I had heard a lot about the Banner Saga, or rather, heard the title being mentioned a lot by people but I had never gone out of my way to purchase it, as most of my gaming time in recent years has been in the mmo market. However the Steam Summer Sale offered it at a good price, and so it ended up as a impulse buy and in my library.
The game itself is a story-based game, which are rather rare these days outside of the foreign market as the UK and US game consumers tend to spend more money on action games or mmos than heavy story content. The closest we came to that sort of thing has really been the Bioware games like the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises.
The Banner Saga is a mix of Storytelling and strategy turn-based combat and took me around 11-12 hours to complete on normal difficulty. While this seems short for a game, the Banner Saga actually has a great deal of replayability due to the story-based structure. Since the different story choices you make during the game will affect how the story goes, you are going to get a different playing experience during future play. There are also a lot of steam achievements to hunt for. I personally will be playing it again several times.
In terms of the game pacing, it is fairly slow. Many times, especially initially when less random events happened, you are just watching them pace across the screen for days, slowly eating up your resources. This is not a game to play if you are in the mood for lots of action. It tilts between challenging combat and a lot of watching.
Actually there is less combat in the game than I initially expected. I expected there to be far more combat in the game, but if I were to guess you spend maybe 1/3 of the game in combat while the 2/3 is storytelling. This combat time can be decreased a little more with story choices, or increased depending on choices, potentially quite a bit more. It did surprise me though.
The combat itself is challenging, and while they give a little bit of a tutorial at the beginning, I actually spent quite a bit of the game working out specifics of it. I actually don’t mind this too much since I plan on replaying the game several times, and perhaps I just didn’t pay enough attention to the tutorial or help text. It is possible.
I have heard that some people have found the combat in The Banner Saga to be really difficult, but I did not find this myself while playing on Normal difficulty. I think that players used to playing strategy games will not have a difficulty with it, but I expect players that are not coming from playing other strategy games may find the combat more challenging and should play it on a less difficult setting until they learn during their first play-through. You can change the combat difficulty during the game, so don’t feel ashamed to put it down a notch if you are struggling.
Overall the user interface is pretty well designed for what it needs to do. It is simple and pretty straight forward. It could do with a couple of tweaks though such as having hovering tooltips on the stat choices rather than having to click the help button just to see what each of them mean. Another thing that I overlooked early in the game was the market sellers full stock. I was merely looking at them for the character items they hold, but they actually sell supplies to. Perhaps I was too tired when I started playing, so I didn’t notice this till 2/3 into the game and struggling for food. Those tooltip tutorials would have been super useful to highlight important things like this.
I also found the map a particularly underutilized resource. There really is no real reason to use it. It has interesting facts on the different places, but there isn’t even a trail to show where your group has been on the saga or where they hope to go to. Things like that should really have been added, because right now, I found there to be zero reason for me to actually care much about what the text on the map showed or how it related to my own quest.
One thing players should note is that this is the first of (I believe) three games that make up the entire saga. While this game has a satisfying ending, many players will be like ‘wait, what about ‘x’ or ‘y’. That was never finished’. One criticism on this account was that the writers/designers did not make it clear that this was not a full story, but one complete story within three. While most of the story parts do come to a good conclusion and are satisfying, there are many pieces yet to be told, and players should be aware of this.
Many players may feel that a game of this cost should have a full story arc, rather than having some pieces untold as of yet, but I believe it was generally the lack of clarity on this at the purchase that has garnered the most criticism, rather than the fact that the game is the first part of three.
The cost itself is likely indicative of the time it actually takes of making a choice-based system, as the longer the story gets, the more the writers have to put in for all those characters and choices.
Overall I feel that the game is one that I was happy to purchase and I enjoyed playing it a lot. It is fairly short and pacing is a bit slow at times, but I will be happy to replay it several times for the story and achievements. £19 at full price for a replayable game is a fair price, but obviously better if you can get it in a sale. I am looking forward to the future instalments of the Saga.