Banner Saga 2 (Switch eShop) Review
At the end of The Banner Saga, tough decisions had led to the demise of main characters and the serious wounding of others. The Banner Saga 2 starts off immediately after this, at Chapter 8, feeling very much like the second book in a trilogy. It’s okay if you didn’t quite finish the first game, though, as there is a recap movie you can watch and at the start of the game you can decide the major divergence from the first game, continuing on with auto-levelled characters.
Most of my criticisms of the first game get addressed in this sequel. Namely, the lack of unit diversity and, more specifically, the lack of an easily gained overwatch ability. Within the first thirty minutes of The Banner Saga 2, I’d upgraded my main character with overwatch and encountered new enemies, some with baffling abilities that I had no idea how to counter, such as turning themselves invisible on the battlefield. Centaurs and other creatures eventually show up, so there’s a lot more to consider when compared to the small handful of units the first game used on rotation.
Also new is the introduction of alternative win conditions to encounters. Early on, I was getting swamped, my team dropping like flies, when a major unit appeared. One character voiced the opinion that it might be the leader and that we might scare the rest of the dredge away if we concentrated our efforts on defeating that one unit. Sure enough, once it fell, the battle was won. These more dynamic win conditions create far more options when it comes to who you take into battle and where you place them on the field as it’s no longer just about survival, but piercing speed as well.
Terrain also plays a much larger role in fights, with both destructible and indestructible elements taking up room on the battle area, affecting how you move about the map. A crevasse or large tree stump might effectively cut your team in half, rendering some of your most powerful units useless as they watch the rest get mowed down, especially the slow-moving Varl units, who take up four squares at a time and have much less movement range per turn. On the flip side, these environmental aspects can also work to your advantage, so their inclusion is welcome for the way they impact on tactics.
Whereas The Banner Saga saw you crossing the continent with your growing caravan, the sequel starts off with your followers loaded on longships, sailing down a river fraught with dangers. Logs block your way and derelict villages offer the temptation to go ashore and search for supplies, which dwindle at an alarming rate. With so much pressure in your shoulders, it becomes tough when you keep making mistakes. If anything, this feels even more bleak than the first game, with each decision you make having major impacts on your numbers, morale and supplies. I started the game trying to help people, trying to lead by example, but when that kept backfiring I changed to being ruthless and even then I had decisions twist around on me like an aggressive snake. It truly is difficult to guess where a decision will end up and while this could be seen as frustrating I actually kind of like how the game forces you to move on and deal with your mistakes.
In all else, The Banner Saga 2 presents the same as its predecessor and almost everything I said about it in my review applies. The hand-drawn art is still gorgeous and wonderful to view on the Switch’s screen. Being a narrative-driven experience, not too much more can be said without spoiling the narrative.
The Banner Saga 2 feels quite epic at times, especially when you come across ancient stone carvings dedicated to gods long forgotten, as the world literally crumbles around you, making you feel small and unimportant against the greater backdrop of a world on the brink of succumbing to darkness. Your journey feels almost hopeless, but there is always a thin rope of hope to guide you. Now we wait for the conclusion.
+ Recap and ability to choose starting condition a nice touch
+ Looks beautiful (again)
+ Keeps you guessing, impossible to predict outcomes of decisions
- Extremely bleak tone
- Difficulty increase from the first may require turning to Easy
- Not a complete story, just part 2