I’ve already covered Stoic’s The Banner Saga 2 in a first play, but this is our meat feast topping article. Our Caravan is loaded with whatever supplies we can afford and we wander across the landscape, settlement to settlement attempting to flee the Dredge. Fortunately for you, dear reader, our review isn’t even remotely as oppressive as the atmosphere in this heavily story driven Tactical RPG.
As with its predecessor, The Banner Saga 2 is all about survival. What we have here is essentially a survival horror SRPG, minus the guns, zombies and obtuse puzzles. It has that atmosphere that you have no choice but to keep going, keep pushing on, knowing that the equipment you carry probably is barely sufficient enough for you to progress. You’re forced to feel incredibly vulnerable by the exhausting experiences that your small band of survivors are struggling to live through as the size of your caravan increases and decreases between settlements and other places that try and promise an element of respite but don’t always succeed in doing so.
As before this is all played out against an utterly beautifully created backdrop, your troop treks across a canvas on which they are absolutely dwarfed by the scenery around them. Which, whilst these images would look absolutely stunning hung up on a wall, they only help drive home just how desperate your plight is as does the rather Game of Thrones-esque events of The Banner Saga 2’s plot, with key people leaving your band at key points and the end of each narrative element.
As before this is all played out alongside an isometric turn based battle system, and whilst on the surface it looks like Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics, it really is anything but. As with the rest of the game you feel overwhelmed, your forces not as strong as the Dredge that pursue you and battles are en exercise in just surviving long enough to chip away at your foe, often resulting in you losing all but one or two of your forces. Stoic have introduced new elements like a class type that can buff other party members who are on their last legs, allowing them one last enhanced attack in order to try and turn the tide of the battle. There’s a genuine sense that in order to progress your party needs to band together, treating them all as single units is tantamount to disaster and this is enforced through the relationship between Bolverk and Folka. Placing them nearby to each other provides a defensive boost to Bolverk, but this also opens up the risk of the latter being hurt by the swing of Bolverks second axe (which also has an equal chance of hitting your foe instead).
The fact that this overpowering element of being on the brink of failure during every aspect of the game, that any wrong choice during dialogue sequences, a wrong choice whilst buying supplies or equipment or the wrong manoeuvre on the battle field could all spell disaster, is always there can be a little too heavy for some and I think its fair to say that The Banner Saga 2 is best played in bursts of a settlement or two at a time. Which is easy to list as a negative, but I don’t actually think it is, its not a game that you could feel too burnt out by and it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome, the wait between the first instalment and this one felt like an eternity on my part and that we now get to continue the tale is incredibly welcome, especially as The Banner Saga 2 stands as equal to its highly recommended predecessor.