The Banner Saga

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The Banner Saga
The Banner Saga logo transparent.png
Developer(s) Stoic
Publisher(s) Versus Evil
Designer(s) Alex Thomas
Programmer(s) John Watson
Artist(s) Arnie Jorgensen
Writer(s) Alex Thomas
Composer(s) Austin Wintory
Platform(s) Android
iOS
Linux
Microsoft Windows
OS X
PlayStation 4
Xbox One
Release Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android
  • WW: January 14, 2014
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • WW: January 12, 2016
Genre(s) Tactical role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

The Banner Saga is a fantasy tactical role-playing video game developed by Stoic, a trio of indie game developers formerly of BioWare, and published by Versus Evil. The game takes place in a fictional world inspired by Viking mythology. It was released as a single-player campaign, The Banner Saga – the first game of a projected trilogy – on 14 January 2014, as well as a separate free-to-play online multiplayer game, The Banner Saga: Factions, in February 2013. A sequel was released on April 19, 2016.

Gameplay[edit]

A development screenshot of the game's turn-based combat component

The core of the game is a single-player campaign of turn-based combat engagements inspired by games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force, with the player controlling and being able to build up a party of characters with complementing abilities.

According to the developers, their aim was to create a "mature game for adults in the vein of Game of Thrones or The Black Company". They intend to engage players emotionally by allowing them to build relationships with the game's characters and shape the outcome of the story through an array of conversation choices.[1] The game eschews certain conventions of action-oriented computer role-playing games such as the focus on a young lone hero's story, looting and buying items, or reloading a saved game state after defeat. Instead, the developers intended to tell the story of the player's caravan as a whole, and encourage players to accept and deal with the consequences of any defeats they may encounter.[2]

The Banner Saga centers on the return of the Dredge - a warlike race that despises humans - led by Bellower, a nigh invincible Dredge who leads them on a warpath. As a wandering army sent to fight against the Dredge and find a weakness for Bellower, the caravan make many difficult decisions that would shape the fate of both man and Varl. Meanwhile a darkness starts to encompass the world as a giant serpent causes massive earthquakes and breaches across the lands.

In the second chapter of the Saga, the army heads towards Arberrang, the human capital. Meanwhile, a mercenary group known as the Ravens, led by Bolverk, head off to Mannaharr to hide Bellower's body and to investigate the serpent.

The Banner Saga: Factions[edit]

The turn-based multiplayer combat component was released on Steam as a free standalone game, called The Banner Saga: Factions, prior to the release of the single-player game. Factions became available to backers on 18 February 2013 and to the public on 25 February.[3] It allows players to pit teams of six combatants, chosen from 16 classes, against each other.[4]

Plot[edit]

The game takes place in a Viking legend-inspired world, stuck in a perpetual twilight since the sun stopped moving weeks before the events of the game, mainly populated by humans and giant-like creatures called the Varls, as the Dredge, an ancient race believed to be extinct for ages, returns to kill them all.

The plot of The Banner Saga is an interactive story, meaning that several events may or may not happen depending on the player's choices. The game follows two playable characters, each having his own story that ultimately merges into one:

On the west, the Varl Vognir, together with several other companions that include his longtime friend Hakon, the retired Varl warrior Ubin, and the resourceful human Eirik, are charged with escorting Ludin, Prince of the human capital Arberrang, to the Varl capital Grofheim in order to seal an alliance between the two races. In the city of Vedrfell however, Vognir is slain in an encounter with Dredge, leading Hakon to take command of the caravan. Continuing their way, the caravan faces many of the Dredge, and, while exploring the city in ruins of Ridgehorn, find an unconscious man next to a woman's dead body on the top of a tower. As they rescue him and continue their way, the man, Eyvind, unsuccessfully implores Hakon to return to Ridgehorn, convinced his companion is still alive. The caravan finally reaches Grofheim, only to find it aflame and completely overrun by Dredge.

