The Banner Saga was a game that managed to sew different threads into its intricate tapestry, incorporating difficult player choices, tough turn-based combat, training and upgrading your army alongside the need to be a great leader in the face of tremendous adversity. Death was always one step ahead of you, and no matter how much you tried to survive, nature and the constant intrusion of the Dredge ended up costing you dearly. It didn’t care how steadfast you were in your decisions, the harsh realities of war almost always had a huge impact on the survival and morale of your people.
If you’ve never played The Banner Saga, you need to. The combat was so exciting and the outcome of each battle depended solely on how smart you decided to attack the enemy. It wasn’t just the combat where The Banner Saga excelled either; every single decision you made had great consequences and you began to learn the smallest of decisions could destroy everything you’d worked so hard to preserve.
I’ve never felt such compassion for characters before, and I’ve never been so dedicated to keeping my people alive. There were some heartbreaking moments in The Banner Saga, and if you played it on the PC you’ll be pleased to know those choices can be carried over to The Banner Saga 2. If you’ve never played the original, you can still jump into the game, but continuing the story of Rook, Hakon and everyone else based on the decisions you made is definitely the better way to play.
The Banner Saga 2 picks up straight after the events of the first game; the world is reaching its end and the Dredge are as evil as ever, with the deaths of loved ones still weighing heavy on the hearts of your characters. I don’t want to ruin anything so we’ll leave it there, but those tough decisions and unexpected deaths of The Banner Saga are just as present in the sequel. Tears will be shed, I promise.
Everything from the mountains in the distance to the look of the camp enclaves are just as beautiful as before, but the subtle changes to environments give more depth to the world. They look a lot sharper this time around, and the different weather conditions help to intensify the struggle to keep going. There are also animated sequences as well as the static sequences, and in the four chapters I played, these stood out as one of the better inclusions.
Combat remains relatively unchanged from the original; you still have armour and health gauges, and you still use willpower and special abilities like before, but this time around certain variables can affect how the fight is won, removing some of the repetitive nature present in the first game. In one particular battle, I was almost victorious and the few Dredge left were all but destroyed. Suddenly three more enemies appeared, each with full armour and health and each ready for a scrap.
Speech bubbles pop up from time to time on the battle board, helping to move the story along in battle and not just in the cut scenes. It was great to see banter between the cranky and stubborn Varl, not particularly meaning anything, but helping to build up characters and relations within your ranks. There were other huge story beats I witnessed on the battle board, helping to bring more of a grandness to what was at stake and seeing this happen in between turns felt fresh.
There are plenty of new characters in The Banner Saga 2, but the Horseborn are a completely new race and they bring a lot more to battle. Without giving anything away, you encounter them at the perfect time, and being able to use them in battle will be extremely beneficial. I took one of the Horseborn into battle with me, and I found him useful in movement and damage. He attacked the dredge, and then was able to move away afterwards: something the humans and Varl can’t do.
The Banner Saga 2 looks set to be as enjoyable as the first, with combat variations removing a lot of the monotony found in its predecessor and replacing it with a more dynamic battle board. The music is just as wonderful as it ever was and the visuals are masterfully designed. This game will be an excellent step forward in the series, all while retaining the things that made the first game so great. Prepare for battle!