Last year, a small studio called Stoic released its first game, The Banner Saga, to wide acclaim. The turn-based combat, decision-based story and its unique art style propelled it to fame. In December 2014, not even one year after the first game, the developers announced a sequel in the works called The Banner Saga 2. Picking up the story from the first game, the players once again follow the caravan of humans and Varls (a mix of human and animals) in the fight against the heavily-armored race called the Dredge.
The line of fans at PAX Prime hoping to play a few scenes from the sequel was long, and rightfully so. If the first game was any indication, the bar of expectation is raised with The Banner Saga 2.
Like the first game, combat is still turn-based, with the player and enemy units taking turns in moving across the tiles and making attacks on either a target's strength or armor points. Dwindling a unit's strength points kills them, but it's best to go for armor first as it helps with deflecting some of the damage.
The Dredge return as the main enemies in The Banner Saga 2. However, they also have a more diverse set of units now that can do damage from various distances. In addition, small dog-like creatures can come out from the combat area and into the fray, first taking on an invisibility spell and then reappearing in some other location to flank your allies.
However, there is an easier way to win this time around. No longer do you have to wipe out the entire enemy group to claim victory. In the demo's second battle, Rook, one of the main characters, quickly points out a unique Dredge on the field that took up the leadership position. If attacks are focused on the Dredge leader and it falls, the battle is immediately over. This saves the trouble of causing unnecessary damage on units, while ensuring that combat doesn't become a battle of attrition.
If taking down the entire group is still the way to go, there's the Pillage ability from Rook. Carried over from the first game, it's an ability that activates only when one side has one enemy left. It allows the players' entire roster to make their moves before the remaining enemy soldier does, almost guaranteeing certain victory. However, it's been upgraded in the sequel with another of Rook's abilities titled "Call to Arms," which activates Pillage when there's two enemies left. We're not sure if killing the leader of the enemy units is available in each skirmish, but if that's the case, fans will have the option of ending fights quickly or staying in for the long haul.
The Long Road
The point of the entire game is about survival. Even though there will be conflicts throughout the campaign, a significant portion of the gameplay is keeping your caravan and its many inhabitants alive throughout the journey. This includes buying supplies at various stops and ensuring that morale is kept high among the various groups.
Then there's also the issue of managing your combat character with their various stats. Each kill on the battlefield nets a Renown point, which is used to level up characters but can also be used to purchase supplies and items. However, Renown can also be used to gain another set of abilities at certain levels, making your characters that much stronger. Considering the limit of units you can bring out to the field and the total number on the roster, managing each one will take some time, even if some of them have yet to go out and fight.
The various conversation choices return as well, giving the players a chance to model the main characters as they wish when interacting with others. In addition, there's a new layer of choice during the caravan journeys. For example, scouts discovered a lone Dredge in the woods as the caravan sails down the river. You can choose to ignore it completely or attack it and net a few rewards. Being a cautionary commander, I chose not to engage, worried that it might attract a large force.
The Journey Continues
The changes are small in number, but they all have a big impact in changing various elements of The Banner Saga 2. Story-addicted fans will be fortunate enough to transfer data from the first game into the sequel. Unlike those new to the series, they can easily jump into the game, but these new features will change various play styles and how they approach various situations. Of course, you don't necessarily have to play through the first game, but it does help put some context into a few situations.
Turn-based gameplay is nothing new to the industry, but games like The Banner Saga 2 combine it with a rich narrative that makes the player care about each character. When someone dies in the field, it's a heartbreaking moment, thanks to the storytelling found in this fictional world. For now, the game is scheduled to come out some time in 2015, but with only three months remaining in the year, and the fact that the demo looks very close to a finished product, fans won't have to wait too long until they join the caravan again.