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    dkirschner's The Banner Saga (PC)

    [December 31, 2015 09:52:04 AM]
    I didn't quite know what to expect from The Banner Saga. It looked like some sort of viking themed strategy RPG also consisting of leading a caravan from one place to another. I guess that's a decent description in actuality. The caravan gives it a distinct Oregon Trail feel. There's no dysentery, but some of my rations were poisoned, there were fights among caravan members, I ran into bandits, I did ford a river (chose that option as a nod to good ole Oregon Trail!), found lots of cities and ruins, and tons of other events. In that sense it reminded me also of Faster Than Light, or other roguelikes with various events that can happen on the journey. So...Oregon Trail + Faster Than Light + narrative Telltale Games + Shining Force II. If you like all those games, then The Banner Saga will gel with you.

    The setting is distinctly bleak. It's set in a viking/Norse inspired fantasy world with rich history that you can explore by reading location descriptions on the map. There have been two great wars. Humans and varl (like viking giants) allied with each other against the dredge (a heavily armored race of humanoids who reminded me of white walkers). Like white walkers, the dredge invade from the frozen north and are relentless. They've got a leader like Night's King (Bellower). Bellower has a key weakness, just as the white walkers (not sure about Night's King), and I haven't read far enough in the Game of Thrones books to know if there are more big similarities. They're different enough, but I got a familiar feeling from the dredge.

    You play as several different characters in the first chunk of the game, then it settles you into the role of a human named Rook for most of it. Simply put, the dredge are invading (supposedly) and you are trying to make it from A to B, and then when things go inevitably wrong, to C to D to E, etc. The flow of the game is nowhere as simple or predictable as "go from A to B, event happens, go from B to C, event happens, go from C to D..." You might pass through a town on the way to your main destination and find that there is a little civil war going on within its walls. Will you deal with that or leave them to their fighting? Depending on your choices, you'll gain or lose followers, gain/lose rations, morale, renown, etc. So you eventually leave, and are quickly set upon by a faction from that town who, for example, is pissed off that you intervened. Do you fight them, convince them to come with you, run away? Again, more consequences. Then maybe your scouts spot a huge dredge force ahead. Do you charge, go around, camp out for a while to see what they are doing, try to split their forces, lead them back to the other town? Again, consequences. And so on.

    All of these choices and consequences feel very significant. You have a lot of resources to think about when making decisions. You have some number of regular caravan travelers (like normal townsfolk), human fighters, and varl. These can fluctuate. Have a lot, and you go through rations faster. Don't have enough, and some of the larger "war" fights will be tough and you'll incur more losses. Did you run out of rations? Great, then every day people in your caravan will die and morale will drop faster. But hopefully that next town has a market with some rations. Or oh! I'm stumbled upon a small farm with some animals. Do I pillage it or be nice and leave the farmers alone and starve until the next town. When I get to town, I can spend renown (global experience points basically) on rations, on promoting my warriors, or on purchasing equippable items. Which is more important? Should I starve more to promote that varl to level 5? Is not starving and having higher morale better for the caravan than promoting my warriors? If I have high morale, then all my units in combat get willpower bonuses (essentially more extra attack power or actions). Or I can let morale drop so they get no bonuses or even take penalties, but purchase a nice new item or promote a character or two. AAAAAAAAAAAH!

    I would literally sit in front of the screen for 10 minutes at a time weighing options. These decisions are brutal because there isn't enough of any resource to go around. You will starve. Your morale will drop. You will not promote all your warriors as much as you wish you could. You will not buy many of the items. It is a fact of life in The Banner Saga.

    Combat is of course a huge part of the game. It's familiar grid-style strategy RPG combat like your Shining Force II, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, etc., but is fresh too. Every character has 5 stats: armor, strength, willpower, exertion, and break, plus one passive ability and one active special ability. Strength doubles as attack power and health. So the more strength you lose, you are not only closer to death, but you don't hit as hard. Losing strength can severely weaken a character and make things difficult. So to counter that, get armor! Usually, you have to whittle down an enemy's armor to do much strength damage. So for example, I have 12 armor and 12 strength, and an enemy has 10 armor and 10 strength. If I make a strength attack against him, I will do 2 by default (my 12 strength - his 10 armor = 2). If he attacks me at full strength, he will do 1 (10 strength - 12 armor = a base damage of 1; you'll always do 1). Or will you? If I have more armor than he has strength, he gets a 10% penalty on chance to hit (which is otherwise always 100%). So really, he has an 80% chance to hit me for 1 strength damage.

    So what you do is get their armor down by choosing an armor break attack (modified by your armor break stat). So if you're only going to do 1 damage to an enemy's strength, you might want to hit him for 3 armor instead, which will make it easier to do more strength damage later. This all makes perfect sense once you are playing! Willpower comes into effect because it allows you to modify damage. If I have one willpower, I can use a special attack (costs 1 for each level, up to 3), or I can add a damage to a regular attack. To add damage though, I need points in the exertion stat, which determines how much willpower I can use during an action. So if a character has 3 exertion, and has the available willpower, he can really clobber an enemy. If he would only do 1 strength damage normally, for example, he can use willpower to do 4. Yay! Exertion and willpower will save you a lot and are very useful. All the stats are very useful and, like the other resources, you will not be able to max out all the stats even if you promote the character all the way. You always have to choose wisely!

    Finally, the art and music are fantastic, and I enjoyed the story, even though it didn't really resolve. Apparently there is another Banner Saga game in development and these will be just parts of a larger story or something. I dunno. I could have kept playing this for a long time so I was a little bummed when it ended. It doesn't end abruptly or anything. It is very climactic. But it is obvious that the story isn't finished. I really want a sequel.
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    dkirschner's The Banner Saga (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Sunday 27 December, 2015

    GameLog closed on: Thursday 31 December, 2015

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    This is amazing. It's like The Walking Dead games, but with some SRPG combat. Bleak setting. ------------- So intense, much decisions.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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