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The Banner Saga 2 review

Katharine Byrne
9 May 2016
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Banner Saga 2
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
15
inc VAT

Its turn-based battles aren't particularly nuanced, but The Banner Saga 2 excels at text adventure-style decision-making

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Specifications

Available formats: PC 

Buy the Banner Saga 2 now from Steam

If you thought the characters in Game of Thrones were hard to remember, then try memorising the names of the cast of The Banner Saga. Even after spending ten hours in the company of these fine, Viking-like folk (or twenty if you count the first game), names like Derdriu, Gudmundr or Yngvar continue to make a fool out of me (though, thankfully, the latter is often shortened to Iver by most of his fellow banner men).

Still, no matter how much you end up mangling their names in your head, Stoic's tile-based strategy game never fails to impress once it's in front of your face. With its beautiful, cell-shaded artwork and grand, sweeping vistas, this epic tale of survival slowly unfurls across your screen like one of the titular tapestries billowing in the wind behind your small band of warriors. Rich in detail and growing ever more complex as you trudge from one town to the next, the way your journey unfolds is something entirely of your own devising, as each and every choice you make will have dire consequences on the fate of your travelling caravan.

Banner Saga 2 godstone

Choose poorly in settling a dispute between your clansmen, for instance, and your army could suffer a fall in morale, which might affect the strength and willpower of your individual fighters come battle time if you don't rest up and keep them in good spirits. Of course, rest too long and your food supplies will rapidly diminish, especially if you've been feeling generous on the road and picked up hordes of stragglers. Running out of reserves will not only make your fighters weaker, but it will also hasten your larger pool of troops to the grave, leaving you poorly equipped to deal with large-scale encounters against huge armies of life-sucking Dredge.

Of course, all this will be familiar territory for anyone who played the first entry in The Banner Saga series, but its sequel really starts piling on the pressure right from the off. It is, after all, a direct continuation of The Banner Saga, and you'll be given the option to import your old save file as soon as you boot it up. As a result, much of the game's back story probably won't mean much to you if you haven't already witnessed these characters' struggles beforehand.

Banner Saga 2 battle

^ Sometimes, you don't need to slay every last Dredge to win a fight

That's not to say you should stop reading here, though, as The Banner Saga 2 does an equally good job at guiding players through its various themes and mechanics. Battles, for instance, play out almost identically to those in the first game, albeit with a few more destructible obstacles thrown in and occasionally more pre-defined characters appearing in your party line-up depending on what choices you made in the preceding dialogue options.

HP also still shares the same stat as your strength, for example, making it harder for wounded characters to deal damage unless you've broken down an enemy's armour stat first, and you can still use willpower points to either traverse greater distances or add a bit of extra power to your various attacks.

However, much like the first game, there isn't really that much strategy involved as you move from foe to foe. Once you've walked up to an enemy, it's simply a matter of beating them into submission until they fall, at which point you move on to the next one and do the same until there's no one left. Yes, you've got plenty of different classes at your disposal to liven things up, but even the new Horseborn race only adds minor variations on your pre-existing glut of spear-wielders, archers and axe throwers. It's hardly as nuanced as, say, Fire Emblem, and it's much more a game of gruelling attrition than it is of cunning insight.

Banner Saga 2 obstacle

^ Obstacles are new for The Banner Saga 2, but otherwise combat is nigh-on identical to the first game

Still, while its combat might not require the same kind of tactical manoeuvring as other titles in its genre, The Banner Saga 2's textual elements continue to make it stand out from its action-heavy brethren. In fact, it's here where The Banner Saga 2 shows the bulk of its intellectual muscle, as I frequently found myself spending more time mulling over which conversation option I wanted to pursue than I did planning individual attacks in battle. Admittedly, that's partly because it can sometimes be quite hard to guess how some actions will play out, and there were more than a few scenarios I encountered that felt like they concluded unfairly given the range of options available. 

One thing you can be sure of, though, is that each and every decision will have a defined and lasting effect on the rest of your adventure, and it's this kind of strong cause-and-effect relationship which felt somewhat lacking in the first game. For instance, The Banner Saga 2 puts a much greater emphasis on the trials of leadership. Do you try and save everyone you meet, for instance, knowing you might run the risk of starving your own banner men in the process? Or do you ignore those additional cries for help and march on without batting an eye, safeguarding the health and happiness of your own soldiers at the expense of others?

^ Conversations play a big role in The Banner Saga 2 and often have lasting consequences on the fate of your caravan

I chose to take a more compassionate route, helping those I could even when it came back to bite me later. For all my good intentions, for instance, I frequently found myself with no food and very poor morale, which made subsequent battles that much harder to win without taking too many casualties. Thankfully, characters don't die permanently when they fall in battle, but they do take several days to heal and get back to full strength, placing yet another handicap on your next encounter if you can't afford to rest. It's tricky to strike the right balance, but it's this kind of complexity that really makes The Banner Saga 2 shine, and it more than makes up for its rather unimaginative combat.

Its tale of horned giants, sleeping gods, mystic weavers and an ever-growing darkness also goes from strength to strength with each passing chapter, and its constant tease of questions and answers ensures players remain gripped until the credits start to roll. The only problem, as with any middle sibling in a trilogy, is that you'll have to wait until The Banner Saga 3 to find out how it all ends.

Still, if you liked the first game, then you'll almost certainly enjoy The Banner Saga 2, and even newcomers should be able to dig into its delights without feeling like they've missed out too much on what's gone before. If anything, it should serve as an excellent excuse to go back and play the first Banner Saga, as both games' strong mix of strategy and text adventure-style dialogue trees offer something quite different to your typical strategy game. What's more, both games lend themselves to multiple playthroughs, too, which should help make the wait until The Banner Saga 3 a little more bearable. Let's just hope that by the time the final chapter rolls round the only thing I'll be butchering is the final onslaught of foes rather than the names of my own warriors. Buy The Banner Saga 2 now from Steam

Availability
Available formatsPC
PC requirements
OS SupportWindows XP SP3
Minimum CPUN/A
Minimum GPUN/A
Minimum RAM2GB
Hard disk space4GB

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