This game is silly. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t mean that in a bad way, but you have to admit no one was calling for Nintendo’s iconic Mario franchise to collide with Ubisoft’s collective of crazed, rabbit-like creatures. What we’ve ended up with as a result of this unholy alliance however, is truly something special.
For many the setup isn’t that important, but the time and care put into it by Ubisoft really puts across what it meant to them to be able to work awithin the Mario universe.
Battles are where the action is of course, and while Beep-O is fine at the odd puzzle, it’s Mario and co. who you’ll be relying on to tackle the rabbids that went extra wacky during the transition. There are a few ever-so-slightly more sane rabbids on your own team, including Rabbid Peach, who constantly snaps selfies and admires herself to really inject her with personality.
Each character has access to different weapons and skills, but variety feels somewhat lacking, with the same skills having different names depending on the hero in an attempt to disguise what’s essentially a copy and paste exercise. What makes things more frustrating is that you might not unlock the character you really want until near enough the end of the game, though at least you can reset your skills at any time to tailor your team to the challenge at hand.
Speaking of which, challenge maps become available once you’ve completed each mode, these taking an existing level and throwing in different conditions like a one turn limit or added enemy variety. Some of these can be taken on in co-op as well, in a perhaps slightly underdeveloped mode which nonetheless manages to be a great time for players in the same room (there’s no online option).
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed), but, on the whole, it really feels quite different thanks to its more basic approach. For example, Mario and chums can dash through enemies during movement to deal serious damage and then attack with weapons, compounding the damage dealt in a way which also fits in with Mario's head-stomping pedigree. Things can even be further simplified by toggling ‘Easy Mode’ at the beginning of any skirmish, helping to make Kingdom Battle more accessible to all.
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed).
Enemies gain skills and health as you do, making the learning curve quite gradual, but there’s a fair amount more re-skinning going on as you progress. Despite that, when the different classes start to interact you suddenly find yourself being tested in ways you didn’t expect, making it all the more rewarding when you finally take all the units down for a victory.
In the end, there’s not much to complain about with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It could use more variety in a number of areas - namely abilities, weaponry and the cast of characters on both sides of the titular battle (there’s no shortage to draw from on that front, looking at the recent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) - but, generally, this is an essential purchase for Nintendo Switch owners. An original game that’s of great quality both at home on the big screen and on the go. In fact, it’s so engrossing that at one point we may have missed our stop on the train… and couldn’t be happier about it.
Mouldy Toof Studios have attempted to make The Escapists 2 bigger, better and more escape-y than the original. Whilst 2015's crossover with The Walking Dead was, essentially, more of the same, the developers have tweaked just about every aspect of this instalment, making it truly befitting the moniker of sequel.
A brief tutorial walks you through the basics, and while it isn’t exactly comprehensive, it feels like a deliberate decision meant to encourage creativity. Just like the previous titles, players must rely on trial and error.
Finding your way around once you’ve bested the tutorial is made much less of a hassle thanks to the mini-map, which will guide you towards your goal in typical fashion. Your cell’s also marked in case you need to rush back and hide any contraband, while guards are clearly displayed so that you can avoid them on the way. This helping hand is extra welcome as there’s been an increase in prison population, with the areas themselves growing to accommodate this.
Level variety coupled with a steady progression in difficulty helps to keep The Escapists 2 engaging throughout.
Starting out in Center Perks 2.0’s low-security compound - should you select the first item in the list, there are three levels available from the start - players will get to grips with the core mechanics while exploring and browsing the expanded library of craftables. Cougar Creek Railroad - also available from the get go - is the first of a new type of challenge, however. Set aboard a moving transport train, you have a limited time to make your getaway before the train reaches its destination. Without other prisoners around to sell you valuable gear, all you get is what you can find and create. This level variety coupled with a steady progression in difficulty helps to keep The Escapists 2 engaging throughout.
A new means of progression also keeps you ticking, as escaping incarceration in unique ways now awards a key, and, subsequently, unlocks more prisons from which to escape. This means that if you run into difficulty there's always the option to replay an easier level and grab one of the four keys you didn't acquire previously, rewarding multiple playthroughs of each institution and making the game more accessible to newbies.
