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The Banner Saga

By Bobfish14-01-2014
MrJenssen (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
The Banner Saga

The Defence

Stoic Studio
Versus Evil
Indie, Strategy
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Pentium 4
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8600
AMD equivalent
4 GB
6 GB

The Case

What do you get when you combine cel shading, beards, the PC and an epic trilogy? Stoic are here to answer that very question with The Banner Saga, a game that reached over 700% beyond its Kickstarter goal back in April 2012. Now, a year and a half later, it is ready to come trudging out of the frozen wastes and stake its claim on the gaming landscape. Join me, my brethren, with a flagon of finest mead in hand, as we take a look at what all the fuss is about.

The Trial

The word Stoic has perhaps never been as apt as in this instance here. The first thing we encounter is a weary old curmudgeon, a true giant of a man, named Ubin, introducing us to the desperate setting of a world without night. The sun, you see, has stopped moving. It simply sits there, overhead, peering down on the world with total disinterest. An event which has not gone unnoticed but, oddly, has passed without any true recognition. As though nobody actually cares. As though...the people themselves had given up.

Something stuck between your teeth there bub?

Something stuck between your teeth there bub?

It does not immediately seem this way, as life is carrying on more or less as it always has. Men go about men’s things, Ubin and his kind wander idly collecting tithes. Just...just passing the time. You see, Ubin is not like other men. In fact, Ubin is not truly a man at all. He is one of the varl. A race of giants, two again as large as any many, with large, graceful horns curving outward from their foreheads. And Ubin is one of the oldest. Arguably one of the wisest. Having lived long enough to see entire generations, entire families, of men lost to the vagaries of time.

But even he is at a loss for what to make of all of this. So he, like everyone else, simply carries on. Stoic, resolute, eternal. What, after all, can one truly do about the movement of the sun? The Gods are dead, both figuratively and literally. An event, perhaps, which could be linked to the current plight if not for the fact that it happened so very long ago. So what is a varl to do but make the best of the situation at hand and push on, day by day?

We join Ubin and his band of tithe collectors as they approach an unassuming little burgh by the sea. Nothing more in mind than gathering whatever they are due, make merry for a time, then move on to the next village and repeat the process all over again. A simple plan for a simple people.

Uhm...how much did I drink last night?

Uhm...how much did I drink last night?

Things, of course, do not go according to plan, going awry even before they reach the trade city of Strand. Though this is not made immediately clear, the tone of their approach and the gruff, thoughtful narration heralding our arrival all speaks to inform us that we stand on the cusp of change. A pivotal moment, though we will not know precisely how much until much later.

Upon arriving, we find the great hall of Strand invaded by brigands, with several people already laying dead and the doors barred from the inside. Enormous, heavy wooden doors that could repel an army for a time. But can keep a varl at bay for only a matter of seconds. This first encounter serves the dual purpose of impressing upon the player how lawless and, literally, Godless, the world has become, as well as being a surprisingly neat tutorial for the gameplay aspect.

Gameplay itself falls into two parts. The vast majority of the game comes in the form of text, with some occasional spattering’s of voiced narration. Most of that is simply reading the dialogue and watching along as it develops, but there are also an ample helping of dialogue choices. Some of which taking the form of a series of questions, all of which you can ask regardless of order, that add flavour text and better inform us of the setting. Whilst others give a greater opportunity to affect the overall flow of play in the form of moral choices.

A brief moment of respite.

A brief moment of respite.

Unlike many games, these choices are never clear cut, black and white, right and wrong options. They are always divided up into at least three alternatives, with the best course of action being ambiguous at best. And though these choices do not radically alter the flow of events, they can have some extremely noticeable effects in the short term, and even lead to the difference between life and death for characters you meet along the way. During battle, your units will fall and merely become wounded, but during your travels, your decisions can lead to them fleeing this mortal coil permanently. Something which certainly helps propagate a feeling of true player agency.

