The Sundr is down, Bellower defeated and with him, a loved one lost. The apocalypse still rages on, the serpent devouring everything in its path. You must only take your clansmen, your varl and your warriors to Aberrang for safety. It’s the next chapter in the story of the Banner Saga.

Genre(s): Tactical RPG

Developer: Stoic

Publisher: Versus Evil

Release Date: April 2016

Played: Main campaign

Platforms: PC

Purchase At: Steam

Good:

  • Builds on the first game.

  • Anti-frustration features.

  • Bolverk and Folka.

Bad:

  • Empire Strikes Back Syndrome.

Review

The Banner Saga 2, as I mentioned in my preview a couple of weeks ago, picks up right after the end of the previous game. If you have them, you can import your saves and continue on with the choices you made. If you don’t, then The Banner Saga 2 lets you choose which character died in the last game.

But much like in the first Banner Saga, you don’t just control one banner but two and this time around, the leader for the second one is Bolverk, a character we only met at the end of the first game. He’s a berserker and deals boatloads of damage to enemies, with the tiny detail that he also whacks whoever’s adjacent to him, enemy or friendly, except for the shield maiden Folka, his second in command.

The Banner Saga 2
By sea or land, they’re just as slow!

These two characters drive the personal stories for this caravan in the Banner Saga 2. Their relationship is tight but depending on your choices there will be friction, particularly as Folka acts as the buffer between the surly Varl and the rest of the Ravens, his mercenary company. With Bolverk having increasingly strange dreams and hearing the enemy’s voice in his head, his strained relationship with Folka and how it tests their loyalty and friendship makes for some compelling drama and characterisation. This and the budding—because I wanted it to be—relationship between Oddleif and Rook were the best moments of the game for me.

As with its predecessor, The Banner Saga 2 has tons of story decisions while your caravan slowly walks the land. These story moments have direct consequences on your supplies, manpower and morale but you can’t know how they’ll all play out until you face the consequences chapters down the line. How could I have known that setting that witch free from a tree would make her then attack my caravan and take some of my supplies? How could I know that the Governor would judge me unworthy and then attempt to kill me? The choices in The Banner Saga have far-reaching consequences and you never know if you’re making the right one.

The Banner Saga 2
Oops!

The plot itself while good suffers from Empire Strikes Back syndrome, where the second film in the trilogy leaves you with more questions than answers. Rook’s side of things has very little in terms of revelations or even advancement of the overarching story. Bolverk’s side has much more meat in this regard but always shies away from giving you definite information. The get big reveals in the last chapter but they’re on the “Luke, I’m your Father!” scale, where you get the shock but no real explanations on what it all means. And both sides end with massive cliffhangers.

The Banner Saga 2 takes what we had in the first game and adds to it, with better tooltips for combat abilities, showing you exactly how they’ll play out and which enemies (or allies) they’ll hit. I was happy for this, particularly when using Eywind’s powers. Character development now has talents for maxed out stats, letting you further customise each of your warriors, even those in the same class. New skills to pick up and new items also help in this.

The Banner Saga 2
Don’t look down!

But what I liked best about The Banner Saga 2 was how many anti-frustration elements it added. For example, now your caravan’s people will go foraging for food as you walk. This gives you a little boost to your supplies, making it easier to keep going. Your trainer now has challenges for you, both teaching you how to play your classes effectively and with each other and giving you a nice boost in Renown to spend on supplies and improving your heroes. Speaking of the currency, you get a lot more of it per encounter and many more story choices give you Renown, making your resources easier to manage.

Music and visual design are as strong as ever, with beautiful landscapes for your caravan to visit and soothing melodies to go along with some of the more awe-inspiring locales. The Godstones are the strongest point in the game, gorgeous and with wonderful stories. There is no voice-acting save for the narrators speaking when approaching a new important settlement, and that’s ok. With potentially hundreds of characters, voice acting would’ve been crazy difficult and expensive. The best about the music is that Stoic’s sound design is good enough to know when less-is-more, when you don’t need music and just let environmental sounds do the atmospheric work for you.

Conclusion

The Banner Saga 2 is a strong tactical game, not just in its combat but also in the myriad of decisions you have to make. It puts you into the shoes of leaders, and shows you how difficult their choices can be. I only wished more work had gone into the overarching narrative as there is very little said about it.

TMA SCORE:

4.5/5 – Amazing

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