There's enough variation in the key objectives to keep things feeling fresh on repeat runs, each one forcing you to pursue one avenue of approach at a time, rather than preparing for a handful of possible extractions, necessitating a more thoughtful and cautious approach. That said, I’m reminded by my co-op partner that I’m neither thoughtful nor cautious, and maybe that's why I've spent a vast amount of time in solitary confinement peeling potatoes...
… Playing in co-op opens up further escape options that are otherwise impossible in single player, whilst closing off others. Gathering and storing resources is easier with an extra pair of hands (or three), but the tradeoff is that any one member of your team could get caught and lose a valuable item or cause a secret hideaway to be discovered, putting everyone back at square one.
Versus mode plays like a stripped down version of the rest of the game, only with fewer restrictions, the goal simply being to be the first to break out. There is, as always, an element of luck when it comes to finding the right items, which can make a loss feel undeserved.
The Escapists 2 is definitely a step in the right direction for the series, making marked improvements on all fronts as a great sequel should. While it doesn’t offer a huge amount of longevity - despite the added replay value from the key system - the £19.99 price point means you won’t be left feeling short changed.
Fortnite is an early access title at present - despite already being purchasable in a four different ways(!) - and so we bring you this look at the game in its current state, in place of a more concrete verdict.
Traps are the one exception to this, as even though they follow the same rules, you often want to grab fresh traps on the fly as the action-packed defence phase kicks off. In the state of heightened adrenaline it’s easy to wish there was a button combination that took you straight to your favourites for added ease of access as hordes of Husks approach.
These enemies are perhaps the roughest edge on the game’s otherwise quite slick execution. The enemy types and variations aren’t necessarily bad, but they do feel quite generic and lacking in character, even compared to the relatively limited enemy pool of something like Left 4 Dead. Groupings of Husks behave quite randomly, rather than having them subscribe to a hivemind mentality, while different enemies each have different movements and attacks, but there’s no personality to any of the animations, which can make combat feel like a chore rather than the climactic reward after gathering resources and building your fort in preparation.
Without a cohesive team dynamic, meeting even basic build objectives - such as “don’t overbuild” - is difficult.
Sunset Overdrive’s occasional area defense battles make for a fair comparison both visually and thematically, with that game’s charismatic and over-the-top presentation offering up unique sound effect and vibrant visual cues that keep you engaged, whereas Fortnite is way toned-down by comparison and worse for it.
Having to take time out of the world-ending scenario to slip into build mode and make repairs or changes to your fort during active combat doesn't do much to complement the gunplay, either.
Teaming up with other players online is the real strength behind the idea, or at least it is in theory. In practice, without a cohesive team dynamic to rely upon, meeting even basic build objectives set by the game - such as “don’t overbuild” - is difficult, since the default for many players is to do whatever they feel like and start the attack when they’re ready, rather than waiting until everyone else has all of their traps lined up…
So far then, Fortnite is an interesting idea, executed well - for the most part - that just feels unfinished. Perhaps that’s alright at this stage, given the point in development we’re being exposed to, but the trouble is that it certainly feels like it’s being presented as more of a finished product than other early access titles. Whether or not you’re at peace with the deep microtransactions culture baked into the game may cause frustration too, but shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for most.
If you have a few even remotely reliable friends to jump into this with, then it’s an experience worth trying out, but waiting for the full, free-to-play release may make you feel like you’re getting the best of what Fortnite has to offer and for no upfront investment; rather than a paid game with real future potential, which is how it currently feels.
Expect more on Fortnite as the game develops in the run up to its free-to-play release, and a full co-op review in 2018.
A remaster of a DS title released back in 2008, Lock’s Quest is the latest game to rise from the ashes that were once THQ to be offered up on Xbox One, PS4 and PC for a new generation of gamers.
Lock is a complete novice, meaning he needs to gradually learn the trade of archineering (that’s Archimedes engineering, possibly…), unlocking new abilities and defences to hold off the strangely time-conscious enemy. There’s only a couple of minutes at the most to throw down defences before the next assault (which usually lasts about three minutes itself), meaning the mad dash to get to grips with how to use new items can cost you precious preparation time.
