my game thoughts: The Banner Saga (PC, 2014)

game thoughts: The Banner Saga

Not going to lie – I only started playing this game because of the artwork. I didn’t know anything else about it except that the hand drawn images I saw on the Steam store page were gorgeous and I wanted to know the story that went with them. I have now played it through TWICE and felt like I should post about it.

It’s funny, in the space of a single month, I have played an completely open world game (The Outer Worlds), a game with the illusion of an open world but mostly linear story (Link’s Awakening) and a story-driven game that is relatively “on rails”, as they say (The Banner Saga). They were all enjoyable experiences, but this short, story-focused game with some tactical battle elements keeps me coming back for more.

The plot in a nut shell – a fantasy realm inhabited by humans and giants, known as Varl, finds itself dealing with eternal daylight and suddenly their ancient enemy – the dredge, dark stone figures – emerge and begin attacking towns. You play as Rook, the leader of a group of survivors who are trying to find a safe place.

Much of the game is spent watching your caravan travel across the land, your families red banner flying over you.

Screenshot: Arriving at a town with your caravan, a mix of humans and varl

While wandering, you need to manage your group’s supplies and morale. The more days you march without stopping, the lower morale gets. You can choose to stop and camp, but resting consumes food and if you run out of food, people will die.

In addition, as the days go by, bits of story will appear on the screen, describing encounters with other lost souls along the road or interactions within the caravan. Here is the part that pulls me in because you must make choices and these choices can effect the rest of your game. Do you help the strangers at the side of the road? What if you stop to chat and they turn out to be bandits, waiting to ambush you? But what if you pass them by and it turns out they had supplies to share? Every choice I made left me wondering what would have happened if I had picked a different option.

The combat is turn based and you move your people around the field. You pick from your caravan of heroes and you have to think strategically about whose attack style will work best against enemy types. The giant Varl can pack a punch, archers can lay traps, and menders can call down lightning. There are many different types of warriors and it took me a whole play-through to fully understand how to best utilize them on the battlefield.

I had to play my first game on easy mode because the combat was so new to me. But for my second play-through I was able to get through on the normal difficulty. It was clear they got a lot of feedback on combat because Banner Saga 2, while not overhauled, definitely has enough tweaks to make it easier to understand. Or maybe it was just me surviving the first game.

This series frequently goes on sale on Steam. I got all 3 of the games (currently on my second play-through of 2 right now) for $15 during the winter sale so add them to your wishlist. Your saves can carry over from game to game. They also appear to be available as mobile phone games as well and I think they would work well in that format too.

This game has a wonderful story, gorgeous artwork, a great soundtrack and unique combat. I usually don’t play games more than once, but I immediately started a second play-through as soon as I finished my first, wanting to try different responses to situations and see how it all played out (my first play-through was about 11 hours).

The first part in a 3 part story, it might be a short game but the characters and story stick with you.

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