. Well wonder no more, as this great-looking launch trailer proclaims, The Banner Saga will...more



4:00 PM on 10.03.2012
From the goat shack to Kickstarter: The origin of Stoic

A developer talking passionately about its game, a journalist receiving answers to questions without fail, and nothing in between keeping either side from doing what they set out to do. This is how it should be, but it rar...more



10:00 PM on 04.06.2012
Journey composer joins up with The Banner Saga

Have you seen The Banner Saga on Kickstarter? Before you run off at my mention of the K-word, know that it has already surpassed its pledge goal (four times over), and more importantly, it looks ridiculously good. Turns out ...more





Win your choice of console from Destructoid! in Destructoid's Hangs on LockerDome

Strategy games

7:00 PM on 07.23.2014
Conflicks has a great alternate history setup with anachronistic space colonialism

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci discovered MetaMatter? Well, not in real life, but in the universe of Conflicks he did. It turns out all it takes is to separate a chicken egg's yolk from its albumen, and to heat up the y...more



10:15 AM on 07.23.2014
Frozen Endzone renamed Frozen Cortex, Mac and Linux versions available

Frozen Endzone, the tactical robo-sport from the developers of Frozen Synapse, has officially been renamed. The new name is Frozen Cortex, and I've taken the liberty of making a new logo for it. The rename is taking place bec...more



2:00 PM on 07.21.2014
Review: Squids Odyssey

Splatoon might be getting a lot of hype for Wii U squid battling, but it is not the first game featuring a squid squad to grace the console. Earlier this year, Squids made its jump from iOS to the Wii U with Squids Odyssey, a...more



View all Strategy games






Back to Top




All content is yours to recycle through our Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing requiring attribution. Our communities are obsessed with videoGames, movies, anime, and toys.

Living the dream since March 16, 2006

Advertising on destructoid is available: Please contact them to learn more