View Full Version : A Banner Saga Fanboys Release Critique

Slimsy Platypus
01-15-2014, 01:55 PM
Hey all! Being a huge Banner Saga fan since the Kickstarter I have been super invested in this game ever since learning about it. Iím sure my feedback isnít worth much at this point, but being a contributor to this community I did want to communicate what I loved and what I didnít like about the final game. This is my opinion, and Iím sure in some regards Iím simply wrong, but feel free to call me out on whichever point you like or just scroll over my massive wall of text and say ďhi!Ē


Being a Factions guru for the past year, I didnít imagine I could take away anything else from the combat and character progression systems due to my overfamiliarity; boy was I wrong.

The additions of facing a horde of enemies that greatly outnumber you, stat increasing items, and varied unit placement may sound like minor tweaks to Factionís combat, but they actually amount what feels like an entirely new game. For me, the combat is the most appealing system, and after each battle, I anxiously await the next. Being familiar with how the combat works, I thought I would be able to easily trounce my enemy, devoid of challenge. After the first couple ďwarsĒ (which Iíll touch on shortly) I quickly learned my limits when presented with the opportunity to stick around for another fight. In hindsight there are many times when I should have simply let my caravan continue on when the battle had been won.

Each unitís single active and passive ability makes the characters feel very unique and does a great job personalizing the units. However, the pace the player is fed the units information is way too fast. I was already familiar with the majority of the unitís abilities, but still couldnít remember in the midst of battle what many of my unitís passive and active abilities did. The pace of information was a bit too fast for me, and that scares me because Iím sure when new players are taxed with also learning the non-standard strength/armor relationship, willpower, along with adding several new active and passive abilities in the early battlesÖ I would assume that would be a bumpy ride.

Now back to the wars! The wars are cool, epic, and do a couple great things for the game. Firstly, they give value to the number of clansmen, fighters, and Varl you convince to bring along who are constantly consuming you limited supplies. Secondly and probably much more importantly, the wars do a great job at giving me a sense of the size and scope of my caravan; this isnít just six people running away, this is much bigger than that!

However, I have a few issues with the war system. First and foremost the decisions you make at the start of the war screen are the opposite of intuitive. I have and have had no idea if there is a difference between charging in or carefully making formation. Additionally, the repetitive and same exact combat text you get prior to engaging in war feels like a disappointing missed opportunity. Thus far Iíve played through about 10 hours of the game, and in maybe around 6 to 10 war engagements Iíve seen two different texts. Either the dredge look nervous or we are evenly matched. I wish this text was randomized or unique, to make war encounters feel different from each other. Instead over time their similarities all make every war feel homogenous. Regardless of the issues, the war system presents a very fun mechanism to challenge you in combat and reward you with items. Already in my first playthrough Iím looking forward to playing through again to see if I can do better during the early battles when I struggled!


Being so familiar with the unit structure from Factions, I never imagined the character progression system could feel so good. It is obvious that some attention was put to making every level feel powerful and epic. Leveling up a characterís rank feels great each time, and higher rank characters feel like death stars compared to their previous tie fighter counterparts at rank 1. One criticism (which may be the result of a bug), is that the number of points from leveling a character appears to be inconsistent. Most of the time I expect to get 2 points to spend on my units after each rank increase, however after ranking up my newly acquired bowmaster I received 10 additional points at rank 2Ö which was curious. The lack of feedback from the game makes me think itís a bug, if not the inconsistency is frustrating.

The renown system in itself works very well. It actually works so smoothly that it is easy to forget that Stoic has deterred completely from the experience system used in every other turn based strategy I can think of. Renown is precious, that is for certain. My one complaint is that the renown required to rank up a character increases each rank, but as you progress to the later portions of the game the rate you receive renown does not increase. In my current play through (of about 10 hours), character promotion has pretty much become stagnant, which begins to feel like a missed opportunity. Coupled with a constant influx of high level items that I cannot equip, it starts to feel like a progression hurdle that is the result of an unintentional broken element, rather than intended design for progression. But admittedly, that might change when I finally breach the hurdle and get a massive feeling of accomplishment: I suppose the verdict is still out on that element.