Once you reach the battle phase, Lock can hold his own in a fight, flailing wildly by tapping A, or employing a little finesse by hitting three to four buttons in sequence for a more deadly combo attack. In practice, we found mashing to be effective enough if you’re taking on one or two baddies at a time, but it’s easy to get surrounded thanks to the more-often-awkward-than-not terrain, so death is never too far away.
Most of the time, NPCs are responsible for defence up until you arrive, at which point they seemingly pop to the pub.
Mastering the combos, as well as a bit of stick waggling and spinning to execute other attacks and repairs quickly, was, for me personally, the weakest point of the experience. You find yourself (or I do, at least) starting with A automatically when most combos dart between the four main face buttons, which leads frustration to follow failure as you kick yourself knowing you could have done something about it.
The thoughtful building was more my thing, gradually learning the enemy AI’s movements and developing cunning ways to distract them and take them down - or even just delay them for a few more precious seconds.
The main weapons in your arsenal are turrets, but you also get access to traps which can cause trouble in their own right. Putting walls either side of turrets buffs their defence, meaning they can take a few more hits, and later you can assign helpers to gradually repair them over time or increase their range.
Despite there being an army, or at least guards, on hand to help with defence (most of the time, they’re responsible for defence up until you arrive, at which point they seemingly pop to the pub), you’re largely left to fend for yourself - even though this could have make for an interesting collaborative co-op experience.
The story running throughout is entertaining enough, if fairly obvious, and the musical score is well-suited to the game’s aesthetic. That said, a few weeks into the 100 in-game days on offer, you’ll begin to beg for a little more variety as the repetition sets in.
The same is largely true of the game experience as a whole. New enemies, new traps and new defences are gradually introduced, but, fundamentally, you learn everything the game has to offer in the first few battles, with few game changers to upset the board and force you to think differently once you’ve got into a pattern you’re comfortable with.
For the price (£15.99 on Xbox One), there’s some solid gameplay to be had, though if you weren’t already aware you could probably guess it was a port from a different system. Putting a series of different sized walls down would be considerably easier with the added precision of a stylus - a control method the game was originally designed around - but the input on a gamepad is simple enough to get used to in time.
Lock’s Quest might not be a game that’s on your radar, or something you were even looking for, but if you want to flex the strategic muscle on console in particular, then this might be a tempting purchase.
In This is the Police, players step into the role of Jack Boyd; a grizzled Police Chief who’s looking for one last big payday before he’s forced out of office. Whether you earn the $500,000 Jack needs from mostly legitimately means, or through more nefarious ways, is up to you - but with only 180 days in which to make your cool half million, you might find that the old adage isn’t actually true: crime does pay after all.
As well as keeping Jack’s superiors happy, players must also take into consideration the wellbeing of their employees, many of whom will come up with any excuse to get out of a day’s work. Say no too often, and you may find disgruntled officers go over your head and spark an investigation into your performance, which could lead to a severe pay cut. You can fire troublesome officers, but doing so without reason can lead to messy legal challenges.
Each officer has a numerical score and a coloured meter ranking their ability and mental state, which need to be taken into consideration when deciding who to send out on a call. Choose a weak or tired team and they may botch the response, leading to the perp escaping, or worse, civilians and other officers being killed. While a tragedy, a dead officer can also be an opportunity to earn some extra cash; by not declaring them officially deceased, Jack can keep on collecting their paycheck for himself, but at the cost of hiring a replacement officer
Occasionally, a crime will pop up that requires a detective’s skills to investigate. Answering these calls works in much the same way as a regular crime, in that you pick which detectives respond, but the results are less immediate.
Detectives provide witness statements and theoretical snapshots (some accurate, some less so) of crimes to give a summary of what went down, but it’s you who must piece it all together in the correct order. Do this, and it could lead to the chance to take down a much larger criminal organisation and earn a hefty cash reward.
