Review: The Banner Saga (PS4)

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Title: The Banner Saga
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.53 GB)
Release Date: January 12, 2016
Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: Stoic
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: T
The Banner Saga is also available on PlayStation Vita (TBA), Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
The Banner Saga is rich in story telling with a intricate plot. We find out that the Sun has stopped moving and has caused the world to panic. We are quickly introduced to the two main races of this world, the Varl who are essentially long lived giants with horns, and humans. We also find out that the Dredge from wars past is starting to cause chaos in the world as well.

One of the best aspects of this story is choice. Throughout the game you will make choices that will affect your immediate party as well as the story further down the line. Another nice feature is that at the beginning, there are two parties that essentially tell the same main story but from different perspectives. I found this particularly attractive and would like to see this type of storytelling in more games.

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The story itself is very well told and it’s the game’s single biggest strength. At the beginning I was not sold and did not like the first hour of the tale being told. After that, the story quickly got to me and became my favorite part of the game. The character dialogue and the few cut-scenes really help to sell it. The story has so many twists and turns that you will probably want to immediately start a new game to see every choice.

Combat takes place directly from events in the story and there are no random encounters at all. This is another way I was immersed into the story. The combat is tactical in nature and takes place on a three quarter perspective field.

… the combat is layered nicely …
I found the UI for the controls to be difficult and finicky all the way through to the end. After a dozen or so hours in, I was still making mistakes. Also I found the lack of being able to rotate the field of view as a hinderance to a successful battle. I made several mistakes placing units due to this shortcoming.

As with most tactical RPG’s, the combat is layered nicely. You can either come in attacking or have a comprehensive plan using all of your character’s abilities and layered attacks. While you have different character classes, the main difference is the type of character, be it human or Varl. Each race has its strengths and weaknesses and I found a mix of both to serve me well in battle.

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While traveling in your caravan, you will come upon instances where it is all out war. I feel Stoic was trying something a little different here that didn’t quite work well enough. The game decides who and what types of characters in your caravan are used and allows you either attack full out or in formations and other choices.

It basically comes down to a single battle that you control. The better you do, the less people you lose, but that’s it. I would like to see either a larger scale battle unfold or just have a single combat experience without the war aspect.

As with most RPG’s you can upgrade your units and add items to them as well. The way you upgrade your units is by the kills they have in battle and I found this a little difficult to start with. I found some classes, like the Archer, to be harder to level up than say a Warmaster.

… the caravan system felt like Oregon Trail on steroids …
While it makes sense in most cases, there are moments in the story where you have to include an Archer in your party who is doing little to no damage because the bigger units have all of the kills. I was able to mostly rectify this later on in the game as I changed my style of play to fit this.

Equipable items play a small part in combat and party formation. Each character can equip a single item that gives them an advantage in battle, be it strength, armor breaking, or a few other attributes. As your party progresses in levels, the items get better as well.

Caravans became a very surprising and fun element for me. As you progress through the story you are given options to help or hinder your ever growing caravan. As the game progressed, I spent most of my time making sure I had enough supplies for them and reading each choice carefully. I was so immersed that at one point I ran out of supplies and was anxious to get to a town where I could buy provisions.

As with the rest of The Banner Saga, story takes center stage and small moments can grow into larger ones. For example, I made a what I thought was a simple choice of trying to save a wagon, and that led to me losing one of my favorite characters that I used often in battle. At times, the caravan system felt like Oregon Trail on steroids, and I loved it for that fact.

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Visuals:
The Banner Saga is outright gorgeous. It’s one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. The art direction here is truly king. From the character portraits to the backgrounds, everything is well realized in a beautiful fashion.

I found myself studying the backgrounds and small details found everywhere in the world. Each region or town has its own style but they share similarities with the other areas. Characters are well thought out and detailed. I want to also point out the design in the Godstones, each one is richly detailed and pops off the screen. As for any technical glitches, I have yet to see any issues here. The game runs as beautiful as it looks.

… I would have liked the whole game to have voice work …
Audio:
Another thing the game excels at is the music. Over the hours, I did not get tired of it at all. Each track is excellent and seems to fit the mood perfectly. One thing I also love is how sparingly the music is used at times – it is only there when it is needed. Along with that, it is well paced with soaring choruses during a poignant story moment or a frantic battle tune when in a tough fight.

The game also features voice work which is well done for the most part. It’s used sparingly and does a great job of punctuating the story when it is used. My only complaint is that I would have liked the whole game to have voice work done, but that’s mostly because the story is so well told that it would have made it that much better.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Honestly, I was not thrilled at first with The Banner Saga, but after the first hour I found myself getting sucked in and really enjoying it. It might seem I was overly critical on some points in my review, but that comes from my enjoyment of the game and the excellent job Stoic has done here.

The story is a highlight and makes me anticipate a sequel. The combat makes me want to start a new game and do better in the early hours now that I understand the nuances more. I want to have the best caravan ever and take back some choices I made. As a gamer, I am glad to have experiences like this and highly recommend this title. It is a great start to this franchise.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Shawn Hiers

Shawn Hiers

Disabled gamer. Married Father of 3, and playing since the Atari days. I have a passion for all things Lego and an avid Toy Collector. I am also an huge Doctor Who Fan and can talk all things Who for hours 🙂

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