One of the major benefits that I LOVE of the renown system is that it doesnít force the majority of the experience to go to the most powerful units. The checks and balance aspect of requiring unit kills has been tuned to perfection and feels natural as characters progress.

Then that brings me to the items. Knowing that each unit could equip a single item, I had low expectations for the depth and value of the system. However, I canít put into words how wrong I was in that regard! The item hunt is awesome! Coupled with the war system (fight an extra battle with spent units for a random item), the hunt is very attractive and rewarding. The item properties are varied, interesting, and in some cases feel extremely powerful! My one critique, as small as it may be: having (apparently) randomized items from a vendor is cool, but when two towns in series are selling the same items, it really makes them not feel unique and detracts from the very well-written names and flavor text. Iíd rather see 3 cruddy items I hadnít seen at the last town than the same last 3 that I thought were unique.


The Story! The story is super compelling and actually kept me up until 4-AM last night finding out what happens next. The premise of the story is solid solid solid! The consistent stream of travel decisions do make you feel like you are on your very own adventure, and the feeling of severity that the decisions hold just goes to show the power and care that went into the writing.

Although I absolutely love the story, I have to admit that it falls short in some aspects of the delivery. My biggest issues with it are the chunkiness of some of the decisions coming to fruition, and the inconsistencies in text regarding the remaining characters in your party (although Iíve only encountered it twice).

Iíll discuss the clunky-ness aspect first; take this example: I send Allette and Gil to the great hall when fighting breaks out. Itís obvious that I canít use them in the next immediate battle, and I donít hear from them in the immediate discussion that follows. However, itís never made clear to me that they rejoin, until about 30 minutes later when they miraculously appear back in my unit list prior to battleÖ maybe it should have been clear to me that they did, but when going from line from line between events it wasnít intuitive when exactly or if they even came out of the great hall to rejoin me. Without bogging down the post with further specifics, in general it was always very unclear who had officially left my party, when they returned, or when I would be able to use them. I envision a very simple fix: (Allette and Gil have left the party) at the bottom of the text following your decisions. (Allette and Gil have rejoined the party) when they come back.

The one time I literally slapped myself in the forehead during the game was after being exposed to continuity error where my ol buddy Gil had died a second timeÖ in an attempt to not add any spoilers in here, letís just say some turmoil broke out and (for example) Oddleif and Gil are proclaimed dead (Gil had died many hours earlier in my adventure, I already knew that and it felt like a very inappropriate time to remind me). To further complicate things, shortly after Oddleif was proclaimed dead, the game tells me (paraphrasing) ďOddleif recoveredĒ and was not deadÖ I donít think I need to explain why this is frustrating to a player. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE patch in (X player has died) or (X player has left the caravan) at the bottom of the appropriate texts. This confusion is beyond damaging to the integrity of the story.


Originally when I envisioned the travel system I was nervous that it would eventually feel repetitive and boring, especially when I decided to replay the game. However, the frequency of travel events is so perfectly placed didnít find myself once wishing my caravan would pick up the pace. The implementation of travel works so well, and itís rather exciting to come across events. Intuition tells you that the travel scenes would feel slow and boring, but my experience playing was just the opposite... ďooooohhhh are my supplies going to hold out?!Ē ďan event! Please please please increase my morale!Ē Travel has not only been a great place to suck in the beauty and scope of the world, but itís actually a pretty exciting element of the gameplay for me.

I have never played a game where the decision to camp felt like it had so much weight to it! Itís so well implemented and compliments the morale, unit progression, and travel systems so well and naturally. My only quirk with it is the inability to feel like I have control over my morale. Sometimes I camp and my morale goes up, sometimes it does not. So what gives? Over time (I think) Iíve learned that it just takes a couple days of rest to get over each of the benchmarks of the Morale indicator, but unfortunately I donít think the indicator increases in frequencies that give the player enough feedback. It can be excessively frustrating to camp several times and not see that morale meter budge. There are plenty of fixes, but seeing a circular bar that fills or fraction appear when scrolling over seem the most simple. It doesnít matter if resting affects morale based on other travel stats or by a random unit of morale, we simply need better feedback on where we stand and what weíve gotten to after resting.

