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Everything about this game is amazing. The gameplay is innovative for its genre with hp being directly tied to attack power, the Oregon trail aspects of the game create an incredible sense of overarching dread as you watch your caravan slowly march on, the story manages to integrate player choice remarkably well, and Austin Wintory once again manages to score one of the best osts I've ever heard
This is like someone, somewhere said, "Okay, Oregon Trail is a fantastic game that you can't improve on...... but what if you were Vikings?? I played through this game in 2016, but wanted to revisit it this year so I could have an excuse to play 2 and 3. It remains delightful and flawed all at the same time.
You and your little caravan make your way across a (huge) map, bound for story beat points to progress, ostensibly to flee a scourge of Dredge and mount some sort of defensive front. The map is massive, full of clickable features and points that all have their own little bit of lore written in, if you take a minute to look around. As you progress, there's a combination of written-in events that have lasting consequences as well as randomly generated events that affect things like morale, food, items, etc. You also trigger battles along the way, which take place in a tactical RPG-esque field with squares, movement points, etc. It's basically games you've seen before in a Nordic/Viking wrapper.
The good points are many. The art style is fantastic. I'm not sure I've seen another game that has the same look and feel as The Banner Saga, honestly. The backgrounds are simple and elegant, without feeling too sparse, and the animated character designs are superb. The music, too, is fantastic, and really sets the mood for whatever is going on at the time. I also felt really connected with the characters, and really tried to put myself in their shoes to make the really important, game-hinging decisions along the way.
My only true complaint about the game is the weird difficulty spike at the end. I played on normal difficulty and, aside from myriad injuries along the way didn't really have trouble making it through the fights. I leveled up my characters, tried to give them useful stats, and mostly felt like I was doing what I should to prepare for the ending of the game. Turns out I had specced entirely wrong, was woefully unprepared for the ending battle(s), and ended up having to drop the difficulty to easy to avoid replaying the entire thing again. Because it's a linear game, there's no grinding or seeking out additional fights at the end to correct poorly placed stat points, and you basically have to take the ending as it comes. The difficulty spike was incredible, and even after doing some research on teh Googlez, I noted many people expressing similar frustrations about the end fight sequence.
Still, this was a delightful game, and I'm really looking forward to my playthroughs of 2 and 3 now.
I did not make my way through the first game in The Banner Saga without missteps. There are certainly some story beats that I wish I could take back—a few characters that needlessly died, days at a time where the caravan went hungry because I wasted our supplies. Those moments followed me throughout the campaign, and I'll have to deal with them into the rest of the trilogy. They are my burden to bear, my history with the game.
They tell my story—and I can't wait to fill out the rest of my banner.
This review contains spoilers
The game is like a mixture of Oregon Trail and Fire Emblem, with all the difficulty that comes with the genres. One quirk is that you are allowed to continue even if you fail a battle, allowing you learn to live with your mistakes, rather than redoing battles to make them “perfect” (a habit I am guilty of in other strategy games). But the downside of this is that if you suck at the game like me, you won’t level up much, which makes the game much harder.
The difficulty in the Oregon trail sections of the game both hurts and helps it, on one hand, you don’t have a reasonable idea of how many supplies to bring, so it seems a bit unfair when you run out or a character you just invested points in dies in a story cutscene, on the other, it adds a lot of tension to what is otherwise just watching a caravan travel across a screen.
This culminates with the final battle which is a massive jump in difficulty. I never ended up using or leveling Alette, so I was stuck with only 4 characters to fight with. It didn’t help that since it’s a two-phase fight, you end up re-doing the first half of the battle a lot. I liked the story; although I just wish there were more of it. When a character dies, its hard to care when you only have one interaction with them. Maybe the characters could’ve interacted with each other more. Probably will play the other games in the trilogy.