Since the development for the game has taken longer than anticipated, Stoic released a free-to-play multiplayer version of the game back in February. The Banner Saga: Factions allows gamers to compete against each other as Vikings of their choice. While the single player game is separate from the multiplayer version, Factions will give an idea of how combat will take place in the single player game. Factions acts a way to see what people are responding to in the game’s combat and allow Stoic to refine single player combat (so for anyone interested in checking out the multiplayer, download it on Steam and tweet at me (@freepartysubs) to get one of three codes for a free starter pack in the game).
At PAX, Stoic Studio and Chaille Stidham gave me an opportunity to check out the single player demo. One thing is certain above all else, The Banner Saga is mind blowingly gorgeous. It is an absolutely beautiful game. The hand-drawn graphics are incredible. Characters animations are great and the game plays incredibly smooth.
The gameplay of The Banner Saga is broken down into turn-based tactical combat and a larger sim/Oregon Trail type metagame, where players must manage their caravan. During combat, each character has specific move ranges. Once the character moves depending on their type, they have a chance to attack, use abilities or end their turn. It is not hugely different from most strategy RPG or tactical games, fans of the genre will recognize the format instantly. Killing nets loot/renown, enemies vary from basic grunts to heavies and unit types include tanks, fighters, archers, etc. What makes combat interesting is the options for attacking that Stoic Studio included.
When players attack an enemy they have an option to attack either health or armor. This may seem minor, but it adds another layer of strategy outside of basic combat. For instance, certain characters have lower hit chances with direct attacks, but their hit percentage for armor may be high. So attacking armor will allow the other characters to be in a better position (or ones who are stronger) to do more damage during their turn. Meaning the enemy will go down quicker. Additionally, players can use a character’s will power to add extra damage to either health or armor (depending on their will power amount), which adds a little extra power to certain attacks. There is a trade off in attacking armor because it may give the enemy more chances to wear down and kill characters in the player’s caravan. Death is a real issue.
The other gameplay element in the demo is players managing their Viking caravans. Between fights and missions, the player has to manage their caravan. Their caravan has only a certain number of supplies, so if their caravan is big and the journey is long, they may run out of food before they reach their destination. This has consequences because caravans have morale. Low morale will likely lead to less effective fighting, defections and since a lack of supplies means starvation, possibly deaths. This leads into Stoic’s main mission with The Banner Saga’s story.
In The Banner Saga, players will enjoy a mature story that heavily emphasizes decisions and choice. As a result, players’ choices may result in losses and Stoic Studio wants players to accept their decisions and losses as part of the story. In the demo, players meet Alette and her father, who must deal with the sudden reemergence of an ancient evil. Through their journey, they have to make decisions about tracking down supplies, which means to gain the supplies they have to fight these evil creatures or avoid the fight and supplies and possibly not have enough supplies for the rest of their journey. As with their BioWare lineage, The Banner Saga puts a heavy emphasis on choice through dialogue, which in the demo resulted in hard decisions that put members of the caravan in direct danger. This did lead to death occasionally. It is all part of the experience of this Viking caravan, sometimes people die, but you have to continue on because there is nothing else to do, but persevere.
This is one of the best times to be a tactical/strategy RPG fan with so many recent great titles in the genre (Fire Emblem: Awakenings, Skulls of the Shogun and XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the upcoming Enemy Within and Klei’s Incognita, and Brad Muir’s Massive Chalice next year). The Banner Saga looks to continue the trend of exciting, challenging and engrossing strategy games. If anything, it is going to offer an aesthetically pleasing tactical experience.
The Banner Saga is definitely one to look out for when it releases this November on Steam.