Even going to war, which happens with increasing frequency as the game progresses, takes the form of dialogue choices as you formulate your strategy from a very simple but suitably complex system. On the surface, it seems nothing more than pick one of these six, which it is. But as the game does not play out in the usual sense of win and lose, that is not as shallow as it can seem. Your true aim is to protect your caravan. This consisting of far more than just your collection of heroes.

Case Review

  • Combat: Superbly simple and gloriously complex both at the same time.
  • Length: It clocks in at a not at all disappointing 12-15 hours.
  • Narrative: The story is everything here, truly it is.
  • Visuals: Even people who do not like cel shading 'cartoony' graphics will be hard pushed to deny how beautiful it looks.
  • Permadeath: Whilst it gives a greater sense of attachment to each unit, some people just hate the very concept.
  • Tutorial: It's simple enough, but as it is unskippable it makes repeat playthroughs a little tedious at the beginning.
Score: 5/5
By the time the ending credits were rolling, I wept.


I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into The Banner Saga, but I thought it was going to be a combat-focused game based on the Vikings, and if there’s one historical culture that I really love, it’s the Vikings. For starters, historically they seemed to pop up just about everywhere and they have an incredibly rich culture and mythology. What I didn’t expect, given the current state of the games industry, was a highly cinematic, character-focused game that is primarily about ensuring that the caravan of people you’re leading reaches its destination in one piece through a mixture of conversation, combat and careful management of resources. You swap between two major caravans as you go about the story, and you can’t help but be swept up in the plight of each group.

Mechanically, The Banner Saga plays like similar tactics games, each character has a particular archetype, granting particular stats and special abilities, and they level up through defeating enemies in combat. Combat is based around two main attributes; strength and armor. Outside of combat, a traditional roleplaying conversation and decision mechanic takes precedence, as a variety of events and conversations arise during the march of your caravan. These can, and will, have an effect on the way events unfold. There are a number of resources that you’ll need to manage as well, you’ll need enough food to get to your destination - a number which changes as events transpire to add people to and take people away from your caravan - you need to keep morale at a decent rate, and you need to ensure that you carry yourself well. Renown seems to be the currency in these dark times the world is facing.

There are few games I’ve played that managed to look better than The Banner Saga. The stylised background artwork and character design show exactly how invested the designers were in their project. The sound design is also superb, adding to the story of the characters in almost every aspect of the game. All up, The Banner Saga presents a wonderful story, with good mechanics and an aesthetic that games with higher budgets should be green with envy to look at. Well worth a look.

Score: 5/5


It’s a damn shame that The Banner Saga is released so early in the year. This means that by the time it comes to select the best game of 2014, the game will probably be overshadowed by some other pretentious indie „gem“ released at a more clever time of the year. And that's despite the fact that The Banner Saga is well made, features awesome art, good writing and is an actual game. It also offers an original fantasy world that isn't burdened by cliché elves or dwarfs or other lazy trappings of a run-of-the-mill fantasy game. In this world, the gods have died while humans and the giant varl eke out an existence in a cold continent that's surrounded by hostile seas, icy wastes and plains filled with centaurs that, in a bout of existential confusion, killed all the horses. And now the sun has stopped moving.

The game proudly announces that it follows different characters and that your choices will impact the storyline. Basically, this means following two caravans – one of which is made up of varl troopers escorting nobility, while the other is made up of humans fleeing the dredge attack. Each have their own story and hard choices to make, as well as a different makeup of enemies to encounter – and that's even after various choices you make in the short text adventures. The combat is turn based, with troops taking alternating turns, and is highly centered on health and armor stats. The latter is important because it's hard to kill heavily armored units. On the other hand, while you're attacking the armor, you're not hurting their health, which also determines attack strength, which also means that you're going to get pummeled next turn. How will you juggle it? Well, it all depends on you – and you're going to play Banner Saga. Or else!

Score: 5/5
Comments (2)
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Posts: 3290

Keep your eyes off my little girl you damn savage!

Posts: 1317

I've never felt the need to fap to screenshots of a video game before, but... Well, sometime's gonna have to be the first.