On the other side of the country, the hunter Rook and his daughter Alette encounter a lone Dredge near their home of Skogr. They hastily come back to their town and their Varl friend Iver, only to find the village attacked by the Dredge. Together with the Chieftain's wife Oddleif and the other survivors of the village, they escape to the town of Frostvellr. Finding the town unsafe, they continue their quest for shelter, eventually having no choice but to seek refuge in the Varl fortress of Einartoft. On their way, terrible earthquakes occur, seemingly caused by a massive form in the distance. Although the Varl of Einartoft refuse to let humans in at first, Iver, whose real identity is a legendary, long-disappeared warrior known as Yngvar, persuades them to let the caravan in.

In Einartoft, Rook, Alette and their companions meet Hakon, Prince Ludin, and their own companions who also took shelter in the fortress after discovering what was left of Grofheim. They all meet with the Varl King, Jorundr. The situation is soon revealed to be desperate here as well, as Einartoft is now under siege from the Dredge and their immortal champion, Bellower. With the king refusing to destroy the bridge leading to the fortress, the companions have no choice but to fight the Dredge, leading to Iver being severely wounded and losing an arm in a fight against Bellower. As Eyvind tries to distract Bellower and save Iver, the massive form they saw in the distance earlier, a massive, terrifying serpent, emerges and gives a glance at the battle before going away, causing the Dredge to retreat in fear.

Meanwhile, Juno, the woman whose body was next to Eyvind when Hakon's caravan found him, awakens in the ruins of Ridgehorn, only to find the gigantic serpent facing her. After unsuccessfully trying to kill her, the serpent speaks to her, revealing he was supposed to swallow what was left of the world, but is deeply troubled by the presence of a "darkness" taking over the world instead. After he leaves, Juno contacts Eyvind by telepathy, urging him to leave Einartoft and meet her down south in the city of Sigrholm.

Eyvind soon pleads with Rook to lead him to Sigrholm. Rook agrees, as Einartoft is already doomed, and the caravan leaves, soon warned by Ubin and other survivors catching them that the city fell only a few hours after they left. When the caravan finally reaches the unwelcoming city of Sigrholm, Juno is nowhere to be found; despite Eyvind's protests, Rook decides the only hope they have left is to find shelter in the fortified city of Boersgard. However, they soon find yet another city in the brink of chaos, with no boats left, and where a group of mercenaries named the Ravens, led by the Varl Bolverk, rules the city. Boersgard finds itself stuck between the sea and a Dredge host. More Dredge arrive every day, while supplies are running out and widespread riots are tearing the city apart from the inside, as Rook and his friends decide their only hope resides in building new boats to leave by the sea before it is too late. As the city's defenses are about to fall before their goal is achieved, they are saved by Juno, together with Hakon, Prince Ludin, and an army of Varl who escaped Einartoft at the last moment. Despite this brief moment of triumph, they soon find themselves in even more trouble as Bellower and yet more Dredge arrive. With the help of Rook, Juno creates a magic arrow; the Dredge would rout if Bellower was defeated, and although he is immortal, the arrow would hit his very mind, convincing him of his own death and making him fall into a coma. The player is given the choice to give the arrow to either Rook or Alette; the one chosen ultimately hits Bellower, allowing his/her companions to defeat him and make the Dredge army flee, but is killed by Bellower after shooting him. Some time later, the caravans of Rook and Hakon, now unified as one, leave Boersgard together with the Ravens on newly constructed boats, afflicted with grief, after giving Rook/Alette a proper farewell and funeral.

