When I sat down to write my review of The Banner Saga 2, one question kept rattling around in my head: Who am I writing this review for?
My love of the first Banner Saga is well documented and The Banner Saga 2 is no different; the art is gorgeous, the music is emotional and epic, and the story is heart wrenching, with the stakes being much, MUCH higher than the first game. I could go over all these points again, but that’s boring, and it doesn’t help anyone new discover the wonders of this series.
But, this is the second part of a trilogy: spoilers are alive and well, and you can’t really talk at any significant length about any of The Banner Saga 2 without spoiling one of the most traumatic twists of the first game.
So, I am writing this “review” in two parts for two different people; the first for the person who has yet to ever play either Banner Saga game, and the second for the person who has already played and finished The Banner Saga 2.
The first page of this review will be spoiler free, but the second page will be dark and full of spoilers. You have been warned.
“Why Should I Play The Banner Saga?”
Game Version: Final / PC
Review Copy: Personal Purchase via Steam
Interface: Keyboard & Mouse
The Banner Saga is a series of games, scheduled to be a trilogy, focused on a world in apocalyptic turmoil and how you balance the survival of your family with your own morals.
The sun has stopped in the sky and an ancient enemy in the form of the Dredge, a race of heavily armored subterranian warriors made of stone, have begun to appear after many years of absence. Your role in The Banner Saga, which switches between a couple of different characters, both human and Varl (giant horned vikings), is to lead your caravan through this world plagued by renewed war and catastrophic events, fighting for survival and making the difficult choices required of you.
Mechanically, this is done in two ways: the Caravan Sections, and the Tactical Sections. Other games have done each type of gameplay before, but none have combined them in a way were your choice can hold such weight in combat, and your victory or defeat can so significantly effect the fortunes of the people you are leading. The Caravan section play in a way similar to Oregon Trail; you’ll have to manage your level of supplies and the size of your caravan while making choices about how to deal with elements in the world. Do you wait for a day to hunt and gather supplies, or do you press on to the safety of a nearby city? Do you accept the residents of a destroyed village under your banner, while knowing your supplies are already running short? On top of this, you’ll face opposition from Dredge, Raiders and political opponents. These fights are handled in combat section heavy on tactics and unit placement.
You’ll meet new allies and enemies as you progress through the game, and be able to upgrade and tailor your heroes. This creates a level of emotional investment with makes the losses and sacrifices you suffer even more impactful.
This summary leads me to the point I hope to make in this piece: You should be playing The Banner Saga, and then The Banner Saga 2, because now we know that this wasn’t a one time experience.
The high quality and superb storytelling of The Banner Saga has not only been maintained in the sequel, but in many ways improved upon. The stakes are higher. The choices are more difficult. The losses are all the more bitter. Yet, because of the emotional depth created in the story and your connection to these characters, you can’t help but fight on. The choices that are put in front of you will make you stop and think. These character’s lives are in your hands, and there are few games that have made me feel this emotional connection so strongly. The story is climbing to a climax that threatens to affect everyone in this world.
Knowing that we now have two parts of a trilogy, and that both parts are phenomenally well constructed, should be more than enough to nudge you to get involved in this story now. Your missing out on one of gaming’s most superbly crafted stories if you don’t, and the slow build in tension is not something to be avoided for the sake of a binge. The Banner Saga is like a fine dining experience; savor it. Get invested in this world and in these characters over time. Let the weight of what is happening in this world sit with you. Go back and really think about the choices you made. Where they the right one? Who got left behind? Who’s story has ended due to your actions? If you give them the time, The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2 will cement themselves in your mind and give you an experience few games, let alone independently developed games, can hope to match.
Continue to Page 2 for my specific thoughts on the character and mechanics introduced in The Banner Saga 2, but beware: Spoilers!