It has been two years since The Banner Saga originally came out for the PC. Created by ex-BioWare developers, the RPG promised a bleak story with weighty choices and consequences and engaging combat. It released to some great reviews, including our own, and despite some of its shortcomings, the word was out: this first chapter in a planned trilogy was a bold new journey. Despite the fact that The Banner Saga barely permeated mainstream consciousness, it quickly gathered a strong fan following. A sequel has been highly anticipated in that niche for some time now.
The Banner Saga 2 is now almost upon us, and I recently had a chance to play a good chunk of the game- about a third of it. I am happy to report that the sequel is exactly what you’d want and expect it to be- bigger and better. It takes everything that made the original so good, works on its noticeable flaws and delivers what is surely going to be a bleak and harrowing tale with tough choices and grave consequences.
"It takes everything that made the original so good, works on its noticeable flaws and delivers what is surely going to be a bleak and harrowing tale with tough choices and grave consequences."
The jump from The Banner Saga to The Banner Saga 2 is like the jump from Fire Emblem: Awakening to Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest in many ways, in the sense that the sequel builds a sturdy structure on the solid foundation set up by the original (more on this in a bit). The Banner Saga 2 retains the strong sense of atmosphere and space that made the first game so good. Characterization and storytelling also remain strong points for the game. It’s a dark, harrowing tale about a world coming closer and closer to its inevitable demise, and how the characters in that world deal with that fact, and how they interact with each other in light of it. And much like the first game itself, the choices you make actually have a major role to play in how the game plays out. The choices not only impact the story, but also the gameplay, often also changing the flow of battles.
Storytelling, though, isn’t the only area of the game where developers Stoic have made improvements. While The Banner Saga boasted a combat system that was engaging and strategically nuanced, the sequel takes it up a notch by adding a ton of features and tiny details that all come together to make a massive difference to how you will play the game. One of these features is the addition of a lot more enemy types, each with their own strengths and weakness, each of them forcing you to rethink your strategy and experiment with your own units on the battlefield. Having to come up with new strategies to fight against these new units is a great way to freshen up and add more depth to a combat system that was already pretty enjoyable.
The addition of destructible objects on the battlefield also makes a pretty huge difference to the way you will play the game. Environmental factors will add a great deal of nuance to the combat, as the battlefield is no longer static and unchanging, but can be directly used to harm- or cause harm. Essentially, now, in addition to the regular strategy game tropes like the placement of ally and enemy units and individual unit strength and weakness, you also have to keep track of the map itself and how it may affect you or your enemies.
"Storytelling, though, isn’t the only area of the game where developers Stoic have made improvements."
The Banner Saga 2 also adds to the original game by tweaking its battle objectives. The original game was pretty straightforward in this regard, with battles frequently coming down to simply clearing the map of all enemy units. The Banner Saga 2, though, frequently presents the player with more varied objectives that demand that the player change their playing style rather than simply rushing each fight. In a lot of ways, as I already mentioned earlier, it is like the jump from Fire Emblem: Awakening to Conquest (and, for that matter, XCOM: Enemy Unknown to XCOM 2).
The Banner Saga 2, then, seems to be the perfect sequel for everyone who fell in love with the first game. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does exactly what a good sequel is supposed to- it retains everything from the original game that made it so special, but adds its own unique spin and flavour to things, significantly evolving its scope in the process. If you enjoyed the first game, The Banner Saga 2 seems like it will be right up your alley. Hopefully the final product lives up to the promise shown by what I have played so far.
This game was previewed on the PC.