While breaking up crime syndicates can be satisfying, investigations sometimes end up stagnating if you can’t quite pin down the correct sequence of events with all the evidence your detectives have provided. There is an option to call on a retired veteran who can bring new insight to investigations, but at $50,000 a pop, it’s a steep investment.
The way all these incidents spontaneously appear on the map might lead you to believe they are randomly generated encounters, but after a mishandled mafia war meant we had to restart the game from the beginning, it became apparent they are entirely scripted. Discovering this was slightly disappointing, rather than game breaking, but worse was learning that the earliest (and arguably biggest) of the narrative impacting decisions that the game occasionally presents the player with was not actually that much of a choice.
The decision in question is whether to help out a friend who’s in trouble with the mafia by taking his place as the mob’s inside man. After deciding to be a good pal the first time around and agreeing to help, this time we had Jack refuse, thus sealing our buddy’s fate. As it turns out though, the outcome of this decision is the same either way, with the only real difference being that Jack is effectively forced into helping the mafia rather than reluctantly volunteering, and your friend and his family meet a gruesome end instead of getting out.
Freeburg is overflowing with mobsters, petty criminals and caustic city officials, all of which can be used to your advantage.
Knowing this took some impact away from the rest of the decisions we encountered, and had us questioning whether our actions were having any meaningful influence on the story. Despite this, some solid writing, morally ambiguous characters and a narrative that frequently blurs the lines between good and bad, wrong and right mean it’s still an engrossing story, even if the ending doesn’t quite deliver. In fact, it’s in the latter stages of the campaign that This is the Police really starts to struggle.
After an initial flurry of cut scenes sets up an intriguing contest between Freeburg’s elite, the pace at which the story segments are delivered drops off massively, and the game’s second and third acts become increasingly drawn out. At around 20 hours of playtime needed to reach the finale, it’s not exactly the longest game out there, but with nothing to break up the core gameplay, This is the Police quickly becomes a repetitive slog, and not even the excellent soundtrack can rescue it.
Towards the tail end of the campaign we found it increasingly difficult to care about the welfare of our officers or the people of Freeburg; a stark contrast to the pang of guilt we felt the first time we turned a blind eye to a crime to make a quick buck and it led to a civilian’s death.
It’s hard to say whether this is intentional from the developers, and that your discomfort as the player is supposed to reflect the increasing level of detachment Jack begins to display. There’s a line towards the end of the game where Jack says he simply doesn’t care anymore, and it’s a decidedly profound moment, as chances are, at that point, you won’t either.
● Juggling the responsibilities of a Police Chief is surprisingly fun, if a little stressful
● Well-written dialogue with excellent voice acting
● Captivating power struggle between the city’s elite
● Busting your first crime syndicate is a rush
● Building up an effective crime fighting force is satisfying...
● … Losing it all to budget cuts or bad decisions is not
● Outcome of the opening choice is the same either way
● Gameplay becomes repetitive towards the second half of the game
● Disappointing ending
● Outstays its welcome
Tethered is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing, perilously cute and harbouring a diabolical secret. The aesthetically friendly, PlayStation VR exclusive strategy game is quick to pile on complex mechanics, soon leaving players tasking tasks on top of multitasks in a frantic struggle to heal the land.
Incredibly moreish, as the best strategy games are, Tethered is a fully-featured entry into the genre first and foremost.
Luckily, Secret Sorcery do afford the player some concessions that mean playing Tethered isn’t entirely like wrestling an octopus with your hands bound. Weather effects offer a wide range of boons depending on how they’re employed, for example: snowy clouds alone can be tethered to a body of water in order to freeze it and open new paths, to a depleted rock formation to allow further quarrying, to a peep to give them added damage absorption, to an enemy to hold them in place, and to other clouds to create combined weather phenomenon. A range of clouds with a similar multitude of uses spawn and despawn frequently, so using them routinely and efficiently is key to your success.
There are also a suite of buildables to erect on designated foundations that’ll help you on your way, provided enough resources have been gathered. A field should take priority and provides a consistent food supply, whilst a moot hall and barracks allow peeps to be trained in vocations that boost their productivity, the workshop increases work speed, and a temple offers additional ways to procure Spirit Energy. Building multiples of these base structures proportionally increases their benefits, whilst they can each individually be upgraded once to serve a number of additional uses.
