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  1. The Banner Saga (1 & 2)

    #687562014-01-19 16:51:09 *Kirn said:

    Because this game deserves a separate thread.

    So. I first saw this game on Steam some months ago, I guess. At the time the game had no story mode and it was just a sort of a core game made ready for multiplayer. So, I spent some time playing it, cause it was free anyways. The game was a sort of Vikings-styled turn-based RPG. The mechanic offered interesting combat, and overall it was a good experience. Naturally, after a few days, I stopped and moved on to other titles. Now I found this game on Steam again - with story mode finished and... gods be damned, this is the best turn-based strategy I have seen in years!

    Now, let's look at mechanics of the game. You have a squad of fighters - six of them - whom you put on the battlefield. Naturally, they all have different stats, and that's where you see the main element of the battle system different from what I usually see. Two main stats are Strength and Defense. Strength is the health of your character. Defense, as you can clearly guess, blocks the damage to that health. But here's the trick - Strength is also... well, strength - how hard can your character hit. So, when facing the enemy, you have to decide - would you first take out his armor and quickly finish him of, or do you try to go straight for his health, doing less damage, but at the same time making him do weaker hits to your troops? To this you add the defense breaking stats, the fact that every unit got special abilities and the morale stat that allows your units to add damage to your hits or walk further. Plus there are many types of units, some of which are melee, some archers and some even take up 2x2 squares on the battlefield. Naturally, as your units kill more enemies, they gain experience and can be improved, raising stats and making special abilities stronger.

    Now, the mechanics of the fight are good. When you play more, you instinctively see what would be better to do in any gives situation. And it's not really complex, so you are not burdened by it. However, it's just the mechanics of the fight. In story mode you are given another layer of the game - going somewhere.
    And I will tell you right now - going somewhere is what you would be doing most of the time. You are the leader of the large caravan, and you go through the northern lands, fighting enemies and meeting other challenges along the way. This adds more things to think about. First of all - caravan morale. This is quite an important stat, cause good morale also gives your units a morale boost in the fights meaning they get to use up that morale for bigger damage and special moves more. Morale can be improved or decreased by in-game events, good battles or your own choices (more on that later), also it just naturally goes down as you march away.

    That's why at times you need to make camp and rest. Well, camp is more than that. When you camp out in the wilderness, you gain access to your heroes and can improve their stats (spending renown, which is the in-game currency that you get during battles and some events). You also can do training battles where you would go against random but somewhat equal squad. You can also rest - you stay there for one day, and resting improves morale. Also, if you make camp outside some village or town you come across (happens automatically), you also usually get access to market where you can, using renown, buy items for your heroes or supplies. Oh, and you do need supplies, cause your caravan needs to eat, so that's another stat you are hit with - supplies for how many days of traveling you still got. Oh, and just so you know - you caravan consists of hundreds of people.

    Yes, you are not just a traveling party of heroes. The characters in the game take charge of many people, and those people you have to care about. They break down into three categories - you have civilians that are traveling with you for some reason or other, you have warriors meaning human fighters and you have varl, meaning.. well, varl. I will get to them later. All three groups have to eat. But they don't just waste your food, 'cause, except for civilians, they can fight. And yes, at times you would find some enemy army and you would have to pick tactics for it. But also, while the armies would fight, you would also be given a choice to join battle with your elite squad. And you should, cause that raises morale and helps save lives of your warriors. Now, I am not sure if civilians play any part in those battles, cause for now I only fought army battles while having no non-combatants. In any case, this is a decent mechanic, that makes you worry not only about your heroes, but about the people they lead. But not as much as the next thing - decision-making.

    As the story progresses, you see events from the point of view of one of the characters. Those actually switch, and I will talk about it later (yeah, I am putting a lot of things for later, but no worries, I will get to those). Anyways, you are the one most responsible for the caravan, so you have to decide on a lot of things. Some choices would be talks with other characters in camp. Some would be simple enough choices like pressing on the enemy in army battle. Some events are totally unpredictable, like having to deal with a drunk in your caravan who bothers everyone else or missing on an important decision resulting in some characters losing patience, getting into a fight and dying. Decisions can affect a lot - morale, getting supplies and people, losing supplies and people, future talks with characters... For now I have no idea yet if I can seriously affect the story or the destination of the caravan, but... I guess it is also possible. I am pretty sure there was already a choice of not stopping in the town where I stopped, but I kinda don't want to ruin my current game by checking that.

