Banner Saga 2 continues the adventures of a caravan of refuges and mercenaries outrunning a horde of world engulfing creatures known as the Dredge while looking for secrets to stop them. In charge of this traveling circus of misfits are Rook and his daughter Alette. Based on events from the ending of the first you must choose who dies and who lives as the continuing leader. Dialogue differs slightly, but the same overarching narrative is present no matter what is chosen. It’s told through character interactions at camp, on the trail, or with beautifully animated cutscenes. Much like Game of Thrones it suffers from an overabundance of characters and lore making it difficult to follow, or care at times. It’s a world steeped in Viking culture and the mythos around it, which I dug, but again it wasn’t gripping.
Your quest moves along much like Oregon Trail except without the dysentery. Marching forward you’ll be presented with small dialogue choices, or story bits that either result in fortune, failure, or skirmishes. Your caravan is comprised of citizens, fighters, and a dying race known as the Varl. Traveling costs supplies and your decisions with effect those along with morale. Camping can improve conditions where you can rest, train characters, shop, talk to clansmen, and other various activities that spring up depending on where you park. It’s tasking to keep track of everything especially when every decision you make is watched with judging eyes. Not only that, but your currency is split between surviving and leveling up, but more on that in a second.
Now battles are situated on a grid much like Final Fantasy Tactics, but with XCOM like difficulty and punishments attached. Generally you can have about six teammates participate, each situated with varying classes though most of what you have to memorize is their weapon layouts from bowmen, spear wielders, mages, or Menders as they’re called here, and the like. Killing certain amounts of enemies earns that hero a promotion. Once you hit the targeted number you can then level up with Renown. This, as I hinted at before, is also your item currency so even strengthening your army is a hard twist of the wrist. Not only that, but party members come in and out with the story so actually beefing up certain people may betray you as well. Like traveling it’s a lot to take in and it’s not for the feint of heart although once you play around with everything and learn to just go with the flow, good or bad, it’ll all eventually sink in.
One thing that’s apparent from the start is Banner Saga’s art, which translates amazingly between dialogue discussions, cutscenes, and even battle animations. It was hard to tell if my tears were gushing because it was difficult, or because I couldn’t believe the beauty before me. The music is also astounding, scored with heavy drums, violins, and chanting, furthering the Viking aesthetic. I had no difficulty in terms of performance. Even as a newcomer to the series the recap and in game lore present was enough to catch up me to date, well, mostly. The only thing I can think of to complain about was the lack of manual saves.
Banner Saga 2 is a somber tale of survival through lush, colorful environments. The plot didn’t grip me, but that gameplay loop sure was addictive. So whether, or not you played the previous I suggest you toss those doubts aside and try it out. It’ll surprise you and probably, like me, have you purchase the first one and then play them all again to better appreciate the experience.
Banner Saga 2 Score: 4/5 Stars
Special Notes: I was provided with a review code for Banner Saga 2.