Setting and style[edit]

Concept artwork from the game

The game is set in a Viking-inspired fantasy setting, chosen by the developers so as to avoid what they considered the "overdone 'elves, dwarves and orcs' dynamic".[1] With a visual style influenced by Eyvind Earle's art for the 1959 Disney film Sleeping Beauty, as well as the work of Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth, The Banner Saga's art features primarily hand-drawn animation sequences, characters and backgrounds.[1]

Factions uses the city of Strand as its main user interface, with players selecting different buildings of the city to access various playmodes and functionalities. Additionally, according to Stoic, "the city will evolve as the story unfolds".[5]

Development[edit]

The game's developers – Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen and John Watson – left BioWare after working on Star Wars: The Old Republic, with the intention of making a game for their own enjoyment.[6] The project was financed through the crowd funding platform Kickstarter. It was opened to pledges on 19 March 2012[6] and met its funding goal of USD 100,000 in the course of the next day.[7] The project eventually accumulated USD 723,886 from 20,042 backers.[8]

On January 14, 2014, the game was released with help from Versus Evil via digital distribution on Steam. Initially released for the Windows and Mac platforms, ports to iPad and Android were released in October 2014.

A port to Linux as released in March 2015, and ports for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were released in January 2016.

A port to PlayStation Vita has been underway since 2014.

Soundtrack[edit]

The fully orchestrated score was written by Austin Wintory for which he was nominated for the 2014 Original Dramatic Score, New IP by National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers (NAVGTR).[8][9] It features Malukah, Peter Hollens, Jóhann Sigurðarson and Taylor Davis as soloists. The ensemble that performed the music was the Dallas Wind Symphony,[10][11] and it was recorded at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas.[12]

Track listing[edit]

Banner Saga - O.S.T.
The Banner Saga OST cover.jpg
Soundtrack album by Austin Wintory
Released January 14, 2014 (2014-01-14)
Genre Video game soundtrack
Length 70:51
Label Reference Recordings

All music composed by Austin Wintory.

No. Title Length
1. "We Will Not Be Forgotten" 0:45
2. "How did it come to This?" 2:47
3. "No Tree Grows to the Sky" 2:41
4. "Only the Sun has Stopped" 1:20
5. "Cut with a Keen-Edged Sword" 3:31
6. "Huddled in the Shadows" 3:02
7. "There is no Bad Weather" 0:58
8. "Teach us Luck" 0:32
9. "No Life Goes Forever Unbroken" 2:49
10. "Little Did They Sleep" 2:10
11. "An Unblinking Eye" 1:05
12. "Thunder before Lightning" 2:49
13. "Embers in the Wind" 1:25
14. "A Long Walk Stills Our Hearts" 1:20
15. "The Egg Cracks" 2:02
16. "Three Days to Cross" 2:03
17. "Walls no Man has Seen" 1:55
18. "Strewn Across a Bridge" 6:03
19. "Weary the Weight of the Sun" 1:49
20. "An Uncertain Path" 2:09
21. "Into Dust" 2:43
22. "On the Hides of Wild Beasts" 1:22
23. "From the Table to the Axe" 1:15
24. "A Sunken City" 1:42
25. "Our Heels Bleed from the Bites of Wolves" 1:59
26. "Long Past that Last Sigh" 2:45
27. "Of Our Bones, The Hills" 10:18
28. "We are all Guests upon the Land" 2:21
29. "Onward" 3:11
Total length: 70:51

Reception[edit]

The Banner Saga has an aggregate score of 82 out of 100 (based on 32 critical reviews) on Metacritic, signifying "generally positive reviews".[13] The iOS version of the game obtained an aggregate score of 90 out of 100, signifying "universal acclaim".[14]

According to IGN, The Banner Saga excelled both in its art and in its varied story full of meaningful choices. The reviewer also approved of the game's tough, but rewarding combat system and bleak, but beautiful soundtrack, while considering that the game could have explained key gameplay mechanics better.[15] Eurogamer praised the game's art and elegant combat system, while criticizing the lack of variety in combat.[16] Hardcore Gamer commended its feature-quality production values as well as its deep and engaging combat.[17]

GameSpot awarded The Banner Saga a score of 7.0 out of 10, saying "The Banner Saga is a beautiful game, filled with interesting ideas and enjoyable battles."[18] Eurogamer awarded it a score of 8 out of 10, saying "The Banner Saga offers a refreshing take on the tactical RPG with a story every bit as engaging as its combat."[19]