    So, there are the mechanics of the game, as good as I can give them to you. Now I want to talk about what made me literally fall in love with this game. The setting and the story.

    The setting of the game is clearly inspired by Norse-mythology and has the whole Celtic-Norse feel to it. The world is not ours, obviously (you get the map to it very early, so you can clearly see that. Also, the map is extremely cool, with all places and landmarks and even many roads having a description). In this world the Ragnarok happened some time ago, and the gods are dead. So now the races of humans and varl - who are horned giants twice the size of a man - have to survive themselves, without any godly help. To make things harder, at some point creatures called the Dredge (they look like a big black stone warriors) appeared, so humans and varl had to fight those. At the start of the game those wars are long over, however now - actually, just some days ago - the Sun stopped. You know, just stopped in the sky, so now it's a constant day, and noone has any idea if that's the bad sign or a good sign. Though, it seems that it's a bad sign, cause now the Dredge are appearing again.

    This is the world you get, and it's pretty cool. If you like Norse-styled stuff, you will absolutely love it. If not, well, you would still appreciate the amount of work that went into it. I am telling you, the map alone is mind-boggling and huge. And I, after playing like 2 hours, only moved for about 20 cm on it.

    The story, as I said, switches between characters. Actually, let me recap what has happened so far. It's not really spoilers, cause, as I said, this is only the first two hours, and I won't be revealing any decisions. So, you start the game as an old varl tithe collector, coming with a small regiment of varl warriors to a human city on the west border of varl lands where he is asked to help out with local disturbances. While staying in the city, you meet the combined varl/human force, led by future kings of both races on a diplomatic mission. Since they, just like you, are heading to the varl capital, you join with them, but along the way you are ambushed by Dredge and now have to battle your way through.
    Around that time the story switches to Rook - respected hunter in the village far to the east. While hunting with your daughter, you stumble upon the Dredge. As your chieftain dies when the enemy attacks the village, you are now burdened with a position of a chief, and have to lead refuges from your village as far away from the Dredge as possible. Or at least to the nearest city with strong enough walls.
    These are the two stories I found so far, though they might as well be the only two main plot lines. On one side you have big varl/human army who fight Dredge as they see them, on the other hand you have a caravan consisting mostly of civilians who just try to escape death. For now I have no idea if those two caravans would even meet - sure, at the moment they kinda go closer to each other, but looking at this map... no, I honestly have no idea if they would ever meet.

    The story is complemented by some very good art. Now, animation in the game is not too complex, and during dialogues every character has a pretty static image. But still, this is very nicely done, and the backgrounds you see during your travels are extremely detailed and well-made. There's also voice-acting, but so far I haven't heard too much of it. It doesn't stand out much, but it doesn't feel bad or out of place. You get some descriptions of places you visit this way, but I guess I would be hearing more of it during plot scenes also.

    All in all, this is an extremely good game. Simple mechanics that, at the same time, make this game interesting to play, and engaging story and characters. With, as I said, incredibly great setting. And I can't even imagine about all the replayability... I mean, yes, choices don't look too story-affecting yet, but picking even a few miner options differently would likely give you some completely different result in short or even long run.

    I recommend this game to everyone who likes turn-based RPG games... and actually to everyone who likes to play games. You won't be disappointed if you would try this one.

  2. #687612014-01-19 18:17:00DarkChaplain said:

    I've been reading and watching up on this game this week, and it does look promising. There are, however, a few design decisions I don't necessarily like.

    However, overall the game seems solid - I miss voice acting, and the animations in some dialogue sequences feel a bit too static. Some technical issues with the framerate are also bugging me, but I hope those can be fixed easily.

    Biggest bugbear? No Subtitles at launch. You get them for choices, obviously, but the general lack of subtitles everywhere else is ridiculous

    Gonna play it for myself tomorrow, I think. When the Saints Row IV free weekend is over, at least

  3. #687962014-01-20 09:40:09Kirn said:

    Well, if I were to look for bad points, I'd say that the lack of animation during scenes is what would bother people most. And since the art is pretty nice, it kinda feels that the game should really have more animation...

    Lack of subtitles doesn't bother me too much, 'cause it's usually text with no voice anyways, and during the times when there was a voice, it was pretty clear, so there was not trouble understanding it. Does seem somewhat weird though, cause now almost all games have subtitles.

  4. #688952014-01-22 10:11:54Kirn said:

    I guess noone is reading this, but anyways.

