Thoughts on “The Banner Saga”

That is a +1 mustache of gaming approval.

That is a +1 mustache of gaming approval.

Full disclosure: I have been working with Stoic Studios to do some writing for them, mostly to polish my craft as possible tie-in author in the future. While I still freely voice my opinion, I cannot claim that I’m impartial. So take it with a grain of salt. And pepper. And some delicious smoked paprika…

Last night I finally found some time to really, really dive into The Banner Saga. I thought I would just nibble a bit before bed. And before I knew it, three chapters and the night were gone.

I find myself eager to play, even now. The Banner Saga is a tall glass of tactical RPG we’ve sorely needed after the decade long feast of gorgeous-but-mundane AAA titles.

Once I started, it was difficult to put down. The multi-player Banner Saga: Factions prepared me well for the combat, as I’ve yet to lose a battle. But there were plenty of surprises left in store for me. The enemy AI isn’t a slouch foe- not perfect but far from terrible. And I found myself perplexed and intrigued that every fight was effectively a tactical puzzle, complete with surprises and depth. I might be carving my way through weak thugs, then suddenly realize that there’s a wolf amongst the sheep. Or find myself surrounded, trying to manage foes to one side as swiftly as I can before dealing with the other half.

There were new unit types to figure out, both on my side and against me. I found particular use for the spearman, a class whose extra ranged weapon pairs well in the corners when surrounded by varl or raiders, and I was really glad I pre-ordered the game and got my hands on crazy Tryggvi, a simple but valuable bonus.

Stoic borrowed the shifting POV chapter approach of Game of Thrones or rather A Song of Ice and Fire. But unlike George R.R. Martin, the chapter only ever shifts just as it’s situation begins to heat up. We’re chugging along on chapter 1 and my attention is all over the place until a certain character has died (death, the ultimate attention getter). But before that is followed up, we shifted over to Rook and his daughter Alette, whose village was escaping a dredge attack. But just as they’re out of the frying pan and into the fire, we switch back to the varls of chapter 1, leaving me anxious to know what happens next to the father-daughter duo and their allies.

The game is a true “page turner” if such a phrase could be applied to a game.

"Oh come on, ref! He's totally LeBroning!"

“Oh come on, ref! He’s totally LeBroning!”

Stoic’s approach to the adventuring and travel aspects is an intriguing and wondrous mess. As I marched along the road to my next destination, we occasionally run into problems. Sometimes it’s combat, which can be avoided or engaged. A risk in that one can gain promotions, items and reputation, but also lose men and expend supplies to recover post-battle.

Other times its issues in the camp, such as dealing with the damage inflicted by a drunk, or people wanting to leave to warn passing farms of the coming dredge. These short but simple events are reminiscent of The Sims and I am curious of the underlying mechanics of if or how they effect the overall story. Rewards and losses vary from more reputation (the game’s currency), men or supplies or even items useful for your heroes.

I don’t know yet how much of this is scripted or just random events that occur. These days, I have actively turned off reading wikis in order to be surprised and enjoy the simple delights of discovery. It always keeps me on my toes.

Funny thing is, I can’t tell how I feel about the lack of voice acting during the game’s narration. Part of me almost prefers it, being able to read the story at my own leisure. But that’s the reader in me coming out. Voice acting would have given another layer of polish that most gamers would prefer.

I’m hungry for more. But I must temper this with a reminder that The Banner Saga is merely part one and there’s part 2 and 3 to come. For all the great work they’ve done, I hope the developers keep this old viking proverb to heart:

“Praise not the day until evening has come;
a woman until she is burnt*;
a sword until it is tried;
a maiden until she is married;
ice until it has been crossed;
beer until it has been drunk.”

(*-I’m pretty sure this is referencing burial. If not, then those poor viking women…)

Goodbye July

What is this I don't even...

What is this I don’t even…

I’ve already covered issues about my car yesterday. But the truth is far more sinister. The whole month of July… sucks. 

Besides the vehicle, my cable and internet provider has been unable to assign a decent time to come over and repair my internet. I can get it done on Saturday, but they won’t do it after 5 on the week days, when I’ll be at work. Although they’ve refunded us for the month, Diablo III and Team Fortress 2 are out until it is fixed. 

Thus, with reluctance, I cracked open Mass Effect 3, one of the view recent games in my collection with optional online elements. 

It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I wanted to savor the time I had to myself, not playing the game.

Once Mass Effect starts, you can’t really divert time away from it. After playing through the original game twice, once as a “Good” Soldier Shepard and again as an “Evil” Engineer Shepard, I decided to try a femshep (female Shepard). But I stopped, recognizing a very addictive new experience.

Y’see, I barely started and it was already a different experience, as Kaidan Alenko was hitting on me.  “Man,” I tell myself. “I’ve barely started and this is only ME1. Everyone’ll be humping down my door once I hit ME2.” 

It’s true. Play ME as a man and the women will be coy and make you chase them. Play it as a woman and they’ll be after you. In gaming, the choice to play as a woman is often more like choosing your favorite Barbie doll to play an MMORPG or Diablo. But being a woman in an intricate storytelling experience like this? That’s something else. 

But if I’m going to play a woman, I’m going to do it from the ground up. Which means going back to Mass Effect and slugging my way back up. 

My impressions after 20 hours of ME3 are pretty basic. I like how they dropped the obnoxious resource-searching for a game of Reaper tag. The combat is tight as ever. The “explory-telling” is nice, but I keep wishing I could take the story off of the rails: Options to use charm or threaten are rare, the tale doesn’t let you go about things in any order you choose (the first game was great at this) and I get the feeling that, at this point, everything that happens is barely my decision and more the consequences of my actions from the previous 2 games. 

Choice is an illusion once you’re facing the consequences.

My hunt for a new roommate continues, but I’m closing in on a few likely prospects. I also meant to bug the writers of my anthology yesterday night about their progress, but decided to wait until tonight when I had access to Gmail and a regular computer (not my phone).

I’m half through Brunner. I was hoping that the stories would become more simple for movie making purposes, but that is not the case. His arsenal also expanded, with a new Skaven repeating crossbow, a hatchet and Drakesmalice, some kind of magic longsword. Therefore, I’ve picked two prospective stories which would be ideal for a short movie: “What Price Vengence” and “The Money-Lender’s Price”.

Two new horror stories coming out for a different anthology soon. Hope to be done this weekend.