E3 2015
The Banner Saga 2 Hands-On: Choose Wisely

Sarah LeBoeuf | 18 Jun 2015 20:40
E3 2015 - RSS 2.0
the banner saga 2 - announcement screen 4

There's always room for improvement. So even though the response to The Banner Saga were relatively positive--developer Stoic raised over $700,000 on Kickstarter and reviews were generally good--there was still plenty of fan feedback to work with in creating a sequel, according to lead writer Drew McGee. The result is more of the things people loved, like the gorgeous visuals and epic score, with tweaks throughout to make story progression and player choice more important.

Like its predecessor, The Banner Saga 2 is a tactical RPG with a Viking theme and striking animation. Its presentation is half cartoon, half storybook, with text narration and emphasis on dialogue. The player takes the role of returning characters Rook or his daughter, the eagle-eyed archer Alette; for my demo, I went with Alette. Even though your choices from The Banner Saga will carry over to the sequel, Stoic designed The Banner Saga 2 as a standalone experience, according to lead writer Drew McGee.

Speaking of player choices, there will be many to make in The Banner Saga 2. These can be as simple as conversational options and as difficult as whether to save those in need at great personal risk or continue your journey. Unlike Telltale's The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, which McGee cited as games the developers enjoyed, there's no notification letting you know when you've made a decision that will affect you later. The developers want the player in the dark about how impactful those choices are, much like real life.

Battles require thought and skill, as is usually the case in the genre. The early battles I played serve as a tutorial to the uninitiated, but didn't feel tedious or over-explanatory. Skirmishes take place on a grid of squares, and you're responsible for taking out all enemies by thoughtfully moving your line-up of melee fighters and ranged weapon users. The battlefield may also have precious resources, but is it worth using a turn and potentially putting someone in danger to grab them? That's a choice you'll have to make.

McGee explained some of the changes that were made to the combat system based on fan feedback from the first game. Stoic hopes to more effectively continue the story onto the battlefield, so there's a smooth progression from narrative to fighting. A new in-engine scripting device weaves dialogue more naturally into these situations, and battles will play out differently based on conversational choices. And just to continue to make it "less tedious," the types of fighters available has been diversified, with new creatures like quadrupeds joining the line-up.

My experience with the first Banner Saga was limited. That said, I really enjoyed my half hour of sequel playtime, and could easily have continued had I been in the comfort of my own home and not on a crowded show floor with more appointments to run to. There's something really special about interacting with something that's part striking animated media, part fantasy storybook; and as an RPG devotee, I enjoyed the battle system and saw potential for greater depth further into the game. So if you're one of the many fans who had similar feedback regarding The Banner Saga, Stoic has heard you loud and clear. You'll see the results of their choices--and yours--when The Banner Saga 2 comes out this winter.

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