With an absolute swathe of options there are a great many paths through any given level, though across the thirteen present in Tethered we were never really challenged to diversify. Each floating island sports a more complex layout and devious upgrade path than the last, but we were nonetheless able to utilise the same tactics from start to finish relatively unchallenged. As a result, the later levels are perhaps the weakest of the bunch due to repetition somewhat setting in as they unfurl in much the same way you’re accustomed to, just on a larger scale.
The latter stages also demand busy head movements to juggle the increasing number of tasks, leaving you no time to take in their gorgeous vistas, and - more damningly - the PlayStation Camera can struggle to keep track of the action, resulting in the need for semi-frequent adjustments.
You're afforded concessions that mean playing Tethered isn’t entirely like wrestling an octopus with your hands bound.
In addition to this issue, some menus can appear at awkward angles and uncomfortably close to your face, making them difficult to read, but the virtual reality implementation is, for the most part, stellar regardless. You look down on the world as if it were a living diorama suspended in the sky, which stretches, vast and blue, far into the distance to offer a real sense of depth and scale. Importantly, the elevated perspective and the peeps’ direct reactions to the player further the game’s themes; they help to realise the fantasy of embodying an omnipotent and omnipresent deity, rather than simply occupying ‘gimmick’ territory.
Thanks to this, the world of Tethered isn’t one you’ll want to leave anytime soon. Despite becoming a tad repetitive, we’re still drawn back to improve our rankings (not that you can get any higher than first on the global leaderboard /smug), polish our strategies, and even develop some new ones.
Incredibly moreish, as the best strategy games are, Tethered is a fully-featured entry into the genre first and foremost, but one that leverages virtual reality to convey its empowering, godly themes with clout. It definitely has its issues, but they’re easily overcome when contrasted with the game’s mechanical depth and visual charm.
Mount & Blade: Warband sets off on the wrong foot. A direct port of the 2010 PC release, it boasts appalling visuals and an initial lack of direction that will likely have you ready to throw in the towel before you’ve even gotten started. Fighting past that urge, however, allows the game’s deep and tactical systems to blossom into something quite compelling.
Unfortunately, some weapons shatter balancing to the point a single unconsidered blow will lay out almost any competition. When combined with poor artificial intelligence, combat becomes exploitatively easy. Given the right setting - say, a narrow pathway that forces enemies to approach in single file - you can just about take on entire armies single handedly. Similarly, most units become superfluous when you realise cavalry possess a huge advantage; the horses essentially double each unit’s health, meaning they can simply charge in headfirst and win most any fight. The difficulty can be bumped up to somewhat remedy the problems, though it won’t eradicate them.
By now you’ll have earned the renown not just to converse with nobles, but to be sworn into the service of royalty. Choosing to do so grants a weekly wage, as well as a village to rule and the associated income from its rents. It should be a pivotal moment to breathe a sigh of relief with more coming into your purse than going out, but thanks to the aforementioned exploits they were dealing in small change. When you’re powerful enough to ransack enemy villages without needing to fear the repercussions, money is an almost endless commodity.
It’s recommended you remain in a king’s service until you’re recognised as having a sufficient right to rule, only then making strides of your own, lest everybody unite to come down on your little uprising like a ton of horse cakes. Accruing that right by finding a fitting spouse and schmoozing with bigwigs just felt like obligatory busywork that hampered the pacing when, militarily, we could have realistically conquered their castles and taken them prisoner.
The gravitational pull of Warband dragged us through the dark hours regardless, defying we put it down like the best strategy games do, before finally rewarding us with the juicy bits we signed up for.
Now a law unto ourselves, we set about inditing large-scale siege warfare to claim swathes of land. It certainly makes you feel like a badass, storming strongholds tapping into a love nurtured by some of the most iconic scenes in cinema, despite in this instance looking like two bags of potatoes being poured into a toy castle.
