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The Banner Saga
|The Banner Saga|
PlayStation Vita (Cancelled)
The Banner Saga is a fantasy tactical role-playing video game developed by Stoic Studio and published by Versus Evil. It was initially released for personal computers and mobile phones in January 2014. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were released in 2016, with a Nintendo Switch version released in 2018.
Taking place in a fictional world inspired by Norse mythology, the game tells the story of the player's caravan as a whole, as they combat a warlike race named Dredge that despises humans. The game follows two playable characters, each having their own story that ultimately merges into one. The game features an interactive story which changes depending on players' decisions.
The game served as the debut title for Stoic Studio, which was founded by three former BioWare designers. The game was funded via Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform. The hand-drawn animation and art-style featured in the game was inspired by the art of Eyvind Earle, Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth. Austin Wintory composed the game's music, with Dallas Wind Symphony performing. The game's multiplayer component, titled The Banner Saga: Factions, was released as a free standalone game before the game's release.
The game received critical praise upon release, with critics praising the game's art style, combat, and story. The game was followed by The Banner Saga 2 (2016) and The Banner Saga 3 (2018), which concluded the series. A tabletop RPG tie-in miniseries, produced by Hyper RPG, aired from July 24 to August 14, 2018 on Twitch.
The Banner Saga is an interactive story, meaning that several events may or may not happen depending on the player's choices. The game follows two playable characters, each having their own story that ultimately merges into one. The core of the game is a single-player campaign of turn-based combat engagements inspired by games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force, with the player controlling and being able to build up a party of characters with complementary abilities. The game deliberately avoids certain conventions of action-oriented computer role-playing games such as the focus on a young lone hero's story, looting and buying items, or reloading a saved game state after defeat. Instead, the developers intended to tell the story of the player's caravan as a whole, and encourage players to accept and deal with the consequences of any defeats they may encounter.
The Banner Saga centers on the return of the Dredge - a warlike race that despises humans - led by Bellower, a nigh invincible Dredge who leads them on a warpath. As a wandering army sent to fight against the Dredge and find a weakness for Bellower, the caravan make many difficult decisions that would shape the fate of both man and Varl. Meanwhile, a darkness starts to encompass the world as a giant serpent causes massive earthquakes and breaches across the lands.
The turn-based multiplayer combat component was released on Steam as a free standalone game, called The Banner Saga: Factions, prior to the release of the single-player game. Factions became available to backers on February 18, 2013 and to the public on February 25. It allows players to pit teams of six combatants, chosen from 16 classes, against each other. Factions uses the city of Strand as its main user interface, with players selecting different buildings of the city to access various playmodes and functionalities. Additionally, according to Stoic, "the city will evolve as the story unfolds".
The game takes place in a Viking legend-inspired world, stuck in a perpetual twilight since the sun stopped moving weeks before the events of the game, mainly populated by humans and giant-like creatures called the Varls, as the Dredge, an ancient race believed to be extinct for ages, returns to kill them all.
On the west, the Varl Vognir, together with several other companions that include his longtime friend Hakon, the retired Varl warrior Ubin, and the resourceful human Eirik, are charged with escorting Ludin, Prince of the human capital Arberrang, to the Varl capital Grofheim in order to seal an alliance between the two races. In the city of Vedrfell however, Vognir is slain in an encounter with Dredge, leading Hakon to take command of the caravan. Continuing their way, the caravan faces many of the Dredge, and, while exploring the city in ruins of Ridgehorn, find an unconscious man next to a woman's dead body on the top of a tower. As they rescue him and continue their way, the man, Eyvind, unsuccessfully implores Hakon to return to Ridgehorn, convinced his companion is still alive. The caravan reaches Grofheim, to find it aflame and completely overrun by Dredge.
On the other side of the country, the hunter Rook and his daughter Alette encounter a lone Dredge near their home of Skogr. They hastily come back to their town and their Varl friend Iver, to find the village attacked by the Dredge. Together with the Chieftain's wife Oddleif and the other survivors of the village, they escape to the town of Frostvellr. Finding the town unsafe, they continue their quest for shelter, eventually having no choice but to seek refuge in the Varl fortress of Einartoft. On their way, terrible earthquakes occur, seemingly caused by a massive form in the distance. Although the Varl of Einartoft refuse to let humans in at first, Iver, whose real identity is a legendary, long-disappeared warrior known as Yngvar, persuades them to let the caravan in.
In Einartoft, Rook, Alette and their companions meet Hakon, Prince Ludin, and their own companions who also took shelter in the fortress after discovering what was left of Grofheim. They all meet with the Varl King, Jorundr. The situation is soon revealed to be desperate here as well, as Einartoft is under siege from the Dredge and their immortal champion, Bellower. With the king refusing to destroy the bridge leading to the fortress, the companions have no choice but to fight the Dredge, leading to Iver being severely wounded and losing an arm in a fight against Bellower. As Eyvind tries to distract Bellower and save Iver, the massive form they saw in the distance earlier, a massive, terrifying serpent, emerges and gives a glance at the battle before going away, causing the Dredge to retreat in fear.
Meanwhile, Juno, the woman whose body was next to Eyvind when Hakon's caravan found him, awakens in the ruins of Ridgehorn, to find the gigantic serpent facing her. After unsuccessfully trying to kill her, the serpent speaks to her, revealing he was supposed to swallow what was left of the world, but is deeply troubled by the presence of a "darkness" taking over the world instead. After he leaves, Juno contacts Eyvind by telepathy, urging him to leave Einartoft and meet her down south in the city of Sigrholm.
