In January 2014, I reviewed The Banner Saga from Stoic Studio. It won my best RPG of the year that year, as well as Sharon’s GOTY. In preparation for this review, I re-played TBS so that I would have a save file to import into TBS2, and so that I would remember the story (I hadn’t replayed since I reviewed it!). I’m really glad I did this, because TBS2 picks up right where the first game left off and takes your choices into account. There will be spoilers for the first game in this review, so turn back now if you haven’t played TBS1 yet and plan to. Check out the launch trailer:
“As the world continues to crumble around you, only one bastion of hope remains, but getting there will require strong leadership, hard sacrifices, influencing new heroes, and, as always, sound strategy in combat.”
Because of my choice at the end of the first game, I began the game with a despondent Rook, mourning the death of his daughter. If you don’t have a save file from TBS, you can make the final choice when you start a new game, and I plan to travel with Alette on my next playthrough. There’s a recap video available if you didn’t play the first game or just want a refresher. Everything is just as desperate as in the first game (a never-ending supply of giant armored dredge, a non-moving sun, and dead Gods), but now the snake from the first game is loose and the caravans are still on the run. You’ll play chapters eight through fifteen, which I thought was a nice way to show that this is absolutely a continuation of a story.
The story itself hooked me from the beginning; TBS1 is a bit heavy to get into because of all the lore, but since you know this world when you’re playing TBS2, the game doesn’t need to give you much exposition. There are a few twists and turns that had me exclaiming out loud, and the pacing is amazing. I was emotionally affected at times, which hasn’t happened to me often while gaming. There are again two story threads to follow; after the first chapter, Bolverk will separate from Rook or Alette’s caravan to make his own way. Bolverk is the intimidating Varl who you met at the very end of the last game, and I loved learning more about him and the Ravens who follow him. Unfortunately, because this is the middle game of a planned trilogy, the ending is a bit abrupt – I want to continue the story so badly!
A note on the women: they’re just as fantastic as in the first game, and are represented well. There are fighting women among all the forces you encounter, and they’re all capable, with their own motivations and personalities. In the first game, there’s even a chance to say that you’ve never liked the term ‘strong woman’ when a woman laments being called one. I’ve always appreciated the series’ treatment and portrayal of women, and they do an excellent job of continuing it.
Graphics and Sound
The Banner Saga 2 looks very much the same as the first game, which is to say, stunningly gorgeous. The style of art used is inspired by Eyvind Earle, and it’s breathtaking. I have so many screenshots of this game, and I love the pace of the caravans because it allows you to appreciate the scenery. There are quite a few excellent animated setpieces, and there are more cutscenes this time around. There are small improvements to the animations as well – everyone looks just a bit more detailed. There’s also some more varied weather and environmental effects, which look great.
There is a bit more voice acting this time around, but it’s still not fully voiced, which is fine. Austin Wintory returns as the composer, and you can grab the soundtrack on Bandcamp for $6. He never disappoints, and this soundtrack is one of my favorites this year.
If you played the first game, you’ll be absolutely fine – nothing substantial has changed. There’s a non-skippable tutorial at the beginning, which is a bit annoying if you just played the first one, but it doesn’t last long. There have been a lot of small, welcome tweaks to the interface, including:
- a plus sign when heroes can be leveled up or have points to distribute
- more detailed notifications on supply and morale levels
- clansmen now forage for food on their own, bolstering supply levels
- fighters seem to be able to move more on the battlefield than in the last game
The battlefields have been infused with variety this time, and some battles give you different objectives, which was welcome. I really love the turn-based, tactical combat system in TBS, but it’s nice to change it up every once in a while. You can now level your followers up to level ten, and they can choose more willpower abilities and special talents as they level up. There are new enemy types and a whole new race of people, the horseborn, who are very cool. The whole thing adds up to a smoother experience. The only odd thing I noticed was that some of the imported levels on characters weren’t right; I hadn’t leveled Odd up in the first game, but she was at level 3 with one kill left until a promotion in TBS2. I think this is to put everyone at a level playing field with the level of the enemies though, so I wasn’t bothered too much by it. Also, make sure to read everyone’s biographies again – many of them have been updated with new information!
There are 43 achievements and the game took me 6.4 hours to complete. Something interesting to note is that you get +5 renown every time you get an achievement for the first time, which is a nice in-game incentive for earning these.
This is an easy recommendation for those who loved The Banner Saga, improving on small annoyances from the first in the series to make a truly excellent game that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. If you haven’t played the first game, I strongly encourage you to play that one first! It will mean a lot more. Now to begin the long wait for the conclusion!
[Disclaimer: A review code was provided for me to review this game.]