    Still not much time to play, but I moved quite a bit forward. Events moved very quickly to epic proportions, much more of lore is known now, things are looking grim.
    Also, it seems, that not all moving is done in slow-paced map-crawling. After finishing a big fight, my caravan automatically skipped through quite a big portion of the map. Also, two caravans met, though not where I expected them to meet. And, unexpectedly, they stayed together for only a short while, separating again.

    Stopped at what I feel is the most serious decision so far. You know, you pretty much expect decisions in games to have some effect by now, but this time I am seriously wondering and thinking about all ways this can bite me in the ass later...

    Also, I think I know what appeals to me the most. It's the map-crawling caravan-style traveling. When you are in that mode... well, you kinda feel that you are really going somewhere, unlike many other games with all sorts of map systems. Backgrounds are amazing too. I mean, I left this big town, went around the fjord, then climbed the mountain... and from there I saw the very town I left - across the water and way down. Really nice touch.

    There's also a slight symbolism. Not exactly sure if it's good or not, really. See, the world is original, with its own history and gods, that are not like Norse gods we know. However, I found a character that dresses like Odin would. Go figure... I guess, I will have to go through more of the game to really make up my mind about that one.

  5. #690702014-01-25 12:47:22 *Kirn said:

    So. I figure, you people still aren't reading thins thread, but anyways. Finished the game, so there are a few things to note.

    Apparently, this is only the first part of the single-player campaign, because things not really ended. Well, yes, at the end some things came to conclusion, but there's still a whole lot of story to be told. This I don't really like, because I kinda wanted to get the whole story right away... and now I will have to wait. Well, what can I do...
    So, the first part of the story is about the growing menace and is played in the northern lands of varl. Next part, I guess, will get us to south and will be centered around humans more. Now that I know how long the single game part is, I would say that the game will have at least 3 parts total. Yeah. Three feels like the right number.

    Another very important thing to note - the whole game (or at least the first part that I finished) is about despair and misery and horror and terrible outcomes. The ending that I got with my choices was... well, it was extremely sad. And I will have to replay the game now, even though it's just the first part, to try and get the better outcome and less dead people and main characters. And I think this pattern will be repeated after every part. In the end, I guess, this game will be like Mass Effect - when absolutely every part will become available, you will just start from the very beginning to build up all the best choices towards the end. Which is quite a feat for a smaller game, you know.

    All in all - great game. Yes, there are some flaws, but I am extremely glad I played it. And even more - I will replay the game, even though the story made me feel miserable more times than I even want to remember.

  6. #690902014-01-25 16:45:36Rinneko said:
    I guess noone is reading this, but anyways
    So. I figure, you people still aren't reading thins thread, but anyways

    D: I'm feeling guilt-tripped. I have been skimming this thread but never posted anything because I don't play games. I will try and check this out one day, and I'm sure all your feedback and comments on the Banner Saga will come in handy when I do. Thank you for all the effort you put in in sharing. :)

  7. #690912014-01-25 16:53:29Kirn said:

    I'm feeling guilt-tripped.

    Don't be. That's pretty much a running joke. For me it is, 'cause noone watches Documentaries I post on CL. I know some of you do read sometimes ))

    Anyways, if you would want to get yourself a turn-based strategy RPG, do look at this game. It's pretty damn cool.

  8. #691152014-01-26 00:00:45Rinneko said:

    I'll keep it in mind. The documentaries you share are pretty interesting, but I somehow still haven't gotten around to watching that Inequality documentary. I will, one day.

  9. #692972014-01-29 00:57:02DarkChaplain said:

    Impressive review performance here, cool!

    Also, they apparently patched subtitles into the game, so woop, one of my criticisms out of the window! Good on them!

  10. #1020392016-05-05 06:57:40 *Kirn said:

    So, this would have gone to the "current games" thread, but hey - I actually made a thread for this game back in the day. So now it's time to update it with...

    Yes, 2 years after the first part, the game finally got a continuation we all have been waiting for. Well, all of us who played the first part. You see, while the story of the first game end in a very... definitive way, the story is far from over. Sure, you defeated the general of the invading Dredge army - with huge sacrifice, I might add. Sure, you trekked through half of the world map. Sure, your decisions - big and small - impacted how you arrived at the end. Well, that all wasn't for nothing, but it was just a small part. Without the Bellower, Dredge are still advancing, and you are still at the head of the caravan of hundreds of homeless refuges, and - most importantly, - there's still a huge goddamn serpent out there that can crush mountains just by moving, and he works hard on eating the world whole.

