The Banner Saga Review

This game started off life as a Kickstarter which was successfully funded and was recommended to me by my sibling, Jason who knew my fondness of turn based strategy games.  After researching it a little more, it seemed like it was worth a shot so off I went to Steam to get it.

The Banner Saga Review

Prepare to do battle in a Nordic era

The first thing you will notice about this game is the fantastic hand drawn art style that everything is rendered in.  The art style is influenced by that which was used in very early Disney films, particularly Sleeping Beauty.  Everything has a great amount of detail and nice touches to it and it makes everything very pleasant to look at.

The Banner Saga Review

Every detail is lovingly hand drawn

You play from the viewpoints of various members of a Nordic tribe who are travelling across the land to escape a force of mindless automatons referred to only as “The Dredge”.  The tone of the game overall is very bleak with the only real goal most of the time being to stay ahead of The Dredge and stay alive in the hope of finding a safe bastion somewhere.  You are always on the back foot and always feel pressured to keep moving to survive.  As the game progresses, more enemies and problems begin to pile up and it can feel like there is no way out and no escape from the situation.  All you are doing is delaying the inevitable as foes close in on all sides.

The Banner Saga Review

You must keep your caravan moving with ample supplies and good morale

The main selling point of the game is the tactical turn based combat and although it is well implemented and satisfying to execute, it is not too frequent.  You are also presented with choices at several points that can reduce the amount of combat you get to do even more meaning if you are not a fan of this combat, you can end up doing very little of it.  But seeing as this is one of the main draws of the game that would be a bit pointless.  The turn based combat itself is mixed up a little by a few different mechanics one of them being that health and strength are linked.  So if your character has taken a lot of damage, his damage output will also be drastically lowered.  This means you must be careful to keep damaged characters off the front line unless you want to use them as bait.  There are also a number of special moves available to each character but these mostly seem very special case use so aren’t often deployed and are wasted for most characters.  The rest of the turn based mechanics are quite normal allowing you to level up the statistics of the character over time and adding new members to your team as the campaign progresses.  But overall, the low difficulty and rareness of these sections made the feeling that it was not actually meant to be the focus of the game and it left me wanting more from the combat aspect.

The Banner Saga Review

The turn based combat is enjoyable, but fairly infrequent and unchallenging

The rest of game is spent travelling across the land with your group and the caravan with various events popping up as you travel and you are presented with decisions that must be made about them.  This aspect of the game is quite reminiscent of the classic Oregon Trail.  Like Oregon Trail, it is quite unpredictable and random as well as difficult to know how the different choices you make in the game will play out.  On more than one occasion, I made what I was sure would be the best choice only to have it blow back in my face with severe consequences.  This unpredictability further adds to the atmosphere of desperation and despair when you don’t know what is going to come along and make your life harder next.  Some of the biggest events and largest surprises happen in this travelling mode.

The Banner Saga Review

All kinds of surprise events pop up as the caravan rolls on. Some easy to deal with. Some not.

The only real negative point that I had about this game is that when playing with a PC controller, the central dead zone seems quite off even after much repeated calibrations which caused the cursor to move on its own a lot.  I never did get this resolved but it was a minor gripe so I did not research it extensively.

The Banner Saga Review Summary

Overall, I thought The Banner Saga was an enjoyable mix of two usually very separate genres but these are two genres that should probably stay separate.  A pure turn based strategy game like Fire Emblem Awakening is better because of the increased focus on combat and depth of the system.  Likewise a pure travelling simulator like Oregon Trail or Organ Trail would be better because of more emphasis on this aspect.  The Banner Saga felt like it had its attentions divided between the two areas too much so neither is as strong as they could be.  It is part of a planned trilogy but at this point, I am unsure if I enjoyed it enough to carry on with further entries in the series.  If you are looking for something a bit different and enjoy turn based strategy and/or Oregon Trail you can give this one a quick go as it is fairly short clocking in at around 7 hours but it may well leave you wanting to play something else similar that has a bit more depth to it.

Final Score: 3/5

The Banner Saga Review

All you can do is keep moving. Hoping you can find somewhere safe.

The Banner Saga on Steam

Let’s Play footage

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