The Banner Saga Preview – Bloody Battles and Political Wars
A bead of sweat lodges itself right above my eyebrows, as I survey the tattered battlefield. The snow is falling in the backdrop as a massive giant stands before me, dressed in heavy black armour that seems impenetrable. An entire town lays in ruins as I think of the men, women and children who just lost their homes and loved ones. I brought them to this place. How can I stand up and call myself their leader?
This is what The Banner Saga made me feel. I couldn’t handle the pressure. I made bad decisions, and my followers paid the price. Even during this short preview of the single-player campaign, I can already tell this turn-based strategy title will almost certainly leave me emotionally drained by the end.
Set among the backdrop of ancient Norse mythology, The Banner Saga tells the tale of warring factions fighting for survival as an evil army known as The Dredge begin to take over the world. In this world, humans live begrudgingly alongside giant vikings known as Varl, most of which aren’t sympathetic to the plight of the puny humans. It’s a great exploration of racial differences that steps away from stereotypes and delves into it at a fundamental level.
Each town has a banner: a fragile piece of fabric, with the stories of those living within its walls woven onto either side. During my time with the game I was given control of two main parties, each with different political views and objectives, the only similarities between them being the fact that The Dredge were a thorn in their side. It was obvious that eventually these two parties would eventually meet, but I don’t want to go into spoiler territory with this preview.
“THERE’S NO DOUBT THAT STOIC STUDIOS ARE ONTO SOMETHING MONUMENTAL WITH THE BANNER SAGA”
One aspect of The Banner Saga I wasn’t expecting was the amount of political depth found in its mechanics between battles. The story is told via a number of animated conversations, most of them offering extensive dialogue trees that will give you options to sway relationships and learn more about current situations. Say the right thing and you will earn yourself renown among the people. Say the wrong thing, and all of a sudden your party could leave you for dead. This made me truly invested in the conversations, as I knew that the happiness and effectiveness on my army often relied on my actions.
The game is effectively broken up into three segments. When at camp, players can examine their map to see objectives and locations, purchase supplies for their long journey (provided there is a market or farm nearby), or choose to rest their troops to increase moral. Each time you rest it will cost you a day’s worth of supplies, and sometimes that is simply not an option. Balancing what you have available and your army’s happiness is key to success, which instilled the feeling that I was truly the leader of this ragtag mob of warriors.
The second segment is travelling. It will take you days to walk with your caravan to towns and objectives. As such you will need to make sure that you have enough supplies to survive the perilous journey. There are moments where you will meet up with a random group from another town, giving you the choice to invite them to join you, or perhaps they are getting ready to steal your supplies. Some of the best moments during this preview build were spent while travelling, as you get to learn the nuances of your leading soldiers and make decisions that will either benefit or hinder your group.
The final segment is combat, which plays out like a carefully planned game of chess. Each character has a myriad of stats including armour, health, special attacks and action points. It’s a little more complicated than XCOM: Enemy Unknown (my go to for newcomers to the genre), but everything it laid out nicely and should be accessible to most people. Turns are initiative based, with the winning condition being the last army standing. What sets The Banner Saga apart for me was the importance of breaking defenses. When attacking you decide if you are going to go for hit points, or defense points. Damaging defense will mean that attacks from the rest of you characters will be more effective, but you need to balance that with your own health and defense meters. It takes a few battles to sink in, but the system is really unique and adds a layer of depth that is certainly welcome.
There is a moment in the preview build that will forever stick with me. Safe in my small village, The Dredge quickly stormed through, killing women and children and taking our supplies. We were forced to run, and as the civilians began to flee to the hills, my soldiers and I took a stand. Just as the blood began to spill, the snow began to fall around us. It was moving in a way I simply cannot describe, and it was that very moment that sold me on what The Banner Saga is trying to achieve.
A great story is wrapped up inside a game that cleverly combines narrative, political intrigue and bloody turn-based combat in a way I’ve never experienced before. There’s no doubt that Stoic Studios are onto something monumental with The Banner Saga, and I cannot wait to see the final product upon release.
Chapter 1 of The Banner Saga is set for release on January 14.
I’m currently running a Patreon campaign that will allow me to delve deeper into The Banner Saga and the story behind its development. If you would like to contribute $1 or more, please visit this page