Let the Banner fly

With many of the Kickstarter games that were successfully funded now coming round that magical bend to reality, we’re going to be entering a new era of reviews and dissections of games. At least here at the Vault.

“The Banner Saga” by Stoic Studios is definitely a game you should be looking at, next to “Broken Age” of course, as an example of a well-polished game that has passed through the ring of fire that is Kickstarter.

If “Oregon Trail” and “Skyrim” had a kid and raised it on isometric, turn-based combat, it would be “The Banner Saga.”. I know it sounds strange, but it works much better than you might think. Heavy with old-school table-top gaming mechanics and strategy, “The Banner Saga” is a thinking game that is as much about planning your next move as it is having the muscle to back it up.

Players who are looking to rush through the fights will find themselves handicapping their team with injuries and lowered armor stats. This, in turn, will mean that their caravans will have to rest for days at a time to prevent these injuries from affecting the next encounter. This kind of risk/reward system is rare now as the game is so much more in the player’s control these days, that when the game throws you hints that you might be getting too greedy or that you may need to sacrifice some time, you do it.

The idea of a caravan and combat is probably not sinking in yet, so an explanation is in order. The game takes place in a viking land filled with giants and stone monsters called Dredge. The player follows two different caravans, one of soldiers and one of townsfolk, escaping a rising tide of Dredge who are seemingly coming to overtake their lands with sheer numbers. Along the way, the caravans encounter bandits, thieves, sickness and heart-breaking scenes that crush morale.

Oh, did I mention that morale effects combat effectiveness too? Well it does. Keeping your caravans rested and well-fed means that your heroes will have more power to use their abilities and move further than they would normally.
Placement is key when making the right choice in combat.

With all these moving parts, it’s a wonder that some players won’t just drop the game from sheer overwhelming odds. But for those who stick with it, they’ll find a great story that is reminiscent of a well-wrought “Dungeons and Dragons” campaign.

There’s also the little issue of permanent death for some of your heroes. That’s right “XCOM” fans, if you accidentally make the wrong decision in some choice for the caravan or random encounter, you could lose one of your companions completely. No chance to save them, no combat, just a conversation or story option. And no auto-save or last checkpoint. Each decision is painfully scary and has real consequences for your caravan and your heroes. This can be heartbreaking, especially if you’ve been leveling up that character constantly and depending on him in the thick of it.

“The Banner Saga” succeeds in so many ways it’s hard to find any faults with it. The art style, evoking memories of old Disney films, even seems to evoke a feeling of perfection and skill. But nothing is ever perfect. Rampant typos appear throughout of the game’s dialogue in such a fashion that you’ll be forced to ask, “Did I really just read that right?” Many of the combat mechanics make a casual gamer feel a little out of their element, and the game itself may take several restarts just to understand how to play it properly before a “real turn” is appropriate.

If Kickstarter games have got you worried, fear not. “Broken Age” and “The Banner Saga” are perfect examples of games that can be made by a studio for gamers and are well worth a look. For the price, I have a hard time saying avoid it. It’s a fully completed indie game that can take anywhere between 6-14 hours and has more than enough potential for multiple playthroughs. I think the only thing missing is a TellTale Games-esque end-of-a-chapter review that tells you how your decisions matched up against other players. That might be fun.

Awww, he’s all tuckered out from that last fight…