Put simply, Bannermen is a poor man’s Age of Empires. For those RTS lovers out there, this title will most likely feel familiar to you. Unfortunately, Bannermen doesn’t quite execute the ideas it sets up as well as it might have wanted to, making me wish I had just booted up Age of Empires or StarCraft instead.
Don’t expect the story to move you in any way. As far as fantastical tales go, this one felt pretty familiar. The world of Valtoria has been ravished by war and death at the hands of the malevolent Lord Karthor. One of the few remaining survivors, Lord Berrian, must reunite his Bannermen and rally them to his cause. This is essentially the basis of the campaign. You and your army, or what’s left of it, must march forth and defeat Lord Karthor before he destroys your Kingdom.
There were some attempts to add lore into this game and breath life into the otherwise familiar narrative, however, “attempt” is all that was really felt here. There wasn’t enough lore, that I could find, to really make me care more about the world I was trying to survive in. A few cutscenes do what they can to add more drama to the situation, and to their credit they’re voice acted pretty well, but sadly it does little to really pull you in.
Resource collection in Bannermen feels more like an afterthought. Where in Age of Empires you have multiple resources to manage and farm, Bannermen over-simplifies the concept and only requires you to farm two; wood and gold. Apparently, things like meat or stone aren’t required to build or survive in Bannermen. This oversimplified concept takes away from the immersion. How am I feeding all of these soldiers I’m creating? How are stone houses being built or weapons being made when I’m just collecting wood and gold? And why isn’t everything made out of gold is that is a primary resource I need to find?! It’s one of those mechanics I suppose you’re not meant to look too far into.
Once you get past these plot holes, it’s time to suit up and jump into the campaign. These missions are very reminiscent of Age of Empires, point and click your troops to the bad guys and watch as they dismember each other. In terms of missions, there really isn’t any innovation being implemented here, meaning they’re what you would expect from a game like this. Most of them involve finding the enemy encampment(s), sending your guys there and hoping you sent enough to pull off a win. There is the occasional “transport this caravan from point A to point B without it being destroyed” but those feel like shallow quests thrown in to give the game some variety.
You’ll find yourself getting into a familiar routine, similar to any other RTS really. You’ll make workers, those workers gather the only two resources in the game and use them to make your houses. The more houses/buildings you have the more units you can create and send into battle. Wash, rinse, repeat. None of this is bad mind you, it just isn’t anything new. The heroes you can choose from can be upgraded though through skills and leveling up, so that’s cool. In between missions you can allocate points into their skills making them convenient tanks during difficult encounters.
If you’ve got the funds, you can also build temples, but only build them if you’ve got the units to defend one. Temples in this game grant “nature powers”, and though their cooldown times make them hard to use more than once during a fight, they can cause massive damage that can easily clear entire areas.
The UI elements in this game could use some tweaking for sure. Bright, hard to read green numbers and letters detail units, and the font style doesn’t really jive with the rest of what’s going on on-screen. Commands in this game are weird as well. Having a system where certain keys correspond to specific commands, the end result is having to jump all over your keyboard to execute certain orders. This made it difficult to keep track of things and made playing this on your PC an uncomfortable experience. I would’ve preferred a grouping of keys that let me perform all the commands, instead of looking for the right key because it HAD to start with the letter of the order I was looking for.
A common annoyance I found was with the AI. The agro for your units is ridiculously sensitive. So much so that I ended up huddling my units in the farthest corner of my encampment just so they wouldn’t wander off on their own when an enemy was near. Even that sometimes didn’t help though. I would be re-enforcing a building or trying to update something in my town and the next thing I know my hero would venture forth thinking he could take on an army by himself. This typically led to a restart of the mission, which only got more frustrating the more times it happened.
Mouse sensitivity is pretty off in this game. Typically in these games, you gravitate your mouse towards an edge of the screen and the screen should start to track in that direction. Here, however, when I brought my mouse towards the side of the screen, I’d encounter some weird clipping issues that would make the camera bounce back and forth a few times before moving in the direction that I wanted it to go. Word to the wise, if you’re playing this game, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to traverse the map, you’ll thank me later.
For a game that emphasizes multiplayer, you would think the wait times wouldn’t be so horrendous. I sat in a lobby for almost 5 minutes before finding another human being to pit my skills against. Once I was finally in the match, things went pretty smoothly, and it was a lot more enjoyable than going through repetitive campaign missions. That being said, after a match there is nothing to let you know how well or poorly you did. The match just ends. No stats, no documented scores of how many units I created or destroyed, it just kicks you out hoping you’ll go back for another round. I was actually a little surprised by this, I wasn’t aware a multiplayer portion of a game wasn’t capable of giving me basic stats to let me know how I performed. It’s one of those things we just come to expect in this day and age, but you absolutely notice it’s absence.
Overall, Bannermen is a fine game. It would have benefited from a longer development cycle I think, but what you get is enough to scratch that RTS itch. Just don’t go into this game expecting to see the wheel reinvented. Bannermen has some good ideas, it just seems that none of them were really given time to breathe.