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March 21st, 2014, 19:33
For me it's not the most marking RPG I played this first quarter of the year, for me Shadowrun Dragonfall and Blackguards are the most marking. But the Banner Saga is clearly the most original and from far and it's rare. Also despite many flaws including few big one, I found it very attaching and it's clear I'll rush on next chapters no matter the opinions of reviewers nor of players.

The original design worth be quoted. I tried list the main elements of the design:
  • In all the game you are leading a caravan, sometimes two. The caravan has anonymous commoners and anonymous fighters (the army protecting the caravan). There are various mechanism relative to the management of those caravans, like food, army, commoners, and more. And there's some consequences of this management.
  • There's a general mechanism with clear influences from "Make your own adventure" books, you constantly do decisions through dialogs choices, either choices of actions, either choices during dialogs with other characters. Even moving your team (caravan) to another place is done through choices in dialogs or dialogs choices of actions.
  • Some choices have predictable consequences but only some choices. Many consequences of decisions are hard to anticipate. It's a sort of fatalism mood quite similar to "Make your own adventure" books. You make dialogs decisions and discover your fate more than you make decisions to win.
  • There's a general map but it is used only as story and lore information, not as a tool for movements decisions.
  • Towns are only a series of points to visit by selecting one, as a shop or a NPC. So even in towns there's no classical exploration.
  • Combats are Turn based with a random generation, the combats system is very uncommon but designed well enough to have tactical depth.
  • You don't have your own main character, there's only companions and one is more the leader depending of the context, the writing puts the player in the skin of the current leader.
  • The game is roster based, you don't have a strict team of companions but a varying roster of companions. And before each combat you need choose among the roster the companions that will do the combat. This roster constantly evolves, with some leaving or new coming, because of story evolution, past choices, and more.
  • The classes are very simple with one passive skill and two active skills. This is compensated by the use of roster of companions, almost none have the same class than all other. It's the roster that gives some depth to the build design.
  • The items system and equipments system are very simple, there's no standard armor equipments, only some special items and each member can equip only one. Again the roster approach and team approach gives it more density/depth than it could seem.
  • The game uses a strange currency, Renown but you can name it gold, Renown is more the source idea. This special gold is used for anything, buy food for caravan, buy items, buy training of companions, some more.

I tried be descriptive/factual and eventually that would be enough for some RPG players to flee of terror as if they saw the devil himself.

Well, I think some players just won't be able enjoy the game, but eventually the game requires to be played without any anticipation level, eventually don't play it by expecting a RPG, because it is uncommon to most RPG on almost any points.

Plus points:
  • Very uncommon design and that's rather refreshing.
  • Very interesting translation of "Choose your adventure" books into a real video game. It's really much more than a book and still keeps the spirit.
  • Interesting combats, the random generation helps for the replays.
  • Ton of players choices through standard dialogs, or dialogs offering a list of action choices. Many decisions are roleplay, but also plenty have real influences, including some later to generate or not variation into secondary stories, and many with consequences on gold (named Renown) or food or items or caravan or companions or combats triggered or avoided.
  • The writing has various strong parts, like some good ambiguous choices, some (light) thinking on some serious subjects, some good emotional moments (mainly with the human caravan), few attaching companions (not all), few good light humor. Also in middle of the game, the story just became a big woa by raising new story tracks and mysteries very intriguing, a great moment.

Con points:
  • The physical path for the caravan will be strict and will never change from a play to a replay. There are variations, in secondaries stories, events, combats, roster composition. But that design decision of a fixed physical path is still a bit troubling because of design focus on the caravan.
  • The caravan management is at center of the game, alas a large part is largely failed during about half of the game. It is relative to lack of meaningful consequences of your caravan management performances, and the bad managements of some events/dialogs choices and consequences versus your caravan state like having no food or plenty. The caravan army/combats mechanism is woking relatively well, but not the other parts. You can play a large part of the game if not the whole without to quote the illusion, but once you start quote it, a significant part of the game becomes broken and the game losts some charm. It doesn't make it bad to play but it degrades the fun level.
  • The combats aren't really repetitive but feel too similar. It comes from various elements like enemies that look too similar, and not that many enemies types, and combats area that differ mainly only from start positions of units, some more.
  • No players decisions has an influence on the main story (only on secondary stories/events) but one at the very end. Frankly I can wrote that for a huge majority of RPG, those RPG have only a few more variations in the end than in this game, but none on the main story beside the end conclusion.
  • The writing has many weak parts, like the slow tedious beginning, some too abrupt transitions between the two caravans, many story eclipses that are too unclear and can produce some feeling of holes in the story/secondary stories. There's plenty companions because of the roster approach so it's understandable some aren't developed much, but it's still a bit weird and disappointing particularly if you like use one of those in combats. There's some failed emotional moments. The writing succeed well to open new mysterious threads, but it is much less efficient to close them. It's the first chapter of a trilogy so it's normal that some story thread and mystery are still opened at end of the chapter, but the writing managed it badly by letting too many opened and most of them end too open, it generates too much a feeling of non achievement. This could have been managed better as have shown many previous RPG/Novels/TV series also implementing games/novels/seasons as a series of chapters of a global story.
  • The game is totally linear, but it's not a total disaster because many elements break roughly well this linearity, events, combats, towns, the constant choices and you can hardly predict what are role-play and what will have influence, the caravan management as you can camp at any time, some more.
  • The gold (renown) is for anything, buy food for caravan, buy items, buy training of companions which is a varying roster you don't control fully. So you can spend a lot of gold into a companion and see him leaves. It's not game breaking but it's a bad mechanism.
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