So thatís all Iíve got for all you guys. I doubt anyone will probably read this entire wall of text but I appreciate you all for bearing with me through it (if you did please type the sole word macaroni as a reply to this thread)

In summary, I absolutely have had a blast playing as much as I could possibly fit in between release yesterday and having to come go into work today. I love love love The Banner Saga. This game IS the modern evolution of turn based strategy I have been looking for for so long! Itís a little rough around the edges, but has exceeded even my excessively high standards that Iíve built based on Stoicís support and effort over the last two years. Big thanks to Stoic and a big thanks to all of the community that have obsessed over this game for the last two years!



01-15-2014, 02:46 PM
Great writeup Brendan, thanks for sharing. I agree that it would be easier to strategize if the effects of war and resting were made clearer. Maybe Stoic wants to obfuscate the consequences of your decisions to make the game harder, more unpredictable and more realistic, but I'm hoping Stoic will make things easier to understand in a future update.

01-15-2014, 02:54 PM
Hah! Now I know why I automatically picked this crest as my own - I watched waay too much of Your stream in my time :)

01-15-2014, 05:40 PM
I actually picked the same one because I thought it looked cool

01-15-2014, 11:16 PM
Well the plague of verbiage and conscious streaming I've started seems to spread :D

Can't really add a lot to the topic. My Saga is still at the beginning of Chapter 4 and I'm trying to live through the game as much as it offers me to.

01-15-2014, 11:46 PM

01-16-2014, 01:02 AM
i agree with many of your points, i played through the entire game without really understanding (or being 100% certain of) the war system and the differences between the options. I think Charge! gives a harder battle for your own team but an easier battle for your clansmen/fighters/varl (and thus you lose less people). and the effect reverses as you go down the list (easier fight for your team of 6 but more losses in terms of population)

is this a correct assessment?

01-16-2014, 04:17 AM
Concerning War Options:

Charge -- This gives you a hard-to-win battle (more enemies ==> more renown, if you win!), but your caravan suffers minor casualties.
Formations -- This gives you a normal battle and your caravan suffers normal casualties.
Hold 'em off -- This gives you an easy-to-win battle (a few enemies) but you caravan suffer big casualties.
Retreat -- No battle takes place and caravan suffers massive casualties.
Oversee -- Battle takes place but you don't play it. The game decides whether you win or lose depending on...? (on hard, you almost always lose here).

My problem with the game in general, is that the caravan casualties don't seem to really "matter", do they? I haven't go them wiped out, yet, thought :p

Concerning casualties vs. win/defeat -- I am not sure how a loss on Charge! relates to a win on Formations (or Hold'em). I always picked Charge!

01-16-2014, 09:28 AM
macaroni! :D So, Having read through Brendan's Saga, I will now comment on some things.

DISCLAIMER: Please bear in mind that, like Slimsy, I consider myself a major TBS-fanboy/nerd. So, everything I say here, I say it for the good of the game (imho, of course :p). One tiny detail, many of you might know about me, is that I am "glass half-empty" and "brainstormer" type of person. So, now, you know what you expect below!

I agree with Slimsy. Easily the best component of the game, for me too. Thank you Factions (and beta) for that! :) Onto some more specific points now:

(a) Pace: I agree that it could be slower, with more & smaller battles. I especially like that "vs. Starving Dredge" battle. I'd have liked a couple more, in the same spirit, with tips from Rook to Alette, like "Lets break that thick armor first!" or "Stand back and try to shoot through it's armor's holes". Looking back to the first battles:

Tutorial battle, vs. Chieftain at Strand Great Hall -- Pace is OK, but it could have been longer or harder (since it's "guided").
Nobleman battle, vs. Thugs in Strand Mead House -- This is WAY too much for a second battle! There's no Horn yet, but you don't get any tips (or "guiding") on deployment, the second important aspect introduced.
First vs. Dredge battle, end of Chapter 1 -- Tutorial returns to the ARM-vs-STR issue. This is also a bit hard for a 3rd battle.
Rook & Alette vs. Starving Dredge -- Now is the deployment discussed. Also, the Pillage mode is "broken" here with no explanation. That's an inconsistency.
Skogr vs. Dredge Battle -- Horn first appearance, Stoneguard first appearance and Iver offering some advice ("Let me take him").

