For better or worse, Kickstarter has changed the landscape of indie games. The crowdfunding platform has given small studios access to capital and publicity as long as they present a compelling idea. Some projects can go almost as planned (see “FTL: Faster Than Light”), while other titles can be messy, like Double Fine's “Broken Age.”
“The Banner Saga” is one of the success stories. Stoic Studio originally pegged its funding goal at $100,000, but the strategy role-playing game struck a chord with players. Maybe it was the hand-drawn art that attracted them, or perhaps it was the unusual fantasy realm based on Norse culture. Whatever the reason, Stoic ended up raising $723,886.
The result is a good role-playing game that pulls fans into its world. Humans and giants, called Varl, face an unknown threat as creatures called the Dredge start flooding the countryside. It's a story that's hard to follow in the beginning. The plot seems impenetrable, with Stoic throwing several characters at players at once. But if they give it a chance, fans will realize that “Banner” is not a title that leans on one hero who must save the day.
“The Banner Saga” is more nuanced, with an ensemble cast and intertwining storylines as two caravans eventually cross paths in front of an impending disaster. Players will take on the roles of different leaders, and the decisions they make will have an effect on their parties' survival. Similar to “Oregon Trail,” they will have to manage supplies, strong personalities and random encounters on the journey. A wrong decision may cost the life of a friend or force an ally to leave the group.
That's one half of the game. The other part is the turn-based combat, which Stoic does a decent job of teaching players. It takes some adjustment to figure out how to use the powers of each character and how damage is calculated between strength and armor. But once players get the hang of commanding their troops, the battles are challenging chess matches, where players have to outmaneuver, defend and attack. It's reminiscent of other strategy franchises, such as “Fire Emblem.”
Although “The Banner Saga” does most things right, it does have flaws. The user interface features buttons that are small and lead to mistaken clicks. The battlefield can get too crowded at times, making it hard to see where an enemy is positioned. That's one of the drawbacks of 2-D — the fixed perspective. When it comes to gameplay, I wish positioning a soldier behind or at the side of an enemy had an effect on attacks.
Those are issues that can be dealt with in future iterations if “The Banner Saga” takes off. But that shouldn't be too much of a problem, seeing what the small team at Stoic Studio has done. It has crafted a quality experience that feels like a playable fantasy novel, one that has the same compelling promise of a George R.R. Martin page-turner.
Contact Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or email@example.com. Follow him atTwitter.com/gcacho.
'The Banner Saga'
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Rating: Not rated