I almost finished The Banner Saga today. After banging my head against the final Bellower fight for the 10th time, I’ve sufficiently burnt myself out on the game for a good long while.
That said, Viking Trail Banner Saga is probably still one of the most engaging games I’ve played recently. The game’s main draw, for me, was the phenomenal presentation. The hand-drawn art and animations were gorgeous, the music sounded great and fit the theme of the game, and I especially liked the fabric/tapestry motif that was so deeply interwoven throughout the plot.
The gameplay had its flaws, but for the most part served its purpose. I think it is pretty fair to say that The Banner Saga isn’t some deep, intricate tactical game, and the gameplay really only serves to move along the plot and introduce some variety.
The choice to have a unified, extremely finite currency that is both your money and your experience was an interesting concept, though I’m not sure it entirely worked out.Managing the supplies for your caravan is essentially a guessing game, and while sometimes you can get hints as to how long it will be until your next refuel, there’s generally no rhyme or reason to how much of your precious Renown you should spend. Seems like a hunting type of mini-game would be a nice inclusion, considering how many parallels the game already has with Oregon Trail, and the fact that your main character is a hunter, of all things.
Having a both a kill-quota and a Renown expenditure in order to level your heroes was probably my least favourite part of the game. The class system naturally lends itself to having heroes that excel at providing support functions, and heroes that excel at icing fools. By the final battle, my archers have all satisfied the kills-requirement for max level, while the shield-wielders were scrounging for body scraps.
And because Renown is both limited and used for any kind of transaction in the game, it was difficult to save up enough to level all your heroes uniformly, and at the same time, levelling only certain heroes runs the risk of you losing that hero to some choice you made 15 saves ago. All I had to choose from to face the dreaded Bellower was a single level 5 (Rook, who had the Silver Arrow), a couple of level 3s, and a bunch of level 2s, the result of me going “oh shit, I only have a level 5” at Eidartoft.
I’ll freely admit that I’m no tactical genius, but this army composition essentially meant that I had no chance in hell of winning the final encounter, given that my most effective killer wouldn’t take part.
It’s pretty clear from the branching dialogue choices and seemingly random events that this is a game that is meant to be played more than once. And once I muster up the will to run through the frozen lands of The Banner Saga again I definitely will, but when I do I will have to do a bit of metagaming in order to maximize my chances. For a plot-driven game like this, it’s a real shame for the gameplay to dominate the story. Still though, this is a hell of an enjoyable game and a good win for the indie game community.