Top 50 Challenge 2014 – The Banner Saga

by Kimberley Wallace on Nov 28, 2014 at 04:00 PM

I'm a big fan of strategy/RPGs, and I always regretted not having time to invest in The Banner Saga. That's why I gladly accepted Ben Reeves' challenge. Strategy/RPGs are a dime a dozen nowadays, and I love that developer Stoic incorporates choice as an extra layer of strategy. What I wasn't expecting was just how much it would drive the experience with consequences abound. I actually felt like I was in the unforgiving Viking world, and so I emerged from my playthrough beaten and bruised with plenty of regret.

Learn more about the Game Informer Fight For the Top 50 Challenge 2014.

That's The Banner Saga. You always feel like you could have done something better, but the game catches you off guard so well with unexpected choices. You make these tough decisions on and off the battlefield. On the battlefield, brute force won't always win you the battle and you have to learn when to call it quits against the vicious stone-like Dredge. I found this out early when I won my encounter and the game tantalized me with saving some combatants and finding extra supplies by wiping out a few extra enemies. Sure, I was down a man, but I had my tanks left. I thought I had the victory in the bag, but then I learned the price of overconfidence. I lost and ended up losing more men than if I were to have just retreated in the first place.

Besides choices on the battlefield, you must manage supplies and your crew as you cross snowy lands. It feels very much like Oregon Trail at times. Bandits attack you and steal supplies. Drunk members of your army cause chaos, bringing down morale. Spoiled food gets half of your clan sick. You just never know what crisis is coming next. The best way I can describe The Banner Saga is it's a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book that constantly makes you want to flip back to the other choice (which is not always any better). I learned this firsthand when a choice to save supplies cost me one of my best tanks in battle. I had built up this character, always depending on him in combat and suddenly with a split-second decision he was gone. Losing characters permanently isn't easy to stomach, but I stuck with my choices. I like being kept on my toes, constantly adjusting my strategy. It forced me to play characters that I would have never touched otherwise. It also made battles that much harder, but there's something satisfying about persevering when you're already down.

My complaints are really minute. I wish the interface was a little cleaner and easier to use. I also didn't like that I couldn't rotate the camera 360 degrees. Sometimes the screen gets cluttered and I wanted to get a better view from another angle. Seeing the range for every party member before executing each turn would also be ideal. Still, I like how the game puts the accountability on the player. Choice is hard to pull off, and it's especially hard not to make them black-and-white. In The Banner Saga, I never knew if I was doing the right thing; I just followed my gut. Sometimes it provided fruitful, but most of the time it stuck to the grim premise. I reveled every time I made it through despite the worst of odds. Nothing was handed to me easily, and the little luck and kindness I received were just enough to get me through.

My Vote
My complaints are small and any game that gets me thinking the way The Banner Saga did deserves a place on our Top 50 list. I'm still pondering about what I could have done differently and remembering some of the deeper conversations I had with characters. Stoic gives the strategy/RPG a surge by providing strategy off the battlefield – and it's meaningful at that. I found myself unable to put the game down once I really got into the meat of things. Even now, I have a feeling I'll go back for another playthrough just to see who I might be able to keep alive this time around.