Banner Saga Complete Pack + Survival Mode Review – PlayStation 4

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Well the game industry is full of surprises and often second chances to try out games that you missed the first time around. For me there have many but more recently it was The Banner Saga. I got a chance to check out the second installment last year and was greatly wishing I’d had the time to play the first part. Well that second chance has arrived with Stoic’s release of the Banner Saga Complete Pack for the PS4.

While we are all awaiting the final chapter in this epic saga, PS4 players can now experience the adventure so far in this Complete Pack featuring both The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2. This new pack also includes an all new Survival Mode via the second installment offering an all new challenge for current and new players alike. For newcomers this is an excellent collection showcasing an adventure where every hardship, be it a bittersweet victory on the battlefield or a conversation choice, has a meaningful impact on your experience.

The Banner Saga franchise definitely does have a very strong narrative and drive for both returning fans and newcomers alike to enjoy. Having now played both the first two games, I can say that I did miss some character motivations and back stories that I thought I was especially near the end. For those looking into Banner Saga for the first time this Viking inspired story follows of a world cast in perpetual twilight as a new humanoid threat known as the Dredge.

One of my favorite things about The Banner Saga is that Stoic designed it to be a true saga. After players make their way through the first adventure players can then import their save into the second installment. This option is particular nice as The Banner Saga 2 quite literally picks up after the end of its predecessor with the start of Chapter 8.

The quick lesson that you will learn in this strategy RPG is that you can’t save everyone no matter how much you want to. Every decision you make as Rook or Alette can be fatal for some of your caravan and you will be judged by your actions by your caravan. I learned this real early on and it paved the way for the rest of my experience for better or worse. Nothing is as it seems as there is always the possibility of death, mutiny and hope at every turn. Your very actions can bolster morale or send it sinking faster than the Titanic.

Morale is one of many factors that come into play as you make your way towards Aberrang each just as important as the last. Supplies and Renown are also key elements to your overall survival. Your choices and the following consequences will alter morale sometimes almost immediately while others won’t reveal themselves until later. The choices found at nearly every turn big or small are some of the toughest that I’ve ever had to make in my gaming experience. The choice between stopping to give aid with limited resources with the hope of finding aid of your own or passing them up to continue turning a blind eye to their distress is a hard one in the 12 or so hour campaign.

Often you choices will inevitably lead to battle where you have to defeat enemies that have sprung traps or Dredge that attack if you stop to clear a blocked path. Odds are that you will suffer casualties based on choices some even permanent to playable characters during combat so your decisions really do matter here off and on the battlefield. Battle takes place on beautifully created and blended maps that take into account what was happening at the moment before the fight. Seeing clansmen chopping wood debris on the edge of my battlefield as I battled Dredge was a level of immersion that I haven’t seen in well… any turned based RPG that I’ve played.

As with most Strategy RPGs, battles take place on an isometric battlefield where each side makes its required allotment of moves before their turn ends and the enemies do the same. While Alette or Rook, both hunters skilled with a bow, is mostly present your party can be comprised of trained human clansmen, the strong and towering horned giants called Varl and the newly added Horseborn (centaurs) race. Each unit takes up their own amount of grid squares taking in consideration of their size limiting their movement around environmental obstructions. A human for example only takes up on grid box while a Varl takes up four so sometimes destroying obstacles is the only way to allow movement or even hit enemies using it as cover.

Defeating enemies will earn you Renown points that can be used outside of battle in a number of ways but much like your dialogue choices it’s a hard choice on what to actually do with it. Do you spend the points to make your characters stronger or trade renown for needed supplies instead? You need supplies like food to keep your caravan from starving but you also want to make your playable characters stronger to endure tougher challenges later on. The fights are not exactly easy but then again I don’t know if the experience is tailored for a continued campaign or if only your choices affect only surviving playable characters and the story.

Combat in the Banner Saga Complete Pack is enjoyable but it isn’t without its issues. Even having played part of this saga previously it still takes some time to get used to the controls particularly in battle. The main groundwork for any good RPG worth its salt is definitely present here but it’s a little stiff in some of the menu executions and battle inputs. Once you get used to the controls then it’s not all that bad.

No matter your choices, The Banner Saga series has a strong narrative and cast of character that I fell in love with just as much as I did with the stunning art design. The game features a completely hand drawn art style that reminds me of Don Bluth films mixed with a bit of high fantasy Tolkien flair. The art even when hair or fur blows in the wind is breathtaking and the way that the developers blend battlefield and backdrops is just beautiful. The music also adds to the somber yet heroic struggle to survive that you’ll endure but it fits perfectly with what’s going on in an unobtrusive way that is enjoyable.

For those seeking an all new challenge for the Banner Saga franchise, the newly added Survival Mode found via The Banner Saga 2. This new feature lets you choose 6 of your favorite heroes from either game to battle in an ever increasing difficulty across 40 battles. The tricky part is that once a hero is defeated it is a permadeath for the rest of the campaign. Though through death comes life as some earned Renown can be regained to recruit new heroes.

Renown much like in the main game serves as a way to bolster your heroes both in numbers and in veterancy. The one notable thing that I liked about Survival mode is that the kill requirement that is normally required for promoting your heroes is not present here. The mode can be tough enough as it and players can select the overall difficulty so this omission was actually a wise choice by the developers.

It’s safe to say that if Stoic hadn’t made me a fan of The Banner Saga with my first exposure then they definitely have now. I still stand by my words that The Banner Saga is a series that should be experienced by any fan of RPGs. I may not be the best at Strategy RPGs but Stoic’s stunning visuals and intricately structured story and combat is still among some of the best that I’ve played in my years of gaming. Sure the menus and command interface is still rough but that’s minor compared to the harrowing journey that you can experience with the release of the Banner Saga Complete Pack for the PS4. If you’re new to the world of The Banner Saga then you owe it to yourself the check out this stellar collection via the PSN today.

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