The journey continues.
Stoic’s Viking based saga continues with another strong narrative and the same epic gameplay as the original game, which released quite some while back on PC, despite only recently making an appearance on consoles. Fans of the first game can continue their own story, while newcomers can, if they wish, jump straight into The Banner Saga 2 with out too much trouble.
The Banner Saga 2 continues directly from the tragic ending of the first game. Players of The Banner Saga on PC can import their save game and continue with the same surviving character and companions as if they didn’t have to wait for the sequel. For those who happen to be jumping into this sequel without previously playing The Banner Saga on PC, and that includes those who played the game on console, will be treated to a short recap video to give them an idea of the story, and a choice of which character to take forth into this continuation of the adventure. In an ideal world, players will have at least played the first game on some format before venturing into the sequel, both because it is such a great story and prior knowledge of how the game plays will make it that little bit easier. Either way, once the character is chosen, it is back to the caravan and onwards towards Arberrang.
The core game continues in much the same way as the previous title, with the player being responsible for their ever growing caravan of survivors as they try to escape the Dredge. Along the route to Arberrang, players will be confronted by difficult decisions that will potentially have devastating effects on both the members of the caravan and the close friends of the main character. These decisions are a main part of what makes the game great, with the consequences sometimes not felt until further down the line. It leaves the player second guessing everything, even how they approach the game as being the benevolent hero is not always the clear route to survival, and survival is paramount.
With these sometimes brutal decisions, The Banner Saga 2 draws the player into the harsh reality faced by the characters in the game. The narrative, which is a continuation from the first game, becomes more meaningful and fleshed out thanks to the deep cast of characters that the player will come to care about. There are twists and turns to the story, pushing the player onwards and often making them regret choices made earlier.
Outside of making decisions, the player will also have to manage their caravan , dealing with the levels of rations available and the training of warriors. The more people that join the caravan, the less time that the meager rations will last, and once they run out, starvation will begin to thin out the remaining survivors. This, along with the various choices made by the player, will affect the morale of the caravan, which will in turn have an effect on combat.
The turn-based combat in The Banner Saga 2 is brutal but brilliant. Played out on a grid, the player chooses six warriors to take into the battle, with quite a variety of different warriors available. Humans are the main stay with decent movement and varying abilities, while the hulking Varl warriors bring limited movement but mighty power. A new Centaur style race is introduced part way through the game, bringing yet more options in combat.
The combat itself is quite simple to understand, but once again leaves the player having to make decisions. All combatants have a strength stat, which also doubles as their health, and an armour stat. Players can choose to target the armour, opening the enemy up to more damage in a subsequent turn, or target their strength direct, causing damage and thus reducing the amount of damage that the target can inflict. But obviously the player has to take into account any damage they may receive, reducing their ability to cause damage. Battles are often a tense to and fro with the outcome all but certain.
Visually, The Banner Saga 2 looks amazing, and the soundtrack is mesmerising, further enhancing the feeling of the game. There is a lot of text to read in the game, which can be off-putting to some gamers, but is worth reading simply because it tells such a compelling story. The game is also quite punishing, which could be another reason for some gamers to stay away.
The Banner Saga 2, as the middle game in a planned trilogy, could have just been filler. However, although the game is obviously leading to The Banner Saga 3, the narrative still manages to be deep and impactful. Most of the game remains largely the same, which is no big disappointment, but the addition of a few new features, such as the new race, are welcome. The Banner Saga 2 is not suited to everyone, but for gamers looking for an involving story and complex turn-based combat, this should be high up on their list. Perhaps play the original game first though…