Dwellers Included awarded The Banner Saga Complete Pack with Survival Mode a 4.5 out of 5, saying "The first thing you’ll notice when you start playing The Banner Saga is how beautiful this game is; from the characters, to the backgrounds, even the animations, every visual aspect of the game is absolutely stunning."[20]

Sequels and other media[edit]

A sequel, The Banner Saga 2, was announced in December 2014.[21] The game was released on April 19, 2016.[22] A miniatures board game, The Banner Saga: Warbands, was announced in August 2015.[23] A prequel novel, The Gift of Hadrborg by James Fadeley, was released in August 2016.[citation needed] In January 2017, Stoic launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for a third instalment in the series called Banner Saga 3.[24] In March 2017, the game bypassed its $200k funding goal with $416,986 raised.[25]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Mattas, Jeff (6 March 2012). "The Banner Saga 'in the vein of Game of Thrones;' Kickstarter launching soon". Shack News. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  2. ^ "Interview with Stoic on Banner Saga". Live Pixel. 23 August 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2012. 
  3. ^ "Banner Saga Out Now For Backers, Everyone Next Week". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved February 20, 2013. 
  4. ^ Pinsof, Allistair (19 September 2012). "Preview: The Banner Saga Factions". Destructoid. Retrieved 21 September 2012. 
  5. ^ "The City of Strand". Stoic. 13 July 2012. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Curtis, Tom (19 March 2012). "When ex-BioWare devs make their own strategy RPG". Gamasutra. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Mattis, Jeff (21 March 2012). "The Banner Saga reaches Kickstarter funding goal in under two days". Shack News. Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Kickstarter. "The Banner Saga". Retrieved 21 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "NAVGTR Awards (2014)". National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers. 
  10. ^ Wintory, Austin. "The Banner Saga". Bandcamp. Retrieved 13 January 2014. 
  11. ^ Peele, Britton (March 12, 2014). "How The Banner Saga’s soundtrack found roots with the Dallas Wind Symphony". Retrieved 2016-01-26. 
  12. ^ "The Banner Saga". Reference Recordings. Reference Recordings. Retrieved 13 March 2017. 
  13. ^ "The Banner Saga". Metacritic. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "The Banner Saga". Metacritic. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  15. ^ Johnson, Leif (14 January 2014). "HIGH NORSEPOWER". IGN. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Harman, Stace (14 January 2014). "The Banner Saga review: Trooping the colour". Eurogamer. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  17. ^ Thew, Geoff (2014-01-14). "Review: The Banner Saga - Chapter 1". Hardcore Gamer. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  18. ^ VanOrd, Kevin (January 14, 2014). "The Banner Saga review: An Axe To Grind". GameSpot. Retrieved March 14, 2016. 
  19. ^ Harman, Stace (January 14, 2014). "The Banner Saga review: Trooping the Color". Eurogamer. Retrieved March 14, 2016. 
  20. ^ Perez, Mike (2017-05-02). "Review: Banner Saga Complete Pack with Survival Mode". Dwellers Included. Retrieved 2017-05-09. 
  21. ^ Moser, Cassidee (5 December 2014). "The Banner Saga 2 Announced". IGN. Ziff Davis. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  22. ^ Estrada, Marcus (25 June 2015). "E3 2015: The Banner Saga 2 is a Deeper, Darker Sequel". Hardcore Gamer. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Gera, Emily (2 August 2015). "The Banner Saga Goes The Way Of The Board Game". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  24. ^ "The Banner Saga 3 Confirmed With Kickstarter Campaign, Is The Last Game In The Trilogy". gamespot.com. Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  25. ^ Kris Ligman (2017-03-04). "Why the makers of Banner Saga went back to Kickstarter for their third game". Zam. Retrieved 2017-03-14. 

External links[edit]