Xbox One

  All Features


  PlayStation 3
  PlayStation 4
  Wii U
  Xbox 360
  Xbox One


The Banner Saga 2

Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: Stoic Studio
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Strategy/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

The Banner Saga 2 is a must-own for those who played, enjoyed, and most importantly, finished the first game. While the magnificent hand-drawn visuals, somber atmosphere, and minimally effective sound design are to be expected, this is a game designed with storytelling as its first priority. Indeed, much of the gameplay is so intertwined with the narrative that they are ultimately inextricable from each other. So a word of warning before you go charging in: this is The Empire Strikes Back of video games; while you'll certainly enjoy it without having experienced the original, you won't be getting the full adventure the developers at Stoic Studio intend for you to take.

It wouldn't do to have the Scandinavian mythology-inspired heroes, heroines, and horrors of The Banner Saga 2 trekking about in three dimensions. It has to be hand-drawn, and so it is, magnificently at that. Details are incredible, from the world-weary look on the faces of your comrades to the impressive and diverse horn patterns on the heads of your varl. And in keeping with the first game's presentation, the dredge are as imposing, as inhuman, and as totally freaky as they've ever been. As was the case in the original, The Banner Saga 2 features a handful of cutscenes, but most of the story is told through static images and text boxes. If you've never played The Banner Saga, you might be surprised at how successful this visual style is in telling a story.

On the other side of the presentation, you shouldn't go in expecting too much. Not because it's bad, but because there isn't much there. That isn't a bad thing in and of itself; the simplicity of the sound effects mirror the low tech world of The Banner Saga 2. It lays a small foundation and lets you construct everything else with your imagination. For me, this works well enough; I'm a voracious reader and have dabbled in tabletop role-playing. Austin Wintory's music, while sparse, perfectly captures the sorrow, the fear, and the brutality of the world these characters inhabit.


The Banner Saga is replete with incredible moments in which you (the player) have to make choices. Some of these choices had moral elements to them, but make no mistake: there were never clear cut answers to these dilemmas. Some of them left your caravan worse off than before, others helped you in the long run, and others still did little to nothing to the welfare of your traveling party. But in the end, one of the main characters ended up dead in the aftermath of the battle with the Sundr known as Bellower.

The Banner Saga 2 picks up right where the original game ended. If you have a save game from the original, it imports your information and lets you carry on as if the journey never paused. If you didn't, the game allows you to pick your survivor and proceed from there. The caravan finds itself thrust into another long voyage across the inhospitable land and your abilities as a leader are put to yet another extreme test. Events frequently interrupt your journey, and you must decide how to approach each given situation. These decisions are invariably difficult, and like in the first game, their consequences are unpredictable in both nature and scope. More often than not, your hopes are solely for preservation rather than clear rewards. Think of it as having your head in front of a dartboard while a group of drunk people take turns; the best you can wish for is to keep your eyes.

Returning as the other core pillar of gameplay is The Banner Saga's fun number-driven turn-based strategy battles, in which you take a team of six varied units into an enemy encounter. If you're expecting groundshaking changes to the combat, you will be disappointed. Granted, nothing was particularly wrong with the original's, but in the eyes of some, this may seem unbecoming of a sequel. The way I see it, the story is where The Banner Saga 2 earns its number.


Like its predecessor, The Banner Saga 2 isn't about winning as much as it is losing a little as possible. Newton's Third Law is only broken in that the reactions are neither equal nor opposite. But they're usually negative. It's the way of the world, and the best you can do is commit and pray like hell. That being said, The Banner Saga 2 is replayable for that very reason.

Combat, being unchanged, still delivers the right difficulty model. Encounters begin simply enough, but increase in complexity and challenge as the story progresses. But unlike that of several of its real-time contemporaries, The Banner Saga 2's combat isn't rocket science. Each of your characters has a very specific set of strengths and limitations, and they aren't excessive to the point where you have to maintain a spreadsheet. With time, you'll know exactly what each one is capable of, as well as the natural strategic rhythm of the combat itself.

Game Mechanics:

Travel is a huge part of The Banner Saga 2, and your position means that you must do everything to ensure that the travelers in your caravan are as healthy and happy as possible. It's a difficult juggling act that requires your attention on multiple fronts. Each stop is only that, a stop; keeping your people fed and rested is hugely important. However, there's a potential downside to that, as well. Circumstances frequently demand that you keep moving, at the expense of all of that. Moderation is a difficult thing to achieve here, but it gives you the best chances of losing as few people to famine and war as possible.

Damage equals strength minus armor. Some things don't need to change, and the core of The Banner Saga 2's combat system is proof. A simple spread of role-playing-esque character attributes governs the capabilities and efficiency of your ground forces, and equippable items can give them a special edge if they need it. Smart roster planning and initiative awareness go a long way towards ensuring your survival.

Yes, The Banner Saga 2 is almost completely unchanged from the original from a mechanical standpoint. If you remember being unsatisfied with any particular part of the actual gameplay of the original, this sequel very likely won't change your mind. But for what it's out to achieve, it's hard to imagine that many ways to improve on what's already there.

I'll get the obvious one out of the way, at least. I really wish we had the option to rotate the camera around the battlefield. The isometric approach generally works best for this kind of game, but having only one angle doesn't always do the player or the game itself any favors. Since The Banner Saga 2 is as beautiful as it is, you'd think the developers might jump at the chance to show off a little while giving us more viewing options. Zooming in is still a treat, however.

For the month of July 2016, The Banner Saga 2 is free for Xbox Live Gold members. That means you probably have no excuse not to own it if you own an Xbox One. If, by the time you're reading this, that window has passed, it will still merit an enthusiastic recommendation. I strongly suggest that any interested parties play through the original first, however.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Related Links:

Sony PlayStation4 Mighty No. 9 Sony PlayStation4 Grand Kingdom

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated