Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

The Banner Saga

Review: The Banner Saga

8:10 AM on 01.14.2014 // Kyle MacGregor

A sorrowful and stunning adventure

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.

The Banner Saga, perhaps above all else, evokes such feelings of extreme vulnerability. The tale follows a caravan of refugee vikings. Driven from their lands by a horde of demonic marauders, the survivors are forced to wander from one devastated village to the next. Threatened by the elements, dwindling supplies, and even other men; they're faced with a seemingly endless string of dire circumstances in a world that's quickly going to hell. 

The Banner Saga (Windows PC [reviewed], Mac, Linux)
Developer: Stoic
Publisher: Stoic
Release: January 14, 2014
MSRP: $24.99

Beyond the dark narrative is an absorbing melange of strategy role-playing game and The Oregon Trail. It begins with little in the way of pretext or exposition. After a brief animated opening and tutorial, players are ushered along a path and left to react as an icy Nordic world inhabited by feudal men, horned giants, and menacing foes wash over them like a violent tide.

Though the narrative is somewhat preordained, players are put in the driver's seat and cast as the leader of this ragtag convoy. As the story meanders along, the road forks and presents players with options. Some are more meaningful than others, and certain junctures will have consequences that send out ripples like a stone cast into water.

Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Characters will live and die by your decisions. And that's okay. The Banner Saga is about making difficult choices and dealing with the repercussions. It's far from a power fantasy. Oftentimes it feels like you're just scraping by as you trudge through the wilderness, rations running dangerously low, desperately hoping to catch a break as your clan hangs by a thread. Situations seem to grow increasingly more dire. It's a brutal world out there.

The combat echoes this wonderfully. Battles are challenging, though not punishingly so, and seems to provide just enough leeway for competent strategists to scratch out a win. It takes the classic tactical role-playing game formula with turn-based combat set on a grid and mixes in some unique strategic flourishes.

One of those ornaments is an armor gauge on top of the standard health bar. The amount of armor a unit has equipped has an inverse relationship to the amount of physical damage it will take from a direct strike on its health. As such, it's frequently preferable to wear away a good portion of an enemy's armor prior to going in for the coup de grâce.

An ability called willpower allows soldiers to move further across the battlefield, strike foes for additional damage, and perform special abilities. Though limited in supply, willpower can be recovered by resting or defeating enemy units. Managing when and how this precious resource is expended can often prove to be the deciding factor in a skirmish. 

The cast of characters players will encounter along the journey is an incredibly diverse one. Players will field everything from hardened viking axemen, to young female archers, frail regal spearmen, and gigantic horned behemoths known as varl. Each warrior has unique attributes and special attacks, which allows players to mix and match to their liking.

Unfortunately, like much of the game, battles can feel plodding and lethargic in contrast with many of its genre peers. Actions and detailed animations, however lovely they are to look at, seem to take forever and a day to unfold. Perhaps this is an intentional ploy to avoid dissonance, but, at times, The Banner Saga can feel as arduous as the tale that's unfolding on screen. 

Even when it frustrates, one cannot help but be hypnotized by the the title's art direction. In some ways, this is a game that needs to be played merely to be seen. It resembles something Disney would have crafted half a century ago, complete with ornately detailed landscapes reminiscent of Eyvind Earle's work. One need only glance at the intricate trees that line The Banner Saga's gorgeous vistas to know from where the team at Stoic drew its inspiration.

Along with the stunning visual aesthetic is a soundtrack that gives this story a sense of place. At times it's barely there, if at all, as ambient sounds like wind howling over icy peaks set the mood. Elsewhere it's reductionist and somber, but rises to the occasion when the time calls. Blaring horns and drums are contrasted with somber strings and solemn chants, as extolled Journey composer Austin Wintory transports players to this fantastical Norse world. 

This game feels like a project created by artists. It's uncompromising to a fault. Tiptoeing around trite conventions and hackneyed design choices, I have no doubt that the team at Stoic created the game they wanted to make. By the end of the journey, I cared for my banner like a shepherd tending to his flock. I commiserated with their hardships, as the thread of despondency wove its way throughout virtually every aspect of the experience.

The Banner Saga is a dark and onerous experience, but it's one that draws you in. I'll be waiting with bated breath to see which way this winding path darts next. Something tells me we're not out of the woods just yet.