    So yeah, pretty much this is why we waited patiently - story of the game was so epic, that you just had to know more of it. Which is what I am doing now. Second game starts soon after the first game ends - you, as the leader of the caravan, and that lead character may change depending on how you ended the first game, keep running from Dredge, who have regrouped after losing their general. While you are the leader, you have a lot of imposing figures with you. Hakon - new Varl king now that Jorundr is dead, though he doesn't want to really accept king role, preferring to just keeping on hitting stuff. Ludin - prince of men, son of the human king in the human capital, which is actually your destination as the, probably, final relatively safe place in the world. You also got some hitchhikers from the final city of the first game. One is the governor of hat city, who wants to get to the capital, while playing power games even as you flee for your life. Another is Bolverk - Varl and leader of Ravens mercenary group. He's also a berserker and a real lose cannon. But he is the one given a hugely important task by mender Juno, and when your caravan splits later in the game, he will become a second main character, leading that second group of fighters.

    Story keeps up with the first part. As before, you are pretty much constantly on the run, moving from one place to the other, trying to keep enough supplies to last during trip, while being often presented with small and large decisions that would change how the story goes in minor or major ways. As before, effect of your decisions can be immediate, or it can be a real time-bomb, and you may as well find yourself waking up in a blizzard while being robbed by the very people you helped before. Additionally, if you finished the previous game (like I did, I re-played the first game, doing all the right stuffs), you will end up with characters and decisions you acquired in the first game, including even your party level and artifacts you had. Pretty much this concept would feel familiar to Mass Effect fans - you all know that before next game in the series came out, we would have re-played previous parts to get everything just right for that perfect save.

    Second game plays almost exactly as the first one, however, it's not just story that's new. Some features got slight improvements. Most notably - while in first game highest characters level was 5, this time it's 10. On 6th level characters can get second class ability, and now, after maxing out attack, defense or other stat, stat points can be spent on specific bonuses complimenting that stat. This allows for more customizations, though, if I am to be completely fair, if you figure the game combat system, you will more or less develop your characters in a very similar way to each other. Still, while system looks hard at first, and then it looks really simple, diversity of abilities can provide for some really clever tactics.

    Speaking of tactics. First game featured something called training tent, which allowed you to have mock battles, without any real benefit to it. Well, now training tent provides some actual services. Most notably - training master offers you some clever fights where you have to fulfill certain objectives. Doing that will help you get grasp of characters' abilities, AND it will give nice renown bonus, which is still the game currency.
    (I have to say, though. Currently, for the second caravan, second training exercise is bugged, and pretty much impossible to complete, which really sucks a lot. It's not game-breaking, but it's frustrating to no end, and I hope it will be fixed soon.)
    Not only that, but now training tent can take some time and turn peasants you got traveling with you into warriors that will help into massive-scale battles. Though, it's not a good idea to change all peasants you got. Why? Well, while simple clansmen were absolutely useless in the first game, this time around, at regular intervals, they forage for supplies, keeping your caravan alive and fed, which is a really nice bonus compared to the first game. Massive battles, however are changed in a way so you can't pick a strategy anymore... so everything depends on how much fighting power you caravan got, and if there's not enough warriors - you will suffer heavy losses. So you have to struggle for the right balance.

    Last notable addition to the game mechanics are obviously new classes. Most notable of those are bards, who provide some nice morale bonuses during the fight. While stabbing people with knives, yes, those are fighting bards we got there. Other awesome example is Bolverk himself - he's a pure Varl berserker and a real beast in the field. His right-hand woman Folka is a shield-maiden - new defensive class. And later in the game you meet horse-born - local centaurs - who represent new melee and ranged classes too with some nice mobility. Even characters of the same class are slightly different - having different max stats and so, so you will have a very diverse party. And don't even think about trying to level up all of them - you won't have enough renown for that. However, try not to neglect them all either, because some of the fights would require specific characters to be present.

    All in all, Banner Saga 2 is a solid continuation of the first game. That game first of all shone with its art and story and decision-making, and next part keeps those aspects of the game at exactly the same level - close to perfection even. And, in addition to rich tragic story, grand landscapes and awesome characters, game mechanics aren't just repetition of the old, but definitive improvement. I still recommend this to anyone who likes turn-based combat games, and, obviously, to everyone who played the first part.