Stoic’s tactical RPG The Banner Saga makes its way to consoles, and still manages to deliver a fantastic, captivating story alongside a fun and challenging battle system.
When The Banner Saga released in 2014, it proved to be a surprise hit with RPG fans. Created by a team of former BioWare employees under the name Stoic, the studio took to Kickstarter to fund the game. The response was spectacular, both in terms of funding and the end result.
The title provided the world of gaming with another fantastic universe to explore, and a story drenched in Nordic mythology. Not only that, but the game’s take on the traditional turn-based battle system made The Banner Saga a tactical RPG with a difference. The game proved so successful that Stoic is already working on a sequel.
The success of the original game also allowed Stoic to branch the first Banner Saga out onto platforms other than PC and Mac. As well as forging a path towards tablet devices, the developer also announced that the game would be making its way to consoles. Now, the game has arrived on both PS4 and Xbox One, and continues to work well, even when taken away from its PC origins.
One of the main plaudits aimed at The Banner Saga when it first released was its story, and that has travelled formats perfectly. The game, which was one of the best new franchises of 2014, revolves around the journey of a convoy of humans and varl giants, fleeing from the vicious Dredge in a world where the sun has stopped in the sky. The Banner Saga starts off with high stakes, and continues from there to tremendous effect.
Overall, the game makes the player feel like every single moment is truly significant. Between battles, the caravan’s journey across the treacherous terrain on its way to fairer pastures is halted through tough player choices. Although these quandaries may seem quite trivial when they are first encountered, the effects on the player’s success in the game can be astronomical.
The banishment of a disruptive member of the convoy, or the failure to save another vital squad member, will change the game’s plot – if the player makes it to the end of the game at all. The Banner Saga takes the roguelike decisions seen in FTL: Faster Than Light and makes them a hugely important part of a deep narrative, and it works tremendously well. The player needs to take decisive action, and hope that it works out correctly in the long run, and this in turn means that The Banner Saga makes the player question his or her own moral judgement.
All in all, The Banner Saga is a brutal game to play, with a grim finality to the proceedings of a story where even the gods are dead. There are no random encounters for the player’s party to build experience upon, instead relying entirely on the battles that take place throughout the group’s journey. It leads to each fight being a desperate encounter, and certainly keeps the player involved in every moment.
The combat itself has travelled fairly well to consoles, too. The Banner Saga doesn’t shake up the turn-based mechanics enough to put off those familiar with the play style, but does enough to keep it interesting. Rather than having separate health and strength, characters in The Banner Saga have a combined bar, meaning that the more health they lose, the weaker they are. This simple change from Stoic adds a whole new dynamic to the gameplay, forcing a more cautious approach from the player when Armor and Strength levels can so drastically disappear.
In times gone by, consoles have not been able to provide the level of precision required from their PC counterpart when it comes to role-playing or tactical games. Over recent years, however, consoles have been able to grant players a greater level of control without speed of play becoming an issue, and thankfully The Banner Saga continues this trend. Although the game can sometimes feel a little sluggish or clumsy with a PS4 controller, particularly when selecting routes of movement within combat rounds, overall the fun of the title remains intact.
Since its release, of course, the gameplay has never truly been the real pull of the award-winning game, with the game's narrative taking center stage. Alongside the plot, however, it is worth noting that The Banner Saga truly is a gorgeous game. Not a lot has changed about how the game looks between its original release and this console re-release, and it's safe to say that the title is stunning.
The Banner Saga remains fairly unique in terms of its art design when compared to other RPGs on the market. Instead of the traditional 3D models of its peers, Stoic's role-playing game instead takes a more artistic approach, with lovingly drawn character models and locations. When compared to other tactical games such as X-COM or Hard West, it really is a strong contrast.
It certainly works in The Banner Saga's favor, however, and aside from the obvious positive of standing out from the crowd, the graphical style also has some other benefits. During combat, the character movements are wonderfully fluid, with smooth animation and a real feeling for the significance of axe swings and arrow shots. At times, it's almost as though the player has stepped into the world of a graphic novel.
Although the game was built upon the back of fan funding, the production values of The Banner Saga are certainly impressive, and not just in terms of graphics. When it comes to sound design, Stoic has also done well with the budget at hand. The game's soundtrack, created by Journey composer Austin Wintory, adds a fine level of gravitas to the proceedings, and the sporadic voice acting is also well crafted.
Unfortunately, the voice acting itself is quite rare, meaning that the large patches of speech-free gameplay can feel a little bit empty. It's one of the areas where Stoic could have improved matters between the game's PC and PS4/Xbox One launches. In fact, the overall level of improvement between the PC and console versions of the game is one of the few disappointments in the game, with little done to beef up the title for new devices.
When the base game in question is as good quality as The Banner Saga, however, this is but a minor issue. The game's wonderful storytelling and atmosphere are still there for a whole new audience, and the game is bound to find plenty of love on consoles. Those who already own the game on PC are not missing out on anything through this new release, but RPG fans who were waiting for it to come to consoles or newcomers to the title entirely will find an immersive tale to enjoy.
The Banner Saga is out now for PC, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided with a PS4 code for the purposes of this review.