Eyvind pleads with Rook to lead him to Sigrholm. Rook agrees, as Einartoft is already doomed, and the caravan leaves, soon warned by Ubin and other survivors catching them that the city fell a few hours after they left. When the caravan reaches the unwelcoming city of Sigrholm, Juno is nowhere to be found; despite Eyvind's protests, Rook decides the only hope they have left is to find shelter in the fortified city of Boersgard. However, they find another city in the brink of chaos, with no boats left, and where a group of mercenaries named the Ravens, led by the Varl Bolverk, rules the city. Boersgard finds itself stuck between the sea and a Dredge host. More Dredge arrive every day, while supplies are running out and widespread riots are tearing the city apart from the inside, as Rook and his friends decide their only hope resides in building new boats to leave by the sea before it is too late. As the city's defenses are about to fall before their goal is achieved, they are saved by Juno, together with Hakon, Prince Ludin, and an army of Varl who escaped Einartoft at the last moment. Despite this brief moment of triumph, they soon find themselves in more trouble as Bellower and yet more Dredge arrive. With the help of Rook, Juno creates a magic arrow; the Dredge would rout if Bellower was defeated, and although he is immortal, the arrow would hit his mind, convincing him of his own death and making him fall into a coma. The player is given the choice to give the arrow to either Rook or Alette; the one chosen ultimately hits Bellower, allowing their companions to defeat him and make the Dredge army flee, but is killed by Bellower after shooting him. Some time later, the caravans of Rook and Hakon, unified as one, leave Boersgard together with the Ravens on newly constructed boats, afflicted with grief, after giving Rook/Alette a proper farewell and funeral.
The game's developers – Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen and John Watson – left BioWare after working on Star Wars: The Old Republic, with the intention of making a game for their own enjoyment. The project was financed through the crowd funding platform Kickstarter. It was opened to pledges on March 19, 2012 and met its funding goal of USD 100,000 in the course of the next day. The project eventually accumulated USD 723,886 from 20,042 backers.
The game is set in a Viking-inspired fantasy setting, so as to avoid what the developers considered the "overdone 'elves, dwarves and orcs' dynamic". With a visual style influenced by Eyvind Earle's art for the 1959 Disney film Sleeping Beauty, as well as the work of Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth, The Banner Saga's art features primarily hand-drawn animation sequences, characters and backgrounds. According to the developers, their aim was to create a "mature game for adults in the vein of Game of Thrones or The Black Company". They intend to engage players emotionally by allowing them to build relationships with the game's characters and shape the outcome of the story through an array of conversation choices.
On January 14, 2014, the game was released with help from Versus Evil via digital distribution on Steam. Initially released for the Windows and Mac platforms, ports to iPad and Android were released in October 2014. A port to Linux was released in March 2015, and ports for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were released in January 2016. A port to PlayStation Vita has been underway since 2014, but has been cancelled as of July 19, 2017.
The fully orchestrated score was written by Austin Wintory for which he was nominated for the 2014 Original Dramatic Score, New IP by National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers (NAVGTR). It features Malukah, Peter Hollens, Jóhann Sigurðarson and Taylor Davis as soloists. The ensemble that performed the music was the Dallas Wind Symphony, and it was recorded at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas.
The Banner Saga for Microsoft Windows has an aggregate score of 80 out of 100 based on 74 critical reviews on Metacritic, signifying "generally positive reviews". The iOS version of the game obtained an aggregate score of 92 out of 100, signifying "universal acclaim".
According to IGN, The Banner Saga excelled both in its art and in its varied story full of meaningful choices. The reviewer also approved of the game's tough, but rewarding combat system and bleak, but beautiful soundtrack, while considering that the game could have explained key gameplay mechanics better. Eurogamer praised the game's art and elegant combat system, while criticizing the lack of variety in combat. Hardcore Gamer commended its feature-quality production values as well as its deep and engaging combat.
GameSpot awarded The Banner Saga a score of 7.0 out of 10, saying "The Banner Saga is a beautiful game, filled with interesting ideas and enjoyable battles." Eurogamer awarded it a score of 8 out of 10, saying "The Banner Saga offers a refreshing take on the tactical RPG with a story every bit as engaging as its combat."
Dwellers Included awarded The Banner Saga Complete Pack with Survival Mode a 4.5 out of 5, saying "The first thing you’ll notice when you start playing The Banner Saga is how beautiful this game is; from the characters, to the backgrounds, even the animations, every visual aspect of the game is absolutely stunning."
Sequels and other media
A sequel, The Banner Saga 2, was announced in December 2014. The game was released on April 19, 2016. A miniatures board game, The Banner Saga: Warbands, was announced in August 2015. A prequel novel, The Gift of Hadrborg by James Fadeley, was released in August 2016. In January 2017, Stoic launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for a third instalment in the series called The Banner Saga 3. In March 2017, the game bypassed its $200k funding goal with $416,986 raised.
On July 18, 2018, it was announced that Hyper RPG would produce an official tabletop RPG tie-in show that would air on Twitch from July 24 to August 14 of the same year. It stars Shelby Grace, Andre Meadows, Steve Zaragoza, Dave Moss, and Trisha Hershberger, with Adam Koebel as the Game Master.
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