Don't you feel that battle #2 is way out of proportion? The rest of the battles, after #5, are all pretty standard: You get to deploy and fight to pillage etc. Personally, I'd like more of the "scenario" battles (like #1-4 above), where the deployment is preset, there's already injured/dead units on the board etc. It feels more situational and RPG-like...

(b) Wars: I like them wars falling into this well-structured form (charge/formation/hold/retreat etc). Especially if the person in charge is a seasons war-veteran (like Hakon is supposed to be). However, I agree with you that some text could "flavor" them a bit.

(c) AI: It's OK I guess, albeit relying more on stats & numbers. I saw some problems, however. Most important one was having units moving and not attacking somebody, even if he was in range. Slingers did that, mostly. Also, I didn't like the Stoneguard's AI. His ability is so devastating (like an "all around" Ram!), but they barely used it right. Also, they could sometimes kill/maim, but went for that ability instead. Finally, what I would have expected to see is some sort of "focused hate" AI, e.g. Dredge preferring Varl to human, or enemies attacking specific characters (Rook or Hakon, the caravan leader).

I think this flows right too. Most of the time the renown is scarce (which is intended) and you must make hard choices to spend it on promotions/supplies/items. About that bowmaster character, she comes with 8 points available from rank-1, which, yeah, seemed like too much for me too. I mean, All Factions players know that BM is statted in only one way: max STR, max AB+EX, max ARM, max WP... So, what's the reason of giving her (and her only, no other character!) all those allocatable points? Inconsistent. Either give that re-statting option for all units (when first encountered), or for none. Items work fine, I guess, they just seem expensive sometimes, but it's to be expected and makes them more prrrrrecioussss :D

I liked the story very much, having strong characters (I wish more could be as "developed" as Rook, Alette, Iver) and hard choices with a mature spirit to them. Almost every choice (that I was faced with; there's many more!) had its bad and good facets, except for a select few that seemed to be "pass/fail". I am specifically referring to circumstances where (a) a character perma-dies or (b) there's no practical consequence. Those just don't seem right; I'd have all choices be between two evils, "choose your poison" as roder put it (http://steamcommunity.com/id/roder/recommended/237990/) (;)).

Now, most importantly, I think the writing needs a lot of polishing to go, in order to tie up all those loose ends we've been hearing here and there (clunkyness, inconsistencies, vagueness, typos). I know its a hard work to do on a text-based story, but I stand by my opinion that the game can greatly profit from polishing in this department.

One last point I'd like to bring up is the different sizes of the chapters. Especially the comparatively small size of Ch5... Chapters 1 & 7 seem small, too, but they are intro/conclusion so it's fine.

Here's where most of my problems were. I liked the scenery and all, especially the close-travel scenes, but the attempt to oversimplify the system kinda lost it for me. I'll bring up some points.

Casualties -- I don't really get it. What's the incentive to keep your population high? It just seems like a problem as they require more supplies (i.e. renown-upkeep), which is really scarce, especially in Chapter 6. A suggestion: What if the population limits the amount of units (varl or human) you can bring to a fight?
Grinding -- I'd have put an option to linger on the small generic villages you come across, and do small renown/supply rewarding quests for the town-chief or something. The cost of lingering/grinding could be the dredge that are always on your tail, evidently.
Camp/Resting -- Apparently, you can camp at any time with no cost at all. Perhaps a tiny speed-decrease, but I am not sure about that as the "clock" slows along with the caravan. I'd have setting-up camp to cost 1 supplies or something. Also, an option to rest, not 1 day, but "as much as is needed to get +1 morale" (and know what that time-cost would be, of course). That ties in with Slimsy's remark.
Travel Planning -- Many times I got the impression the caravan moved too slow (or disproportionally) in the world map. It made it hard to calculate the amount of supplies needed in order to do some rough planning ahead. The problem was huge in Chapter 6.
Chapter 3 -- I found it weird that the last stretch (Ridgehorn -> Grofheim) had no encounter/event whatsoever, when the first part was so packed with action. If you're worried that Ch3 would be too long, you could disperse the fights/wars along the whole way. No need to have all the battles in the Strand->Ridgehorn "leg" and none on the other, much longer one! Dredge are supposed to be all over, no?

