The Banner Saga excels as a machine that churns out strategic, precarious combat scenarios, guaranteed to produce a healthy amount of bitten nails and palm-shaped marks on foreheads. So well-honed is this machine that said pain will be pleasurable even for those usually most-disturbed by the prospect of turn-based anything. Meanwhile its traditional-animation aesthetic lies somewhere between educational cartoon and the more Metal-Hurlánt-inflected issues of Vertigo’s Northlanders, lending it more than enough austerity and grace to stand out in the stagnating arena of video game art direction where steampunk is hailed as innovation.
Sadly the weak story cannot support the solemnity that so distinguishes the look and gameplay, leaving Banner Saga deep in Hyacinth Bucket county. The lore is flimsier than your teen cousin’s unfinished fantasy novel yet is lavished with attention. Prepare for: mountains of poe-faced cutscenes where interchangeable bearded faces punctuate incomprehensible drivel with soulful wincing, Oregon-Trail traversal sections comical in their unrelenting moroseness and ANCIENT EVIL which looks like a particularly dashed-off Beetleborgs villain. Branching paths aren’t compelling when driven by boilerplate fantasy gobshiteing and only create the sense of missing out compelling gameplay.
Banner Saga is a worthwhile game spoiled by pride in talents it does not have.