The first installment in the three-part The Banner Saga series is coming to Switch in two days. What have I learned so far?
Well, I learned that playing the game in front of Stoic’s Zeb West and Matt Rhoades was equal bits exciting and nerve-wracking, especially considering that I’ve never played either game. It’s not because of apathy or disinterest in the game – I just never had enough time to anchor myself in front of my computer to play. And trying the third entry in the saga without knowing anything about what happened in the first two? That’s an even scarier proposition.
I also learned what I’ve been missing the entire time: beautiful hand drawn art with vibrant colors that looked visually pleasing. Each animated movement in the smoothly-running game reminds everyone that everything was painstakingly sketched before it could even think of gracing our eyes. The game was calming yet serious, but not too serious to the point of being silent in every in-game conversation. The battle, which could feel slow and deliberate to some, has a lot of strategic options for everyone to consider.
The option to play with either controllers or touch screen also helps in putting new players at ease. Because the game was originally designed with the convenience of a mouse pointer, choosing some options with a controller during battle can be a bit cumbersome. The Switch’s touch screen solves this problem, and it definitely makes the battles go that much quicker. You can thank The Banner Saga’s mobile implementation for the no-brainer touch screen controls.
Before we go further, let’s talk about The Banner Saga’s background. Initially released for PC back in 2014, the game is a turn-based tactical strategy game where you oversee a Viking caravan’s safe passage. It has since released on mobile and other home consoles, along with the second entry in the series. West told me that a PlayStation Vita was initially planned (and was even in the works for a while), but was scrapped due to major difficulties in porting the game. Meanwhile, the third and final installment releases in July of this year.
The games’ striking visual style and engrossing tactical gameplay won The Banner Saga several accolades, and rightfully so. The tactical battles, which is the game’s main highlight, are more complex than just simply sending units against the meat grinder. There are lots of options per unit, highlighting each one’s importance and function in battle. And just like in older Fire Emblem games, once a unit is gone, they’re gone.
There’s also a team management gameplay that I found to be a good breather between battles. Instead of battling repeatedly to the point of exhaustion, you can tend to your caravan and make sure that they have enough supplies. Not only do you have to make sure that you can complete your passage safely, but you also need to make sure that they’re not starving. You could say that managing everyone’s food supplies only adds to the stress, and it’s true. But everything is stressful when you’re leading a caravan through unknown and dangerous areas.
Also new to The Banner Saga 3 is the battle wave system, allowing for a greater risk-reward gameplay. With this feature, players have the option to either fight another set of enemies in exchange for more items and experience, or to run away and keep safe. The catch? You have a set number of turns before the next wave arrives, so be sure to get rid of them quickly to avoid getting overwhelmed. Unless, of course, you want to keep using your fancy lightning skill to take care of the mobs around you.
And because of the game’s story set-up, your team, choices, and progress from the previous game carries over to the next one. Even the chapter numbering continue throughout the games, which could be a bit disorienting for those who enter the series in the middle. Which is why it’s important to start with the first game, which finally comes out for the Switch on May 17, in order to get the full context.