The Banner Saga 2 (Xbox One) Review

By Nikola Suprak 29.07.2017

Review for The Banner Saga 2 on Xbox One

Calling The Banner Saga an indie game seems a bit unfair. Sure, it comes from a small independently-owned studio, but the three developers behind the company spent time working for BioWare, one of the biggest and best names in the industry. There was so much talent at the company that it was no surprise when the game was such a raucous success, earning accolades from nearly everyone who played it. Luckily for fans of the first title, The Banner Saga 2 follows directly after the epic conclusion of the first game. The original The Banner Saga certainly set a high bar, and for this title to live up to expectations would indeed be an impressive achievement - and yet, not only does it do just that, it improves upon the original even further.

It is hard to get too detailed on the plot without completely spoiling the ending for the first game, but suffice to say if you played the end of the first game then there are two very different starting variations to your party depending on some of the choices you made. Regardless of the exact composition of the traveling party, things aren't looking too hot for the Viking-like clan as the story starts again. The traveling group of heroes are still in the midst of a war against the Dredge, large stone-like warriors that are out to kill all things human and squishy.

Unfortunately, we cannot wait for erosion to take care of the baddies by itself, and things are made more complicated when a giant serpent starts doing bad giant serpent things that may or may not end the entirety of the world. It's basically been a rough couple of months for these warriors and, as anyone who played the first game knows, things are likely about to get a lot rougher.

The story in The Banner Saga 2 is absolutely phenomenal, and is likely one of the most engrossing works released within the past couple of years on any console. The lore and backstory here is incredible, and the amount of detail they put into the world is truly commendable. It is hard to get into too many details without spoiling the fun, but this is a very well written story with a memorable cast of characters. This is the kind of game that could be recommended simply for the story alone, and this is one of those experiences where people will wind up playing much later into the night than they should just because they're desperate to find out what happens next.

Screenshot for The Banner Saga 2 on Xbox One

The only issue here is that this is only the middle portion of the saga, and so many major issues are not wrapped up by the time the game finishes. Obviously they're saving some of the biggest moments for The Banner Saga 3, and from everything they've showed in the story thus far, that game will absolutely be a must-play upon its release.

Part of the fun with the plot comes from the fact that this bills itself as an interactive story, and is one of the few titles that actually feels like it lives up to that promise. It feels like your decisions have actual consequences here, real effects that manifest themselves in subsequent chapters of the story. There were a lot of difficult decisions in the first The Banner Saga and it feels like there are even more here in the sequel. Choosing not to help villages because it puts you in danger or opting to stick around an extra turn to help some people escape will change the way people view the player and alter future scenes in the story.

These aren't the simple kind of choices where there is a clear good and clear bad choice, and most decisions need to be carefully weighted even if there is a specific morality in mind. It is rare for a game like this to actually incorporate meaningful decisions into the actual plot, and even rarer that these decisions alter more than a couple of lines of dialogue here or there. Typically, a gameplay element like this largely feels like a waste, but The Banner Saga 2 manages to implement it almost flawlessly.

Screenshot for The Banner Saga 2 on Xbox One

The gameplay is perhaps not quite as good as the story, but it is still wildly enjoyable in its own right. The game employs the same sort of tactical RPG system used in the first game, and is really almost a perfect mix of complexity and accessibility that should appeal to most people even with a passing interest in the genre. Battles take place on grid-based maps that allow both sides to take turns moving around and poking each other with sharp objects. Like any game in the genre, careful planning and optimal positioning can have a huge effect on the outcome of the combat, and simply running forward and attacking without much thought to strategy is a great way to get everyone killed. The combat is very satisfying because of this, and a great job was done varying the maps both visually and with enemy positioning to make the battles feel very diverse and engaging.

There is also a lot of variety in classes and plenty of optimizations to be made to the party, and the game certainly puts a heavy focus on the tactical part of this tactical RPG. There is plenty here for fans of the genre to sink their teeth into, and while it might not be necessarily as complex as some other similar games, there is still a great amount of strategy and planning that needs to go into nearly every battle.

Outside of battle, there is a lot of management that needs to get done to ensure the party is in fighting shape. Simply laying back and hoping the troops take care of themselves won't do, as they need a more hands-on approach if they're not going to end of as Dredge punching bags. Combat earns renown, which is sort of the catch all experience and currency system in the game. Renown is used for upgrading fighters and purchasing equipment of supplies, and it is important that it is carefully managed to get everyone in fighting shape. Simply loading up on swords and armour isn't enough, as the crew needs to be well fed and well maintained to keep morale high.

Screenshot for The Banner Saga 2 on Xbox One

A high morale leads to more effective troops in battle, something which is absolutely necessary as the difficulty of the game ramps up. It is a really clever system, and the combination here of light management elements and heavy tactical elements works wonderfully together, making the game more addictive than it should be if it were to focus on either of those elements on its own. It is rare for a game to have a great story and great gameplay, but The Banner Saga 2 succeeds on both fronts.

There are some complaints here, but they are relatively minor and don't detract from what is overall an amazing experience. The final boss in particular is a bit of a slog to get through, and is probably the least enjoyable fight in the entire game. It relies on a slightly different mechanic than the other battles in the game, and takes away a lot of what was fun about the gameplay. It says something that the biggest gripe to be found really only concerns a single battle, but it would've been nice for the game to go out on a higher note than it did.

Additionally, a lot of the story here is left unresolved and it can feel a bit unsatisfying to have to wait. It is really only a fifteen-hour or so experience, and to leave so many questions and issues unresolved for the final chapter can be frustrating when the release date is still a while away. This is just the reality when something is released segmented like this, however, but it might've been more enjoyable to just wait and release it all in one big package deal. Still, this is probably a good problem for the game to have - it is too enjoyable and engaging and will leave people wanting more.

Screenshot for The Banner Saga 2 on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The Banner Saga 2 is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end, and it is the sort of title that anyone with even the slightest interest in the genre should enjoy. The story is engaging and incredibly well written, the gameplay is fun and addictive, and the visuals are downright beautiful. There are minor issues here, sure, including a disappointing final boss fight, but they pale in comparison to all the positives. The only major gripe is that waiting for The Banner Saga 3 is going to be unbearable now because of how high of a bar this title set. This is one of the few games that can be recommended to just about everyone with no qualifications or exceptions, and should be played by anyone that enjoys a good story or tactical RPG or just fun in general.

Developer

Stoic

Publisher

Versus Evil

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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