People gravitate to people. Human beings are naturally social creatures and it is for this reason as well as their exceptionally strong sense of empathy that after 200,000 years of existence, they have reached the top of the food chain. Now you may be asking 'what the blazes does this have to do with The Banner Saga?' A video game that features Vikings that fight alongside giants that have horns sticking out of their heads against rampaging stone golems? I’ll tell you what: everything, absolutely everything. For The Banner Saga is more about people than it is concerned with the smashing of a vast host of golems.
Set in an alternate Norse realm where the gods have fallen after a cataclysmic event many centuries prior, leaving the mortal humans and their allies, the horned giants known as the varl, to fend for themselves. Another race of beings are the stone ‘dredge’ who have been fought against by both humans and varl countless times with two great wars erupting, both ending with the defeat of the dredge to see them banished to the wastes of the frozen northern realms.
The Banner Saga
takes place at a time when a vast host of dredge are moving south across varl territory at great speed, leaving little alive in their wake. This sets the scene for what seemingly appears to be a third war against these stone creatures.
There has been a preview written about The Banner Saga
and much has been said in there with regards to the world it is set in and the game’s structure. This review, however, is based on the final code and much has changed within the game to make it even more compelling that what I originally experienced. For there is no doubt in my mind that The Banner Saga
is a monumental game that thoroughly deserves your attention, and I’m about to tell you why this is so.
The Banner Saga
is a tactical RPG in a similar vein to Final Fantasy Tactics
and Valkyrie Chronicles
. Players take the role of overseer and decision maker as they direct units within skirmishes that make up the bulk of the game.
There is also a significant amount of time taken up with making decisions about what a character should do as they lead a caravan of refugees from one burnt-out town to another, fleeing the ravages of the dredge as they sweep across the land from the north. These decisions can and do have a significant impact on how the game’s story plays out, with myriad branching storylines being present, yet all coalescing into a single conclusion. So, no multiple endings, but there are many, many ‘middles’.
These skirmishes take place over a grid with humans and small dredge taking up one space while varl and larger dredge take up four spaces. The combat is a turned-based system, with each side having units take alternating turns. Prior to any engagement the player is afforded the chance to select the turn order of their troops to optimise their efficiency. The game advises to have ranged alternated with melee units to ensure one covers the other.
Every unit has two attributes, which are based on their hit points and their armour. All of the characters controlled by the player can be levelled up to increase these stats. During attacks players can choose which attribute to target. The higher the armour, the less likely it is the unit will cause damage to the enemy. It’s therefore common to open an engagement by taking down the armour before attacking their base health.
The amount of health a unit has determines how hard they can hit. This is an important factor to note as it weakens units to the point where even if they do hit, their damage is negligible.