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.
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.
The Banner Saga 2, much like the first, is an enthralling story full of difficult decisions you’ll take great pause to consider.
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.