Last year, we only covered The Banner Saga 2 indirectly. When we discussed Skyshine’s Bedlam we pointed out that the game used Stoic’s engine for The Banner Saga – showing how much that game inspired developers within the isometric strategy genre. Now it’s Stoic’s turn again, because The Banner Saga 2 is finally here – the sequel to the indie PC hit that eventually came to consoles as well.
The Banner Saga 2 is a different kind of sequel than most. If Stoic had called it “The Banner Saga: Chapter 2” then we would have completely understood, because the events in the game are a direct continuation of what transpired in the first game. This is especially true when you make use of the ability to use your saved games for the first Banner Saga game, a neat little feature that was added for veterans of the Stoic saga. If you go this route – which of course is great if you’ve grown attached to your party – then you’ll also suffer the consequences of what you did in the first game. Did you sacrifice or lose a beloved character? He won’t be magically returning this time around. This principle holds true for ALL of the choices you made before – if you ended up limping across the finish line then you’re off to a rough start, and if you emerged victorious and unbruised then all that glory and strength will carry over as well.
This highlights the greatest asset and probably the biggest weak point that The Banner Saga 2 has. Stoic’s commitment to the first game is commendable and will no doubt be embraced by longtime fans – being able to keep using that dynamic where “choices you make really matter” is also excellent, and it’s wonderful to see it transcend a single game. At the same time, this means that newcomers might be pushed towards the first Banner Saga game more than Stoic would like – and to be honest, that probably really is the best place to start. Otherwise, it’s like starting the Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Two Towers – not being nearly as invested in the characters and lore as you would have otherwise been.
That may sound a bit harsh, and it should definitely not sway you – The Banner Saga 2 is still a great game, and can be played as a standalone title as well. There’s a tutorial in place that serves as a refresher for veterans as well as a quick ‘get up to speed’ guide for new players. Battle strategy and the right tactics are crucial for success, as is the way you manage your band of warriors. You’ll have to keep morale up by resting and acquiring supplies at the right times to be more effective in battle – and you’ll also constantly be faced with choices that have far-reaching consequences for how the game plays out.
The Banner Saga 2 has a lot of returning characters and factions, but Stoic has of course added a new storyline and you’ll also run into new races like the Horseborn – human-horse hybrids that are strong and fast. It’s the story that carries the game though – it’s full of impactful twists and turns, and a lot of them hinge on player choices. This makes for a wonderful and engrossing journey, especially if you’re using characters that have been through a whole game with you already. The fact that your choices as a player really matter also make this a game worth replaying – with the real question being “which game do you start with in that case?”
If you like strategy gaming with a wonderful art style (the animation is top notch again here), then you owe it to yourself to get The Banner Saga 2. Yes, you probably should start with the first game – if you don’t have it already, you should consider The Banner Saga 2 as another reason to pick it up.