The Banner Saga 2 - Review  

Over the Hills and Far Away
by Sam Wachter

Less than 20 Hours
+ Interesting story and presentation
+ Beautiful soundtrack
+ Intense cliffhanger of an ending
- Text is hard to read
- Visibility issues in combat
- Hard to get attached to characters
Click here for scoring definitions 

   I was enamored with the The Banner Saga when I played it back at the beginning of this year. The game left me as an emotional train wreck, with many of the decisions in my playthrough affecting a lot of my favourite characters. The sequel, The Banner Saga 2, picks up directly where the first game left off, and believe me — this is a wild ride worth taking.

   Following the ending of The Banner Saga, this sequel begins with the remains of Rook's caravan after slaying The Bellower. Realizing that The Bellower cannot be destroyed and The Dedge keep multiplying, Rook and his companions choose to drive the caravan west toward Arberrang in an attempt to meet with King Meinolf and seek refuge. Along the way, Bolverk, one of Rook's companions and his trusted confidant, Folka, decide to desert from the caravan in an attempt to destroy the remains of The Bellower, taking an alternate pathway that causes a greater conflict as the story progresses.

   The storytelling in The Banner Saga is engagingly stressful, and the sequel definitely amps up the decisions that must be made throughout. Many of the choices that the player is forced to participate in have dire consequences, and in a lot of situations it's hard to determine what the best solution may be in the worst case scenario. Sometimes there is no safe option, and the choices made change the outcome of the narrative, as well as which characters live or die. There is nothing worse than losing a favorite character because terrible choices are made. On top of these choices, The Banner Saga 2 does a fantastic job of expanding the world's lore and keeping the player guessing as the story moves forward.

Another disaster waiting to happen. Another disaster waiting to happen.

   One complaint from the first game is that the characterization was lacking, and while Banner Saga 2 expands on certain characters with a lot more gusto, there is still a portion of the cast that feels static and disposable, with players only getting brief glimpses of of whom they might be. That being said, the overall story and characters in this sequel are a stronger bunch, with the narrative ending on an insane cliffhanger, and one that will make the player demand to know what in the world is going to happen next.

   Since this is a direct sequel to the first game, not a lot has really changed in terms of the gameplay. Players will control a caravan moving across an area, making decisions on how to proceed in a situation. As each day passes, supplies are depleted and morale will worsen or improve depending on choices that are made. Morale helps dictate the flow of combat, providing bonuses when morale is strong, while poor morale causes battles to become much more challenging.

   Combat is presented as a grid-based tactical RPG, wherein players will begin the battle by selecting and placing their units on the battlefield. The controls for the console version are still mapped the same way, with the D-Pad allowing players to cycle through all the units on the field, while the thumbstick allows for movement around the map and selecting actions. This control scheme does take some getting used to, but it gets the job done.

   Each character has a specific race, and movement and size are dependent on it. Varls, large horned creatures, consume four squares, while humans and a new race, horsemen, consume one square. Placement is one of the most important aspects to having success in The Banner Saga 2, and some of the battles in this sequel are far rougher in difficulty than the first game. It's important to consider how much space a character consumes and where they are placed, as it's easy to lose units by simply placing them in the line of fire.

Folka is a tough cookie to crack. Folka is a tough cookie to crack.

   The other important tactic that adds a layer of depth to this battle system is balancing when one needs to attack an enemy's shield versus its health. This adds a new aspect of strategy to encounters, and with some of the newer enemy types introduced in The Banner Saga 2, it's imperative to try and make the best use of each turn characters have. Players can also consume Willpower to add extra punch to their attacks and special abilities, which can be handy in situations where the enemy may be overpowering. The amount of critical thinking that players will exercise and endure within The Banner Saga 2 is part of the fun, even if some of the battles are rather challenging.

   Some problems from the first game remain in this entry, which is a shame. The text is still small, and city names are written in a white and bluish font that makes it hard to read when moving from place to place. The camera range and zoom are limited in scope for movement, making it hard to see all the areas of the map. There are also maps where there's so much going on visually that it's often hard to see where units can be moved and placed. These issues, though not game breaking, can be frustrating to navigate at times.

   In spite of these issues, The Banner Saga 2 is as gorgeous in its visuals as its predecessor. In fact, there are areas of this game that look better than the first game, as players will now traverse through stunningly detailed forests, mountainsides, and plains. There's a great amount of detail in both the environments as well as the character portraits, though there's still moments where the characters look too static during dialogue sequences. The soundtrack is once again as fantastic and full of emotion as the first game. While there are some recycled tracks from the prior entry, the ones that exist are a strong offering, while some of the newer tracks present a much more somber tone than previous ones.

   The cliffhanger presented at the end of The Banner Saga 2 left me on the edge of my seat, tossing the controller down and shouting "this can't be it!" I mean that statement with love and affection because I needed to know how that story ends and that cliffhanger felt like such a tease. If you are into this series because of the story, The Banner Saga 2 is a much stronger offering than the first game, and it will keep you guessing from start to finish.

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