Gaminglikeadad’s review of The Banner Saga: Factions

A dad's review on the indie game "The Banner Saga: Factions"

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The Banner Saga is a turn based strategy game, and like lots of other indie games coming out lately it started its life as a Kickstarter. You can find it’s original page here. Unlike other Kickstarter games though, it looks like it will actually see the light of day! The full game hasn’t been released yet, but  Stoic (the game’s developer) has managed to release a free multiplayer only version of the game titled “The Banner Saga: Factions”. (Note: I may revise this paragraph later depending on if the full game comes out, or if the multiplayer gets rolled into the full game.)

It seems like after XCOM there have been a number of really good turn based strategy games released. Maybe it’s just because I’m paying attention, or maybe it’s because other people realized there was a market, but either way, I’m happy to see more of these games enter the market. For those of you who are unaware turn based strategy games are easiest imagined as a game of Chess. Each player starts with a set of pieces (or characters) and moves across a environment where eventually they will engage in combat. One player wins when the other player is out of playable characters, or reaches a predefined goal. There are some variations to this, including role playing elements like character leveling, upgrading abilities or items,  and team variations, but what I love most about these games is that both players typically enter the game on a nearly level playing field. A better graphics card, faster internet, or screen size won’t help you. A better player will usually win, and the only excuse for losing is that you didn’t play as well as the other person. Patience and strategy win games here, and getting better involves playing smarter not faster.

Gameplay

The Banner Saga: Factions is not far off the normal path in terms of gameplay. There are three main classes to play with, Archers, Axemen, and Giants. Each class plays differently, but they stick within the pre-existing ideas that other games have used before. Archers can move more, used ranged attacks, and have a low defense. Axemen are pretty solid across the board and are the general infantry of the game. Giants are the “tanks” of the game with high defense and attack, but low speed. Each class has three upgrades available to them, and to the developers credit, each of them fit well within the gameplay, but I would really like to see more variation to them. There are some really clear choices for most players, and while some open up the game for additional strategy, it feels like most people will follow certain choices.

The game itself plays very easily. For those who are new to the genre, there is not too much that will catch you off guard, or confuse you, but to people who have played similar games, you may get bored with the lack of choices per turn. Each turn assigns you one character to control. Once you are in control, you can choose to move, then you have an opportunity to attack, use an ability or pass. Choosing to attack will let you choose to attack their defenses, or try to take down their health. At the beginning of the game, it makes more sense to try to take down your enemies defense because most attacks with miss, or cause very little damage. Special abilities can do a number of different things, including striking multiple opponents, hitting one opponent multiple times, or a few other class based abilities.

This being a free game, there needed to be a revenue stream for the developer, they offer different costumes for the classes for a premium, and most of them seem reasonably priced, but the “freemium” part of the game comes from Renown. Throughout the game you will earn points for killing opponents, winning, or achieving certain goals. These points all count towards your Renown, which is the main currency of the game. It is used to get new characters, level your existing characters, or buying new color costumes. Normally I would just ignore this and move on, but the amount of renown you earn from a normal game and the amount you need for most everything in the game really pushes you to purchase more from the store.

For example:

I won a game and two of my characters leveled up. Afterward I headed over to the barracks to upgrade my characters, and found that even with my winnings I was only able to actually upgrade one of my characters and had to choose which one I thought might be better.

It bothered me because each battle can last anywhere from twenty minutes or more, and there was a chance you still might loose. I am okay with the way the “freemium” way the game plays, but I really was hoping for a smoother level curve. It’s not bad, but I can only play a couple games at a time maybe just a couple in a day. The developer has told me that they are lowering the amount of renown needed to level characters, but I personally would rather pay for the game and not worry about it later, but I suppose this way when the full game comes out they will have a much larger audience.

My only other problem is that the game doesn’t have much variety right now. The strategy is there, but with only 3 main classes, I felt like I knew what to expect after I played a few rounds. I suppose the argument could be made that people get into these games for strategy not variety, but I really wanted to see more classes.

Style

What will catch most peoples attention right away with this game is the artwork. I cannot say enough how beautiful this game looks. You could easily take any screenshot from the game and tell someone it was a classic Disney or Don Bluth movie and most people would believe you. On the Stoic’s site they list Eyvind Earle as the main influence, not being sure who that was I decided to look it up. The art style is best described as Snow White meets Viking warfare. Most scenes are beautifully detailed, layered, and feature subtle animations that bring life to what could easily be a static background. Each character, and their variations are striking and easily identified. There is no art asset that doesn’t look amazing, and I would put it on the same level as Journey in terms of sheer awesome beauty.

The comparison to Journey doesn’t stop there, and seemingly the developers knew that just like Thatgamecompany they too needed a great soundtrack. Stoic even went so far as hiring the same composer, Austin Wintory. The music and sounds are perfect, and are as good if not better than the artwork, which is already amazing! I can say with all certainty that I will be buying the soundtrack to this game as soon as possible, and look forward to listening to it on long car rides, or while I’m writing.

Story

There really isn’t too much story to speak of, the single player version of the game will no doubt have story, and missions, but as it stands this is just a game about Vikings fighting in arenas. There is a small intro at the beginning of the game giving some reasons for the fighting, but despite loving the animation I really didn’t need them. It’s a free multiplayer game, story is nice, but most people aren’t there for it. I certainly didn’t need one.

Dad Factor

The artwork in the game was entertaining to my older child (3) and without any fast movements, significant gore or flashing lights I wasn’t concerned with her watching. Most games take upwards of twenty minutes,  and because they are ranked it can be tough to quit. If you have a few minutes to sit down it’s easy to learn though, and no voice chat is needed when playing. I really have no trouble recommending this game to any parent or a parent who’s child is looking to get into games like XCom, but is worried about the violence.

Price: Free

Availability: Steam (PC)

The Good

  • Amazing artwork and music
  • Easy to learn and fun to play
  • Rewards better players, not better computers

The Bad

  • Freemium elements may leave a sour taste in some players mouths
  • Not much variety to the gameplay

Final Score

Game score: 4 1/2 out of 5 Hearts

For a free game you could not ask for more, its beautiful, fun, and replayable. There are some people who might find the paid element of the game off putting but it is easily ignored.

Magic Score: 60%

The game is really nice to look at and fun to play, but until I play the story I just didn’t find much about this game I love. I like a lot about it, but it’s not a game I would find myself playing until my eyes bleed. I eagerly await the single player game and can’t wait to throw money at the developer for it!

9
Gaminglikeadad’s review of The Banner Saga: Factions
A dad's review on the indie game "The Banner Saga: Factions"

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Author
LeviHaag
My name is Levi Haag. I am a father of two amazing kids, husband, a writer, and most people tell me I’m a pretty good guy. It can be tough to find good games and take care of kids, so I decided to try and help other dads out by reviewing games that I can play with my kids or while they are asleep.