At the start of 2013, a free-to-play turn-based tactical multiplayer game appeared by the name of The Banner Saga: Factions. A Kickstarter project that became very, very successful overnight, Factions was a showcase of a forthcoming game's artistry and battle system as the rest of the game was still being built. Along with the game's fantastically playable battle system there promises to be an emotionally-charged narrative with a few gaming mechanics rarely seen in an RPG, or many other games in fact. That game is The Banner Saga.
The Banner Saga promises to be a truly epic adventure; primarily a tale of survival set against a Norse-inspired narrative, you are coaxed into making a wealth of decisions that can have startling consequences for any of the people you grow accustomed to along the journey.
As is all the rage at the moment, you must think carefully about decisions you make, as most characters in the story of The Banner Saga are all able to be killed off in one way or another, and are unwittingly all dependent on your ability to make the right decisions about their fates. Whether it is down to careless management of your army, sending people into battle unprepared, or any number of reasons, you must tread lightly and think intelligently or your characters are going to go all Game of Thrones on you.
The Banner Saga is a game of many types. Firstly there is the classic isometric turn-based style of combat, a system that went out of style for a while, but is slowly making a resurgence thanks to the likes of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the Fire Emblem series. Also there is a unique side to the game whereby you control huge armies as they cross the land; you must make sure they have enough food for the perilous treks that lie ahead, you must make decisions that affect individuals or the entire army, and a loss in battle will diminish your numbers, making bigger scale wars down the line a much harder feat.
You must manage resources too, like food, fighters and race relationships between the humans and the giant varl race. People you care for can drop dead because of a bad decision you make. You can engage enemies in war, leaving it up to you to charge heavy-handedly, wait for the perfect time to strike, or retreat. Around every corner you must keep your wits about you,otherwise you’re unlikely to have any of your army left by the game's conclusion.
Oh, and the artwork is beautiful, as you can see by the accompanying pictures. It looks as though these indie developers have gone to town creating a world rich with character, borne out by highly detailed hand drawings based on their visions of giant Vikings in a fantastical Norse environment. If it plays as well as it looks then The Banner Saga could well be one of the sleeper hits of 2014.
You are not limited to one story either, as the game will flip between protagonists at varying ends of the map, destined to collide, no doubt, as they flee a common, ancient enemy.
If, like me, you miss the golden age of 16- to 64-bit RPGs, or are just looking for something a little bit different that is aiming to test your people management and decision-making skills, aims to chip away at you emotionally, and looks incredible while it does all that, then The Banner Saga should more than satisfy. Keep your eyes open for a full review very soon. The Banner Saga releases on January 14th on Steam.