If you manage to claim and hold everything as your own, which will take some considerable time and dedication, you’ll have done what many thought impossible in uniting the fragmented land in an era of peace. See, you can justify all the bloodshed in the name of prosperity.
Should your cup begin to runneth dry, there are additional wars to be waged in the custom battle and multiplayer modes. Naturally there’s no politicking here, just a range of deathmatch and objective-based game modes that run smoothly on dedicated servers.
Through offering an unprecedented - even intimidating - level of freedom to the player and populating the world of Calradia with abundant emergent gameplay events, TaleWorlds Entertainment bottled an addictive formula that will enthrall for countless long play sessions should you give it the chance. At a budget price, Mount & Blade: Warband provides immense value for money that goes a long way to excusing the archaic AI and presentation, as well as the balance and pacing issues.
We never thought the day we’d spend hours harvesting the feces of a gelatinous species would come, but thanks to Slime Rancher, that fantasy has become a reality. Currently available via Xbox Game Preview, we’ve wiggled our way through build version 0.3.5c to let you know if it’s currently worth investing in.
In Slime Rancher, you harvest the feces of a gelatinous species for profit...
Once you’ve successfully captured a few different breeds of slime, it’s a good idea to grow some crops and rear some chickens in order to bypass the need to forage. With a self sufficient set-up established, it’s possible to devote more time to venturing further out into the world and discovering its nuances.
If you hadn’t already, you’ll quickly discover largos, the doubly-sized result of one slime eating another variety’s plort (nice...) to produce a hybrid of the two. Whilst these bulks are difficult to manage as they can’t be sucked up with the vacpack, they do provide twice the messy reward for each feed. They also carry a significant risk, however, in that getting their chops around a third strain of plort will turn them into the evil Tarr - black, jack o'lantern-faced slimes that will infect healthy slimes in the vicinity, whilst also attacking the player. An outbreak on the ranch can be devastating, so you’ll need to be exceedingly careful when handling largos. Segregation is key… just don’t take that quote out of context.
If the unruly Tarr, or another of the game’s threats, happen to get the better of you, you’ll simply sleep it off whilst losing the items on your person. You should never be carrying large amounts of plort, other than to take them directly to the market, so you won’t much mourn the loss as wild slimes and foodstuffs will have repopulated during your nap, ripe for recollection.
As you continue to explore further from the ranch’s safe perimeter, you’ll uncover huge stationary slimes that can be fed, and fed, and fed, until they explode. You’re rewarded for doing so with the rarest of items; teleporter pads that open up shortcuts, and keys to open doors that expand the play area. Unfortunately, it’s as you reach these peripheral expanses that the value proposition of Slime Rancher's preview build is brought into question.
It took us but a day’s play to get through everything, which would be fine if it were a linear experience with a defined endpoint, but it isn’t. We’ve bought all of the upgrades and have nothing to use them on; earnt buckets of money and have nothing to spend it on; captured all of the available slimes and now have no reason to own them. What was an incredibly enjoyable and moreish gameplay cycle came to an all too abrupt end - we want to play more, but there just isn’t anything here for us, even with an additional challenge mode. New areas are being worked on, so fingers crossed they’ll help combat the issue.
When you couple the lack of content with technical issues that see frame rates plummet and fail to recover, as well as chugging to a complete stop on occasion, we just can’t recommend purchasing Slime Rancher in preview.
With these significant kinks being worked out as you read this, we would, however, heartily recommend checking up on the final product when it releases later this year. If developer Monomi Park are successful in expunging them, they’ll have something special on their hands.
Pick it up in preview
Wait for final release
Avoid it either way
Bust out that theremin - or musical saw - and put on your wiseguy hat, because we’re taking a trip to 1950’s America. Martians are invading, and Uncle Sam needs you (and any chums you can muster) to help fight against the alien menace. Clapfoot Games’ Fortified is a mash-up of tower defence and third-person shooting, and for the most part, it really works.
The game also boasts a lovely art style and sense of humour; the character models appear basic, whilst possessive of lovely warm edges that perfectly fit the tone. Steam rising up from the undergrounds, brick buildings and streetlights all give off the appearance of 50s America. The menu screens are adorned with graphic novel-style stills that showcase the main characters; The Captain, The Rocket Scientist, The Agent & The Spaceman. Each character has a unique visual style and an amusing array of one-liners and quips, giving the game real charm.