So, that was my small Wall of Text. Those who made it through, please add the word "incident" after macaroni :o


01-16-2014, 10:25 AM
Sadly it seems You are better off running from battles and suffering heavy causalities.

I rested till my whole caravan starved (the animation changes to a single cart with 2-3 humanoids walking by it) and... was rewarded for it: I had to spend a lot less on supplies, had no heroes leave, had enough spare renown to buy them stuff I wanted and level who I wanted immediately, all the clansmen-related events popped anyway... oh! and the zero guys that I had left were running on a very good morale :)

I have yet to test the starving before major battles (I suspect Charge option will be impossible to win with 0 to 300+ dredge), but yeah - I kinda regret I tested that. Wanted to believe the poor souls You dragged with You mattered in some way.

EDIT: They could have been connected to income - gold or renown - the more people You save the better items You can get, but You also need to spend some on more supplies.

01-16-2014, 10:51 AM
In the previews Stoic talked about having gameplay mechanics like your Caravan forcing you to continue if you rested for too long. (this is back when they were talking about a blackness spreading across the land destroying everything in it's path) Now it seems like the only reason to continue traveling are your supplies. They also talked about the story being different depending on how quickly you reached your destination. (I imagine quests like a city being under siege that needs help)

Likewise Stoic talked in the kickstarter updates about having different events pools that would fire depending on if your morale is good or bad. It sounds like the same events fire no matter how many people are in your caravan. Can anyone confirm that morale has an effect on events? The idea that you can starve your caravan and do better (except for fighting in wars) seems very counter-intuitive.

01-16-2014, 10:55 AM
I rested till my whole caravan starved (the animation changes to a single cart with 2-3 humanoids walking by it) and... was rewarded for it: I had to spend a lot less on supplies, had no heroes leave, had enough spare renown to buy them stuff I wanted and level who I wanted immediately, all the clansmen-related events popped anyway... oh! and the zero guys that I had left were running on a very good morale :)

So you actually tested the idea I've said in chat today :D Interesting to see this lifehack actually works, I thought that supply count in market encounters is calculated based on your headcount, so if you have less people then you'd have less supplies to buy on the road

01-16-2014, 11:10 AM
Yeah, but those zero followers and 6-8 heroes still eat a fair share. The reduction was to 1/3, 1/4 or so. I was expecting more, seeing as I just shook down a legion of hungry Varls.

So you actually tested the idea I've said in chat today Interesting to see this lifehack actually works, I thought that supply count in market encounters is calculated based on your headcount, so if you have less people then you'd have less supplies to buy on the road
No, actually I decided to see if one could wait long enough for Juno to finally come. I'm waiting for someone to create artwork with the team members skeletons scattered around that flooded village, one of them holding a note - "F**k You Juno"

01-16-2014, 11:13 AM
Yeah, but those zero followers and 6-8 heroes still eat a fair share. The reduction was to 1/3, 1/4 or so. I was expecting more, seeing as I just shook down a legion of hungry Varls.
Probably Ubin eats as much as 100 Varls

01-16-2014, 11:15 AM
Really good feedback guys. Keep it coming. I've been sending some similar notes (particularly on chapter 6) to Stoic. I think it's fine if the pace differs from 3 (cos 3 is a warband and 6 are refugees). But I am totally agreeing that there's something off with the resource management in chapter 6.

Also those are some really interesting, good and effective points about the nature of population in the game. It's not working right if you're better off letting people die, cos that definitely is not the intent. I put down my critique of the lead up to the ending (the actual final scene, and the lead-up) in the ending discussion thread (http://stoicstudio.com/forum/showthread.php?2022-Ending-Stoic-Strategy-Discussion-*TONS-OF-SPOILERS*) for me that was the only really story-point I still felt was still too rough (the lead-up, not the ending. I loved the final scene).

I think some of the painpoints the game can possibly still work on are
1. The morale movements (to understand how much resources it takes and when it would be a good time to rest), like Slimsy suggested
2. Stat info and item info being viewable in assemble heroes (cos honestly it's not practical to remember that)
3. Chapter 6 seeing more balance for resource management
4. Population 0/being low should be BAD.
5. Yea if the Varl join at points in the story, they should add more to your fighter pop...though the food issue would pop up again :p