Fresh off the heels of my Banner Saga 1 review, which I thought was great, Banner Saga 2 landed in my inbox. I was excited to continue my adventure without the wait, since Banner Saga 2 is pretty new to Switch. Banner Saga 3, which launches this month, is now ready for me to review as well, and after spending another 15 hours or so with 2, I am once again ready to continue and see my journey through to its end. With a continuously intriguing story, great new additions, and more tough decisions than the first, Banner Saga 2 continues to be a tactical rpg success story.
Banner Saga 2 picks up shortly after the end of the original, with all your decisions from the first carrying over if you have a present save file on your platform of choice. If not, you can make a couple of choices to sort of fill in the blanks. I will avoid spoilers to the best of my ability, and keep the details light where possible. This is a story that can play out differently for everyone, and bonds I formed with certain characters may not play out in your story the same.
After the end of Banner Saga, thoughts of impending doom dwell over many, your banner included. A giant serpent roams the land seemingly without reason, destroying villages with the quakes that its unimaginable size creates. The dredge are around by the masses, and after the loss of one of their leaders, they are acting a bit different. While some act different, revelations made at the end of the first entry allude to the fact that they may not all be bad, but more misunderstood as it would have it (which seems to cause many issues in our real world history.) How you tackle these changes to the world will define your Banner’s view of you and the outcomes that lie ahead. Whether you choose to lead as Rook or his daughter Alette, the story is yours entirely. Decisions this time around feel more impactful on the spot, as well as long term. Many of my hard fought choices made me anxious of the outcomes as the story deepened. I feared making the wrong calls, which is all part of the game and how everything entwines. This feeling of anxiousness is a lot more frequent in the second entry as the stakes are raised on a global scale, and you have to worry not only about your main characters but your clan as well.
A new feature introduced in BS2 is keeping track of your clan on a more in-depth level. This time around, measuring your amount of clansmen, fighters, and varl feels more important. In the first entry, your amount of fighters typically helped you in the “War” situations, which did not seem to be around in the same capacity. Instead, you can now train clansmen to be fighters for pre-fight situation’s, all while keeping in mind a few other variables. Though fighters are important for the defense of the clan, they also use up more supplies day to day. Additionally, clansmen can now “forage”, which brings more supplies to your caravan. This notion also directly feeds into how you play. If you are more reserved, you may not welcome as many villages and other banners into yours, which can be a lost opportunity or avoid trouble down the line when seemingly friendly people pull a fast one on you. I absolutely love and appreciate the decision making and how it plays into the games DNA. You can go a decent way in the game without fighting, and its conversations and actions that are well written and impactful that keep players like me heavily invested without the constant need for bloodshed.
Not only do you get to play as Rook or Alette, but also Bolverk, the Varl leader of the mercenaries known as the Ravens. He and his Ravens were introduced in the first, but this outing has you spending more intimate time with the group. Bolverk has his own role to play with the happenings in the world, and how you approach it is up to you. He is a hardened character, and while I like to be a kind and giving person in the real world and video games, I took some more aggressive approaches with Bolverk, but not always. It was fun to play with both sides of the spectrum so to speak. His dynamics with human interactions are interesting to say the least, as he cares for his Ravens and only them. Loyalty and oaths are worth more to him then it is to others, but that’s not to say coin does not mean something either. He is not as fond of humans as Iver, the famous Varl who was once expected to reign as king. Iver preferred a simpler life after his glory days, and it is great to see his open companionship towards humans like Rook and Alette. The growth and development of some relationships in this sequel make for some memorable story aspects.
In the combat sector, there are some small but noticeable changes. The most immediate one is the inclusion of barriers. Occasionally, fights will feature barriers, which can make movement a pain, especially for Varl. These barriers can be easily destroyed, but it is going to cost you a turn. They can also be used to your advantage if you are playing a more ranged style, and they can even be intentionally added to fights via choices in dialogue prior. In some fights, you NEED to destroy barriers to “win”. Additionally, new warrior types have been added. From more defensive tank styles, to the Skald who serve as the “hypemen” of the field, these new additions allow you to adjust your playstyle even further. Skald classes can boost teammates or shun enemies, depending on who they are. Shieldmaidens can absorb damage on behalf of their team, which is important when trying to keep someone alive. A notable addition is an entirely new race, known as the Horseborn. These centaur-esque people are seemingly unheard of, but because of the pressing global issues, they are now out in full force. While most do not speak the rest of the world’s native tongue, some can get by with what words they do know. Whether you make friend or foe of them is yet another major decision for you to make.
Aesthetically, the game is still gorgeous. With detailed characters and vibrant landscapes, the looks are wholly impressive. The cut scenes are top notch too, and even though I felt there was more this time around, I still cannot get enough of them. While there is not full-fledged voice acting still, when it does show up from time to time it is a welcome addition to the overall appeal. The songs are still emotionally in tune, but in some moments of quiet, more music would be welcome. Hell, I would love to have an animated, fully voiced Banner Saga movie in lieu of having the games voiced over.
On the Switch, some technical issues still prevail. Do not, I repeat, do not put your game in sleep mode in the middle of a fight. In most cases, it is going to slow down and not load appropriately, and crash upon completion. Other sound loading issues can sometime be an annoyance, but not a game crashing issue like the aforementioned.
Banner Saga is coming to an end this month, and I am already working my way through the final chapters. I am glad to have finally got around to playing the series this summer, because I am loving it. I get to experience all three titles back to back to back, in a portable and mostly dependable form. The game looks great, and the minor tweaks and additional polish are truly making it stand out from its first go around. I cannot wait to see what Banner Saga 3 has in store for its hopefully stunning conclusion.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review
Final Score: 8.5/10
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