A sticking point for some could be the difficulty curve, which can reach high peaks, even with co-op partners along for the ride, as you tackle an array of enemies from an increasing number of directions. Some of these enemies are simple on-foot robots, some are annoying crab-like swines, but it’s the pesky buggers that fly or quickly roll through the map before launching a tirade of terror upon your rocket that’ll trouble you the most. This high-level of challenge can grate at times, but when you eventually nail your strategy and see your rocket blast off into orbit, you’ll feel darn proud.
Fans of XCOM should definitely check it out - assuming they enjoy tower defence, of course.
Fortified offers plenty of bang for your £11.99, a very fair price for the hours of fun you’ll get out of it. Fans of XCOM should definitely check it out - assuming they enjoy tower defence, of course.
Be sure to check out our play-through video underneath too!
Sequel to Stoic’s Kickstarted predecessor, The Banner Saga 2 picks up exactly where the original left off. Whilst that means those up to snuff on their lore will settle back in nicely, newcomers - of which there will be many, as the game’s gratis for Xbox Live Gold members this month - will likely feel lost at the hands of the epic Scandinavian fantasy.
The Banner Saga 2, much like the first, is an enthralling story full of difficult decisions you’ll take great pause to consider.
As was the case last time, chapters alternate between protagonists to tell one intertwined story from multiple perspectives. Whilst it’s clear the mercenary offshoot are the ‘secondary’ group, their narrative arc is handled superbly. Characters are lovable - in that roguish way, of course - there’s a tangible sense of mystery, and it’s refreshingly fun to make uncouth decisions. More games should offer this freedom to justifiably play at both ends of the spectrum, turning play styles on their head periodically.
Whichever side of the coin you fall on, turn-based combat is integral (though naturally for different reasons). The grid-based system returns, largely unaltered to that which we’ve previously covered in depth. New additions include battlefield obstacles that can be used as cover, or destroyed to prevent opponents from taking advantage, whilst the new centaur-like Horseborn race and a range of new classes provide additional abilities that open further avenues of strategy.
Switching out party members is a more attractive prospect this time around, as they’re recruited at a more appropriate level, which accommodates accruing a body count in order to be eligible to level up. You’ll need to spend Renown in order to actually claim a level, which can now be earnt by partaking in entertaining and educational training challenges that’ll help you develop advanced tactics.
These tweaks, in addition to seamlessly integrating the previously somewhat tedious War mechanic, refine what was already a strong foundation, whilst taking no bold new steps. A sentiment that really applies to all aspects of the game as a whole.
Austin Wintory reprises his composing role on the soundtrack, which is stellar, as his work tends to be, also complementing the gorgeous, hand-drawn visuals. Most interactions remain text-based, whilst select voiced and animated segments punctuate significant moments with clout. It does beg for that final injection of production value in order to have voice over and full cutscenes persist throughout, dragging the nostalgic Choose Your Own Adventure into this century like never before.
It’s in the human struggles that The Banner Saga 2 becomes a digital page-turner.
A few technical areas could’ve done with seeing more of the budget, too. We suffered a good number of crashes, got stuck in menus, and spotted typos. Furthermore, we were able to kill an enemy that we shouldn't have been; the ensuing scene made no sense with them lay dead on the floor, the next even less so when they were alive and well.
These issues did little to dispel our desire to plough on, which unfortunately brought us to an unsatisfactory conclusion. It’ll undoubtedly bring us back for the sequel, but until then, the cliffhanger leaves a little too much unanswered. There’s at least plenty of replayability to keep you caravanning in the meantime.
The Banner Saga 2, much like the first, is an enthralling story full of difficult decisions you’ll take great pause to consider. Beyond its central narrative, the combat is of rewarding tactical depth, whilst the package is a visual and aural treat. It’s just a shame a few select issues hold the game back from being all it could be - here’s hoping the saga’s continuation can capitalise.