On the Trail Again
When I was a child in elementary school I looked forward to the chance to spend time in the Apple lab. This was a classroom filled with row after row of Apple IIs. In each of these magical boxes lived the game the made learning about westward expansion fun, the Oregon Trail. I’ve spent a lot of hours over the past week playing Banner Saga 2 by Stoic and each time I fire it up it brings me back to those days of my youth.
If you aren’t familiar with the Oregon Trail it was an educational game focused on the Westward migration of settlers across the United States during the 1800s. The trail began in Independence Missouri and ended in Oregon City, Oregon. You play as the leader of a group of settlers that are part of a wagon train. Along the way you are faced with tough choices. People lived and died based upon what you picked and a bit of random luck. Out of nowhere your children could die of dysentery. Heavy stuff for a 10 year old. Heavy stuff for a 30 year old.
In the Banner Saga 2 you begin the game shortly after the original ended. You can import your saved data from the Banner Saga and your save states will impact the story in the Banner Saga 2. Fortunately if you didn’t play the game or made decisions you regret you can always start anew. If it’s been awhile since you completed the first game or if you never did there is a small video to help sum up what happened at the end of the Banner Saga. Still ff you never did play the first game you may find yourself a bit lost in this sequel.
You’ll take on the role of either Rook, a suicidal human that’s lost his daughter in the previous episode or his daughter Alette. If you choose to play as Alette it will be Rook who is dead. Throughout the story as you progress westward much like you do in the Oregon Trail. However, instead of deciding whether to ford a river you’ll be faced with choices such as dropping sections of a magical bridge killing some of your villagers to prevent the enemy from overtaking you and killing all of our followers.
In addition to these large set piece decisions you also come across seemingly random smaller encounters that force you to make a choice too. Do you pick up the humans along the river that have no food? If so you run the risk of running out of supplies yourself and losing more people than you gain. If you do pick them up, however, you could get a morale boost and a more bountiful forage increasing your overall supplies.The choice is yours. The more morally ambiguous the decision is the tougher they become.
As the leader of your convoy you are tasked with balancing the needs of your group. Besides the hero type characters that play key roles in the story you’ll have villagers and soldiers that you’ll never really see but know are there. The more soldiers you have the stronger your caravan will be against the Dredge. You will consume more supplies per day though. The more villagers you have the faster you’ll collect supplies and the less you’ll consume per day. If you have too few soldiers though you won’t be able to fight off your enemies effectively. You can spend supplies to convert villagers to soldiers since maintaining a good balance is essential to effectively managing your caravan.
Combat is turn based and anyone used to strategy RPG’s will be able to easily pick up the game play. As you move around the grid based maps you’ll be able to attack your enemies. In addition to hit points enemies also have armor. You don’t have to remove an enemy's armor to kill them but it can certainly help. You’ll also be able to spend willpower to add a little extra “umph” to certain attacks. Managing when to use and when to save your willpower for later can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Fortunately the Banner Saga 2 isn’t so harsh as to kill your characters if they fall in battle. Instead they will be injured and you will be required to rest your caravan for a day or more to remove their wounds. This can deplete your supplies stockpile in the process.
The Banner Saga 2 picks up right where the Banner Saga left off and makes for a wonderful sequel. It answers a number of questions that the first game let linger and raises a few more for a potential sequel to close the loop on. If you liked the original Banner Saga then this one is a no brainer. If you never played the original but are looking for a turn based strategy RPG that has a Nordic influence you might want to give this one a go. I’d recommend playing the original first though.
- GAMEPLAY: 8 –This one is a mix of the Oregon Trail decisions and turn based combat. The use of willpower to buff up certain attacks in combat adds another level of strategy to who to attack.
- VISUALS AND SOUND: 8 – The art in the Banner Saga 2 and the music are top notch. The cut scenes feel like they could have used a few more frames of animation though.
- POLISH: 8 – This sequel takes all the base components of the first game and adds a few more to the mix. New units with new abilities help freshen the game up a bit without outshining what was already there.
- LONGEVITY: 8 – With the ability to choose between two main protagonists each with their own unique story you’ll want to play this one twice.
- VALUE: 9 – $19.99 USD for this sequel is a great price for a great game.