I didn’t play The Banner Saga when it first released but when I did I loved the world. At first I thought it a generic Scandinavian world but while it does have Norse Myth elements, it brought enough to the table to make it a unique fantasy world, one on the verge of collapse, near the end of its run, where the sun doesn’t set anymore, the land is breaking and ancient and deadly creatures emerge from the depths.
I loved the world but I struggled with the strategy elements. It took me a while to understand the balance between breaking enemy armour and going for hit point damage. Also had issues spending Renown for everything. By the time I knew what I was doing I was in a bad situation and things got worse the more I went on. I could never finish the game on my first playthrough to be honest.
That’s why, before I previewed The Banner Saga 2, I went back and cleared the first one as fast as possible.
While I expressly can’t talk about the plot or reveal any important information on characters (in other words, the stuff I want to talk about the most), I will say that what you did in The Banner Saga wasn’t the end, you didn’t win. No, it’s only one battle in a much bigger war, one that after playing the preview I don’t even know if it’s winnable. But I’m definitely going to find out. The game picks up right after the end of The Banner Saga and even keeps the chapter numbering going, starting with Chapter 8 (the first game ends on Chapter 7).
The Banner Saga 2 keeps the same elements that made the original great. The combat is still a complex dance of breaking armour and going for health damage, figuring out when it’s better to shatter enemy defenses instead of sapping their strength and positioning is still paramount, unless you’re a Varl with the Tempest attack, in which case you might be able to use it to your advantage.
But now, in The Banner Saga 2 they build on these elements, adding new layers to them. With the ability to import characters from the first title, simply increasing stats is not enough. So once you max out a given stat, you can now unlock one of two perks for it, each with three levels, giving you extra bonuses such as a higher chance to dodge or improved critical percentages. These add more customisation to the characters, letting you create ‘builds’ that make two heroes with the same skills completely different.
The combat itself received an overhaul, with clearer information on skill use. For example, the “Arc Lightning” skill now displays which enemies will get hit when the chain lightning jumps, something that I felt was sorely missing in The Banner Saga. But while that is there, another combat annoyance of mine is still present: the lack of countdown or blast radius information on the exploding rocks the Inferno Slinger Dredge throw. Some easy to see information on when they’re going to go off and how big the explosion is going to be would be very helpful to play my moves.
Remember the Trainer in your camp? Well, that got a nice upgrade as well. You can still spar and try out your party compositions, but now he’ll give you challenges, where you fight a set of enemies with a specific party combination. If you manage to pull off the maneuvers, you earn a lot of Renown without injuring any of your party members. It takes some of the potential frustration of managing the Renown, since you don’t have to depend on enemy battles to get more.
Characters get new skills even, sometimes it’s a single one but at other levels they can choose which one they’ll get. For a couple of Varl I had the choice between “Forge Ahead,” which puts another character next on the initiative list, or “Tempest.” As I hadn’t gotten much out of “Forge Ahead” I gave them both “Tempest” and didn’t regret it!
The Banner Saga 2 is shaping up to be the right kind of sequel, the one that keeps the best and improves on the formula, making it fresh and attractive to not only fans of the original but new players alike. The story has a few interesting twists, new fun characters and a ton of decisions to make that will potentially break your party.
One of the toughest decisions I made was with a warrior who felt he was becoming a monster in his family’s eyes and considered leaving the battlefield to be with them. It meant losing a powerful warrior, but could I be responsible for his family losing faith in him? It was tough and personal and in that moment, The Banner Saga 2 made me part of this world and I was fully immersed.
I do wish there was a fast-forward the caravan travelling though as it can get quite slow sometimes. I love the art style and enjoy the beautifully drawn landscapes, but fast-forward would be very welcome. Having said so, an in the spirit of reducing the frustration, your people will now forage for food on occasion, bringing in something to munch on to fill your reserves. You also get real-time information on the changes in supplies and morale, as it now tends to shift more from day-to-day.
I’m excited for The Banner Saga 2 and I’m definitely going to be reviewing it when it launches later this month. The Banner Saga 2 releases on Windows and Mac OS X on April 19th.