Banner Saga Review: This RPG is a Story-Driven Success
One of the more frustrating articles I’ve read in recent months was this one discussing the issues Apple and developer Stoic had over pricing for The Banner Saga, the turn-based RPG that hit iTunes recently. It was frustrating because the Banner Saga is such a good game, a real fine example of its genre, and it irks me that games like this are hesitant to release on iOS because of price.
I hope a lot of people just get over it and recognize that they’re getting a PC-level game here for half the price. And a damn fine one at that.
The Banner Saga is an excellent attempt at the story-driven, turn-based RPG genre. It takes place in a sort of alternate-Earth northern Europe where the giants of Viking legend, here called Varls, are real and where evil, armored zombies roam the land. The game does not put you in control of a single character but instead has you moving between two POV characters and their stories: Rook, a human woodsman; and Ubin, a Varl tax collector. There are many other characters in the story, though, some of them very engaging. The story itself engages.
Gameplay is a mix of familiar RPG elements. There are pathed dialogue scenes, the “overworld” map (traveling, managing your party, etc.), and — of course! — combat. Like any good RPG, the combat is a centerpiece, though in this game the dialogue scenes are not just filler between fights. There’s a story being told here, one you influence with the choices you make. I don’t know how different the story becomes with different branches — in the past I’ve found such gimmicks don’t change the overall plot much, just little details — but I still love seeing my choices echoing later in the tale.
Combat is turn-based and highly strategic. You set the order your characters will fight in, and then they alternate with the opponent; this ordering can be vital to victory, as can the deployment of your troops to the field. Honestly, combat felt to me almost like I was playing a tabletop skirmish game. All I was missing was a tape measure and some dice! I was also missing a battle plan at first, and the game punished me for it. You can’t just rush your people in; you have to think ahead to what, and how, you attack each round. And know that the AI will target the archers in the back. This is not a casual combat game.
In addition to being a great RPG, the game is also a visual feast. The art design is gorgeous. I love the hand-drawn look of it alll; it feels like a high fantasy animated film from the 1970s or 1980s, and it suits the story being told very well. It’s a treat to look at as well as to play.
It just irks me that a game like the Banner Saga will be skipped by many people because of its price point. This is the kind of game iPad gamers should be heralding, the kind of game that will lead to more games like it –good games, real games, not freemium crap. Drop $10 on this if you love RPGs. You will not regret it.
Our Score: 5 out of 5