At long last, the time has come to once again take on the fearsome Dredge with the release of the second instalment of The Banner Saga series.
Developed by Stoic Studios, the sequel to the original Kickstarter game continues just after the curtains close on the first game and depending on whether you have played the first game or not, you have the option to port over your save file so your character can continue to lead the humans and the Varl to victory.
After the success of the first Banner Saga, Stoic have stepped up to the mark and produced another truly beautiful turn-based strategy game. The story itself is compelling, the dialogue is fantastic and the games’ aesthetics are simply awe-inspiring. For those that have played the original game, you won’t be able to miss the striking and iconic hand-drawn visuals that have made this game famous. As you would expect, the sequel has upped its game and improved the backdrops, making it feel more up to date and modern and rightly so, considering the game now has more money and backing behind it. The game has once again incorporated a fantastic score, one which has been composed, like the first Banner Saga, by Austin Wintory. This inclusion really adds depth to the action and encapsulates so much emotion and tension through the entire game. I, for one, will be purchasing the soundtrack after playing this game so my car journey to work is epic as hell!
A few people have recommended playing the original Banner Saga first, simply to give the story some more context and also all your choices, as stated before, will carry over from a previous save file. This even includes characters who have previously died, which means the game could be wildly different from player to player. For newcomers, though, there is a great story re-cap option at the opening menu before the game begins to get you up to speed on all the previous events. If you haven’t played the original, then this will really help.
At the start of the game you are given the option to play as two different characters. Rook, the ranger who seems hell bent on getting revenge on the Dredge for the losses he has suffered, or his daughter Alette, who has taken the place of her father to become the leader, trying to win over the confidence of your men. The general tone of the game doesn’t drastically change if you pick different characters, but it does give you the chance to play the game again and have different abilities, decisions to make etc. so it’s always worth giving the game a second go.
In terms of the games mechanics there hasn’t been a huge amount of change which is great to see because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. All Stoic seem to have done is make the game feel a bit more streamline and refine a few things, especially when it comes to combat. Combat now seems to be more difficult with the inclusion of different enemies that have been added and they have also decided to add destructible environments; these can be either in the form of barrels, having to shovel away snow to get to an enemy or even holes in the ground that can be used tactically to force the Dredge into them. The types of battles themselves are now varied as some conflicts have specific victory conditions, so unlike the previous Banner Saga which saw you just having to kill all the enemies to win, you can now just kill one specific character or hold back the enemy for a certain amount of time.
One of the most important aspects of the game is to collect something called ‘Renown’. Renown is used for multiple elements throughout the game and can be used to both level up and improve your characters as well as restoring items in your caravan such as items, supplies and keeping your men fed. Banner Saga 2 does make it easier than its predecessor because as long as you have men still alive, they will periodically search for supplies, allowing you to spend your Renown on items and skills instead. This doesn’t mean you are going to be drowning in Renown, but it is definitely easier to obtain in the sequel.
In addition to being able to play as new humans and Varl, Banner Saga 2 has included a new playable race of Centaurs known as Horse Born. These guys have a much further movement range than other races, they also have new weapons, special abilities and can attack then retreat afterwards, getting you well out of the way of any flailing swords or axes. Having the Horse Born at your disposal creates new tactics and can completely change the way to go about destroying the enemy. Another addition to your roster are stealth units that can sneak around the battlefield and weaken your opponents, ready for your larger characters to deal the final, devastating blow.
Another great change in the sequel is the diversity of landscapes. The vast majority of what we saw in its predecessor was white, snowy mountains which, although looked fantastic could have done with a bit more variety. Now in the second instalment, we see a huge variety of locations on which to do battle with the Dredge. These range from mountains, to luscious green forests and a few more that I’ll let you discover for yourself. Having this simple addition to the game gives it a much grander scale as you feel like you are travelling further afield in the hopes to reach safety.
Choices play a large part of the Banner series. These can range from tiny decisions, like training or choosing when to rest, to huge decisions when it comes to battling the Dredge. For example, I decided to send my boat through a river with obstacles in the way, rather than walking around and carrying the boat with me. This meant I lost a great deal of men as many of the boats crashed, took on water and caused my men to drown. These decision can be on the battlefield or with characters throughout the story, affecting how they treat you and whether they will come to your aid or even deceive you.
A lot of the main story threads do get sown up and answered nicely, but there are definitely a few loose ends that are still left out. This gives Banner Saga 2 a bit of a “middle episode” feel as we know it is building up to its climactic third act in the promising trilogy. Although this may seem a bit underwhelming for some people, I believe that Stoic have got something spectacular up their sleeve and will be unleashing something special upon us in the final instalment.
Overall, Banner Saga 2 is an incredible turn-based strategy game which is unbelievably beautiful. The sequel gives you the chance to play through the story from two different perspectives and gives us a great choice of both new characters and some specific victory conditions. Nearly all of the dialogue in the game is written and not spoken, so some voice acting would have been a good asset – I don’t mind reading text but it would have made the conversations flow just that little bit better.