The Banner Saga, initially released back in 2014, has always been a game that I’ve kept on my radar since it’s release but sadly never got round to playing. Roll on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One release of the game and I finally had the chance to get stuck into this gorgeous looking game of turn based battles and viking-inspired fantasy. With The Banner Saga 2 releasing sometime this year what would be a better time than now to jump right in. As always though, does the game hold up and how has the jump to PlayStation 4 gone for The Banner Saga?
Being a turned based game The Banner Saga spends most of it’s time putting you in control of your units from above, looking down on the action as it unfolds by your command. You’ll also spend time in town style menu where your manage your units, visit the market and rest when needed and lastly, dialogue scenes. Though these make up the main core of The Banner Saga you’ll spend most of the time in combat which is easily the best part of the game. From picking your units, deploying them on the battlefield and then crushing some skulls. Your take it in turns against your enemy to move, act and repeat all in a single fight. Arguably you only need to focus on two keep values in combat being your armour and health but really there is a lot more depth to it than just that.
You have a limited number of units and most of the time you’ll be outnumbered and need to plan the best approach to take down each enemy and overcome the battle. From archers to broadswords, axes and spears, there is a unit type somewhere in The Banner Saga that you can put in your team to deal out the damage. As you fight and earn experience you’ll level up your units and be able to handle bigger fights, better gear and perform more actions. From firing an arrow through a line of enemies or swinging your sword around you to cut down groups, the use of willpower and other stats enhances the combat and the strategies that is available to you. Sadly, the controls in battle for navigating menus and controls are a bit messy and don’t feel that natural but once you get use to them it quickly stops being a problem.
Additionally there is a caravan mechanic that I quickly came to enjoy as you try to balance a number of values such as food, morale and caravan size. Some events that unfold during the game can hugely impact these numbers which in turn, further impacts the way the game plays out so it’s important to manage these effectively. They also help with the pacing of the game giving you a sense of calm and a moment to think ahead, as well as reflect on your recent events which is grand.
As I have already mentioned The Banner Saga is a gorgeous looking game that has some simply stunning artwork throughout the experience. From the backgrounds to the character portraits used in dialogue scenes to the menu items, all look in place and beautiful. You’re given some control over the panning of the camera during scenes to explore the artwork a bit more and using the DualShock 4 touchpad can make this feel gentle and simple. Though at times hitting the touchpad by mistake can send the camera flying might throw you off a bit but it doesn’t happen that often. There is an option to zoom in as well, using the L2 and R2 buttons on the DualShock 4 which helps in battles but results in some of the artwork getting blurred. In battles you’ll likely want to keep the game zoomed out to give you an overview of the battlefield but having the function there is nice.
One of the visual elements that throw me off a bit and took some time to get use to where the animations. Characters often look like they move in jumpy and unnatural ways which can be off-putting but never to the point that it ruins the event. After an hour or two I became accustomed to it and it became part of the charm of the game. As a whole, all visuals and animations feel right at home on the PlayStation 4 and looks great with solid performance throughout the game. Personally I am really enjoying the artwork for the towns and cities which also work at menus too. They are just so stunning and impressive that on a big screen really furthers the impact and enjoyment.
The story in The Banner Saga is delivered from a number of different perspectives during the events that unfold. You’ll jump from time to time to see how all the characters are getting on and it is a great way for The Banner Saga to tell it’s story. Not only that but it all takes place in a world that is deep and rich in lore that just continues to grow bigger and better as the game plays out. The world map, which can be viewed freely, will let you read up more on the lore and details for the world around you. You won’t be going everywhere but it gives scope and scale to both the world and events of The Banner Saga which will only unfold more in the next game.
One of the main selling points of the story to The Banner Saga is that your decisions affect the game and the story you will experience. These decisions in dialogue and combat do generally make a huge impact on the game and how it plays out. One early moment I replayed to see if the outcome was similar but was pleasantly surprised to find that there were a few outcomes, even at this early stage. It makes you care for the story and want to pay attention to the events that unfold and invest your own time into playing out the story that you want to experience. A lack of a ‘log’ of sorts is an issue however as being able to review past dialogue would’ve been helpful at times for me and my short memory but generally the lack of it is okay.
Additionally, some voice acted cutscenes make The Banner Saga feel like a cinematic epic as you watch characters fight, love and live within this story you are changing thanks to your decisions. There is a lot that can be said about the story but I don’t want to give anything away because honestly it is engaging, deep and strong throughout the whole game and if nothing else is worth visiting The Banner Saga.
Touching on audio can I point out that all the audio, including the voice acting, is brilliant. From the sounds of swords and shields bashing together to the roar of characters charging into the fight. It all feels in style and fits within the world and really enhances the game and make you feel more immersed.
The Banner Saga on PlayStation 4 is a great additional to anyone’s collection that really shows what games can do. With stunning visuals, effective and deep lore with a dark and engaging story. To enjoyable and immersing gameplay that captures the mood and tones of the story that unfolds in front of you as your own decisions impact the outcome.
With the claim that all your progress and storyline carry over to The Banner Saga 2 will ensure I keep my save and maybe even play through the game again. It’s this investment I have in the world and it’s characters that really makes me love The Banner Saga and want to keep playing. Though there are some interface problems and control complaints, I think that many people will find these accessible and be able to handle them but it is worth taking into account.
As a whole though The Banner Saga is a solid experience well worth your time and it fits onto the PlayStation 4 just fine with next to no issues. If you still have not had the chance to play the game yet then I would recommend picking it up and having a great time. Now if you don’t mind, there is a caravan that needs marching.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided by Stoic Studio.