The Banner Saga - Reviewed by Kyle MacGregor
Charming - Not perfect, but it's easy to ignore the rough spots when faced with so many engaging design decisions and entertaining moments. A memorable game that's hard not to like and recommend to others.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

destructoid's previous coverage:
The Banner Saga

  Jul 27

Apple, Banner Saga studio frustrated by iOS game market

The race to the bottom is a hot-button issue

  Jun 26

You probably read English, but The Banner Saga's now in six new languages

It's an educated guess based on the fact that you're reading this

  Jan 22

Candy Crush dev now trying to block Banner Saga trademark

King Candy hindering Banner Saga sequel with opposition

  Dec 20

Preview: The Banner Saga

A brutal yet beautiful journey

View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:

Please contact Crave Online, thanks!

Cblogs of 11/26/15 + Combat Heropon-isms

Video games go mainstream

I’m Not a SJW, I’m an Anthropologist: Making the Case for Diversity in Games

Insidia REVIEW - A whole dark, gloomy, and kinda creepy world to explore

DS REVIEWS: Trace Memory

Things I'm Thankful For

Cblogs of 11/25/15 + Turkey N Stuff

Cheat Codes Podcast - Ep. 73: Stay Classy

NVGR: Updated Album "ADBC" (No longer an EP)

 Add your impressions

Status updates from C-bloggers

Nathan D avatarNathan D
After quitting for two days out of frustration, I beat Ludwig on my first try of the night. I'm on cloud fucking nine right now.
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
When I did my retail shift today, we were moving more Smash/Splat Wii U bundles and the Gears/Rare Replay/Ori XB1 bundles than Uncharted and Battlefront PS4s. I think Nintendo and MS have better value on their side this holiday. Sony got lazy.
Confuseddalek avatarConfuseddalek
I found this weird game called Samurai Heroes for 8 dollars today. Its not bad.
Solar Pony Django avatarSolar Pony Django
Got Deadpool, Arkham Asylum and BioShock 1 and 2 all for 30$. Not to bad for going Black Friday shopping late.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
If you haven't played Tales from the Borderlands yet, GO BUY IT! By far the funniest game I have ever played, and the characters and narrative are incredibly well written. Very few memes unlike BL2 by the way.
James Internet Ego avatarJames Internet Ego
Played all of Life is Strange today in one sitting. Bloody hell. You should all play it. Only game this year to make me cry. Bravo developers. Possibly the most valuable thing I've ever bought for £10.
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Last night, got farther than ever in Wasteland 2. This is my third playthrough-once thru beta, once through the orig version, now on Directors cut. Worth the restart, and it speaks highly of the game that I like it enough to do this. DAMONTA HERE I COME!
KeithTheGeek avatarKeithTheGeek
GUYS HELP I KEEP BUYING MORE AMIIBO. Today it was Little Mac, since he went back up on Gamestop's website. I probably would have gotten Captain Falcon as well if I wasn't already running a little short on cash.
BigDoniel avatarBigDoniel
50 hours in and I can safely say that Xenoblade is the best JRPG I've played in years. Should hopefully be finished in time for X too!
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
One job down on day I should have off, now for the other job.
CoilWhine avatarCoilWhine
I beat Murasaki Baby on PS Vita. Easy 100% trophy. That ending theme tho.
TheGwailo avatarTheGwailo
I have 34 games in my Steam queue alone, 4 on xbone, and a handful on handhelds. I have 3 days to make a dent. Time's up, let's do this!
Archelon avatarArchelon
Community Question: To make up for yesterday, I decided to ask a second Community Question today. Have you taken advantage of any Black Friday deals today? If so, what did you purchase? Feel free to share pictures of your spoils, if you have any.
Jiraya avatarJiraya
Some Black Friday artwork arrived today ! [img][/img]
Lawman avatarLawman
Black Friday is getting to me. All these games I kinda, maybe want that are at anywhere between respectable and deep discounts, but I'm not sure if I want to bite. I'm wondering if Godzilla's worth $12? After checking review scores, I'm not sure.
Amna Umen avatarAmna Umen
Mission complete![IMG][/IMG]
Serethyn avatarSerethyn
Black Friday slowly seems to creep its way onto Continental Europe, but I'm not complaining! I managed to get my grubby little paws on a new physical copy of The Wonderful 101 for €20! Thanks, America!
Archelon avatarArchelon
Community Question: Since I missed yesterday, I am going to do something a little different today. Are there any questions you would like to ask me for a change? If so, please feel free. I may add a second Community Question later today, as well.
RexterNathan avatarRexterNathan
Isn't PES 2016 Free-to-Play model just the demo with extra crap thrown in?
Fenriff avatarFenriff
Damn Gumo, you cold as fuck. [img][/img]
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -