Developer Stoic continues their tale of Varl and humans struggling for survival against the dredge and the Darkness in The Banner Saga 2, the second game in a proposed trilogy. Picking up from where the first game left off, after the Battle of Boersgard, you once again need to lead your people to safety across a land fraught with danger. Once again, your choices have a profound impact on the story. Balancing keeping morale up and taking chances that could possibly benefit you big time keeps you on your toes, always worrying that once you’ve made your choice that you’ve chosen wrong. Of course, this is a tale of woe, and rarely do choices have happy consequences. You can only do what you can to survive and try to get as many of your people to the capital of Aberrang in the hopes of finding safety with the king.
Along the way, you forge what you hope are good alliances that will aid you in escaping the dredge, the enemy that has spread across the land. You need to consider who you can trust. Do you heed the advice of your Varl companions? Go along with a shady governor? Do you aid a mysterious Valka and her brother in their quest, knowing their magical powers could prove useful? A new race is also introduced in The Banner Saga 2, that of the Horseborn, a race of centaurs. The story of the Horseborn is interesting, and the tension between them and the humans adds a layer of suspense to the proceedings as you need to do your best to win them over. The Horseborn aren’t the only ones who shed light on the long was between the races and the dredge. We also find out some interesting things about the enemy, and what you’ll find out can make those choices a bit less unsure. Things as far as the dredge are concerned go from black and white to a bit more gray. The revelations just add to the game’s strength, that of its well crafted story. It’s a tale that while mainly depressing is strong enough to pull you through the game.
Visually, the game looks great, with the occasional fully animated cut scenes standing out. Voice acting, what there is, is very well done. Austin Wintory’s (Journey, Abzu) score once again provides a perfect backdrop to the proceedings, with its haunting melodies and choral arrangements complimenting the grim tale. As before, the game is very text heavy, so prepare to do a lot of reading. The game runs smoothly on the PS4 (it’s also available on the Xbox One and the PC, but for the purposes of this review I played the PS4 version), without any drop in frame rate or technical issues.
Combat is still a grid based affair, as it was in the first game, but here’s where The Banner Saga 2 falters a little bit. Special abilities seem harder to use this time around, and often wouldn’t trigger for me, even when enemies were in range. The camera angle seemed to need to be fiddled with more so than I had to in the first game, as enemy stats would get obscured by pieces of scenery. It’s not game breaking, but it seemed to remove options for me in battle, as far as using the more powerful attacks. Leveling up remains the same, as does equipping pieces of equipment that improve your stats. The Horseborn added a new wrinkle in combat as you need to get used to what range they can attack from. Also, some characters get an extra move after attacking, which adds to your strategy of setting things up for your next turn. Mistakes can still result in death, but for the most part if you did well in combat in the first game you should do well here. As in the first game, there are a couple of difficulty spikes later on in the game, especially when confronted by a new type of dredge. This new enemy can become invisible and inhabit the corpses on the battlefield, turning what was once a friend into a foe. These battles are suspenseful, but can also become a little tedious as you strive to make the actual foe appear instead of fighting its proxy. You’ll do several battles with this foe in The Banner Saga 2, and those battles made things a little less fun this time around. It’s not enough to ruin the experience, but it’s not at the same level it was in the first game.
All in all, The Banner Saga 2 is a worthy continuation of Stoic’s tale begun in the first game. A cliffhanger ending has me eagerly awaiting the conclusion of the story in the third outing. Again
the game is filled with great characters, meaningful choices, terrific visuals, and an excellent musical score. Strong voice acting also draws you into a compelling but somber tale. Only combat, which is still nicely done but seems a little less fun this time around, holds the sequel back from being as good as its predecessor. If you loved the first game the second is a must buy. If the first game didn’t win you over, it’s unlikely this sequel will win you over. For those who were won over, Stoic has again done a fine job on continuing their Nordic tale of woe, and we can only hope those who survive will be granted a happy ending. The third installment can’t get here fast enough.
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