Aside from all the fast shooters and MOBAs coming out these days there are a few that simply tell great stories through beatiful pictures and interesting characters. The first Banner Saga was on of those games. The round based tactical fights were fun and challenging, but the most important part of the game was its story, its characters and the tough decisions you had to make. The beautiful art design seems to be same in “The Banner Saga 2”, but is its narrative part as good as the first one?
If you want to understand the story completely you have to play the first game. Banner Saga 2 continues right after the ending of part one and doesn’t explain characters or the situation very much. Players who start with this one will get an enjoyable second chapter that tells its own story, but again, to understand everything the first part is required.
Without telling too much because of spoilers, your journey continues through the fictional nordic land after the Dredge, an army of fearsome stone warriors, has attacked the world and its people. Its people aren’t just humans though. The most important non-humans are the varls. Nordic giants with horns on their heads. Varls and humans follow your clan through the world, seeking for safety and food. And food can be a tougher enemy than a dredge-army. Hard to get and even harder to keep, food is what defines the morality and strength of your clan. No food means unhappy clansmen and weaker warriors. Weaker warriors means losing fights, which means you lose ressources, such as food. To get food, you have to trade at markets, but the only “money” in the game required for both food and to upgrade you warriors. Difficult decisions to make …
Decisions is what this game is about. Not only the strategic aspect, if you need food or better fighters. Or how to win battles. The story is all about your decisions to save your clan. When under attack, do you want to build barricades out of food barrels? The fight would be easier but the food will be lost. Or spare the barrels and risk to lose the fight? Or which people do you want to save? The young or old ones?
These decisions become really difficult, because there is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, its always what you feel is right. But it never really feels right. And a missing save feature makes sure you go on with your decisions. People who die stay dead, there is no ‘perfect way’. And this is what makes the game so great.
You want your people to live. All your fighters have a story to tell and it hurts everytime when a few clansmen die in a fight or starve. Its never frustrating, you want to keep going, want to save as many as possible, always want to make the right decisions. Combined with the artstyle, ‘The Banner Saga 2’ is an amazing storyteller (like part 1).
The fights are easy to learn and hard to master. In turns we or the enemy move a soldier on the battlefield and let him do certain actions, like simply attack or do a special ability move. Each character has both an armor and a life bar. The armor bar protects the fighter of course from damage, reducing it will make the attacks more painful. The life bar is -well- the life of the fighter, but reducing it also affects the attacking strength. You can either attack ‘armor’ of ‘life’ but not both (except certain special abilities). So do you want to reduce the armor to make more damage in the next rounds or do you want to reduce his life and his attack strength so that your enemy cannot hit you that hard? This simple technique creates difficult battle situations and requires some training and thinking. The AI does a good job, to keep the battles always challenging but never unfair. I wish there would be just a few more fighting situations.
The dialogues are presented in textform with portraits of the talking character. Here I would like to have more … variety. Even though the story is really interesting and so are the characters, there were moments when the dialog was about something that didn’t really matter or when the talking was too much so you just said something to continue. Also the tone of character should have more variety. You should have the option to be a caring father for everyone or an aggressive lonely wolf (or street dog) who doesn’t care much about his people, which of course would affect whether your clan likes you or not. Some situations where two characters were about to fight each other and you have to deal with it were cool and your decision important, but sometimes it was asking about something unimportant just to keep the story going. Again, the story is very good, but there could be more intense conflicts between your clansmen to deal with.
After almost every sentence in my review I could have put the words ‘like Banner Saga 1, just a bit better’. The whole game is like Banner Saga 1, just a bit better. The artstyle is the same, the storytelling is, characters of course, the fighting mechanics. And that is good. This game is already complete, major changes would would probably have a negative effect. The Banner Saga will be a trilogy and I hope the third part will be like the previous ones. Just a bit better.