Abandon all hope, ye who banner
Editor?s Note: This review includes what some may consider spoilers?mostly regarding the original game. You?ve been warned.
If you?re like me, then choices in video games have grown a bit dull. You can be a ?good guy? or an ?evil guy,? and the disguising of which option you?re choosing is about as transparent as a Buzzfeed quiz on which Real Housewife of Beverly Hills you are. However, The Banner Saga 2 presents a world where there is no clear good or bad. Instead, the game focuses on the gray areas that occur when dealing with survival and leadership. Who is to say the right decision is to allow nomads to join your clan when that means more mouths to feed with your limited supplies? How do you earn respect when you disagree with the bloodthirsty nature of some of your followers?
The Banner Saga 2 is the second game in the Banner Saga trilogy. Just like the Kickstarter-funded 2014 original, it is a turn-based strategy/RPG that has players control a caravan of Nordic clansmen and giants (known in the game as Varls) as they attempt to stay alive in an icy land, now flooded with the dangerous Dredge. The option to import a save file from the first game is present, but?whether you never played the original, or wished you had made some different decisions?you can start fresh by choosing which character you would like to play as; Rook or Anette.
This is a very brave choice by developer Stoic Studio, because the entire game changes based on which of the duo you decide upon. Pick Rook, and you play a character who has suffered a great loss during the war against the Dredge; go with Alette, and your tale revolves around becoming a leader of your people as they seek the sanctuary of Arberrang. Will you be strong, compassionate, or feared? The choices are yours to make.
These choices?who you save, what food you eat, whether or not to smile at a child?are the thing that makes The Banner Saga 2 so powerful. While many reviewers will point only to its breathtaking art, or mention the sophisticated elevation of a turn-based strategy/RPG, the game?s largest success is that it makes you feel like a true leader. I?m not talking about the flawless hero that will be told about in legend, but instead the type of leader who people look to when a tough decision has to be made. You learn, and learn quickly, that you can?t please everyone, and that the goal is being able to live with yourself. The story of The Banner Saga 2, however, is split between multiple characters, which means that not only will you have to decide which choices are correct for each party, but also learn the combatants for various groups that you may not have played as otherwise.
Nearly identical to the original Banner Saga, combat is turn-based. Players first choose from a pool of characters to include in the skirmish, then strategically place them on the battlefield. Depending on choices you?ve made throughout the story, different characters may or may not be available during certain fights, and each has interesting abilities that you can use to succeed. For instance, Alette has Overwatch?a skill that causes the archer to fire upon any enemies that enter her range. Meanwhile, Bolverk the berserker can attack twice each turn, but his rage may cause him to attack an adjacent ally.
By taking down enemies, players gain Renown, which can be spent in town on items and food, or used to level up your characters. Stats and abilities can be leveled up, and it is up to you to decide what to prioritize as your heroes grow. I found myself taking after the old saying, ?A best defense is a good offense,? maxing out my damage and critical hit chances before anything else. This proved exceptionally successful with the new horseborn class, and the pike-wielding Tryggvi.
Even though I engaged in many battles, I never found myself bored by the game?s combat. While most engagements were your typical ?kill all of the enemies,? I really appreciated that The Banner Saga 2 shifted the conditions for winning several times. For example, in one battle, my defenders had to form a shield wall to protect against enemies while my offensive-minded characters cleared the road of snow.
I did, however, find myself playing as the same characters quite often. As they leveled up, it only reinforced my eagerness to use them as the other characters were left in the dust. Some sort of incentive to play the other units would have gone a long way at getting me out of my comfort zone, but the only one I could find revolved around unlocking achievements. It?s a shame, because all of the characters have such unique designs.
The review couldn?t be complete without mentioning the visual style of the game. If you are familiar with the Banner Saga series, the quality of the art should be no surprise to you. Every frame of the game is beautiful, from the character portraits to the waving banner from which the game takes its name. With a hand-drawn, Don Bluth-like aesthetic, The Banner Saga 2 conjures instant feelings of nostalgia for anyone of a certain age. This has been handled with the care of movies you watched as a child, each pen-stroke working towards creating the game?s fantastical world.
By the time I had finished crossing the game?s map, I found myself changed. Fights were hard, but I would get through them. Food was scarce, but we would survive. People died, but they wouldn?t be forgotten.
I wasn?t a leader when I started The Banner Saga 2, but by the end I was as solid as a godson.
|Developer: Stoic Studio ? Publisher: Versus Evil ? ESRB: T – Teen ? Release Date: 04.19.16|
While many reviewers will point to The Banner Saga 2?s breathtaking art, or mention the sophisticated elevation of a turn-based strategy/RPG, the game?s largest success is that it makes you feel like a true leader.
|The Good||The Banner Saga 2 is the adult, Viking version of Oregon Trail in the best way possible.|
|The Bad||The difficulty in some battles and training can be rage-inducing.|
|The Ugly||The wait for Banner Saga 3.|
|The Banner Saga 2 is available on PC and Mac, with versions for Xbox One and PS4 coming later. Primary version reviewed was for PC. Review code was provided by Versus Evil for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|