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  Click here to go to the first staff post in this thread.   Thread: The Strides Forward and Missteps of The Banner Saga Campaign - Feedback and Review

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    Junior Member Zekram Bogg's Avatar
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    The Strides Forward and Missteps of The Banner Saga Campaign - Feedback and Review

    So, I know there's already thread for feedback on the Single Player Campaign, but I'm a guy who tends to write, like, a LOT of text, and I figured all I'd end up doing there is writing a whole bunch of small posts. If that's going to be the case, might as well make one big one, right?

    Anyway . . .

    The Banner Saga is easily one of the most ambitious, beautiful and artful games to get kickstarted thus far. It creates a majestic setting, portrays characters instead of caricatures, and offers a wonderfully challenging tactical wargame experience. As the true start to what could be a definitive gaming epic, it has to potential to join some of gaming's greats as a series that will stand the test of time and be played for years to come.

    Unfortunately, it's also one of the most frustrating games I've ever played, with almost as many flaws as merits. Worse, the particular frustration it engenders, and their ubiquity have the potential to kill this series before it really gets off the ground. The following review is thus both to laud the developers at Stoic where they succeeded, and to focus on the aspects where they've failed, primarily in the hopes that the problems can be addressed and the Saga completed.

    NOTE: There are gonna be some spoilers here. Almost certainly big ones. Also, when I do my own personal "reviews" I judge games one my four "C"s, Context, Craftsmanship, Control, and Core, an approach I like and you can see laid out below.

    The Context (AKA Narrative)

    The Good

    One of the hardest aspects to do properly in any game, TBS excels in this category. The World feels rich and lived in, creating a unique setting that's easy to want to while away hours in. Despite the somewhat limited amount of text the various characters get to express themselves, most come across as genuine people rather than merely archetypical cutouts, and in general the dialogue is strong. While the overarching Battlestar Galactica-meets-Norse-Mythology plot of "Running from Ragnarok" is fairly straightforward, there are enough twists and turns to give it needed complexity, and the continual unraveling of the world's lore always keeps a player hungry for more.

    Perhaps more importantly than anything else, it's just an interesting world. When most videogame fantasy has a hard time escaping the Dragons-Orc-Elves dichotomy, The Banner Saga gives us the Horned Varl and Stony Dredge. These novel creations feel new and bring a sense of freshness to a genre that desperately needs it. Combined with the focus on melee combat and low magic setting, and we finally have a video game that properly captures the "low magic" spectrum of fantasy.

    The Bad

    The biggest narrative misstep has to do with it's thorough incompleteness at two specific points (HERE BE THE SPOILERS). The first is after the two caravans "meet" in Einartoft and the player successfully beats back the attacking Dredge with Rook and Iver. There is pretty obviously supposed to be a Hakon Chapter following this, where the player would be leading his party back to Arberaang and meeting Juno on the road toward the end, revealing that she lives through a viewpoint character the audience already knows rather than suddenly jumping to someone we don't. Because after this chapter is the longest chapter in the game, and the one where Rook's Band covers the most distance, from Einartoft to Boersgard, and after a series of alternating early chapters between Varl caravans and Rook's Human caravan, the two Rook chapters in a row break the established flow of the story.

    The next point is the end of the game and how it gets there. Primarily, the game basically just stops with zero resolution to the "main" plot, having only resolved what seems to be a minor obstacle in the grander scheme. The LOTR equivalent would be ending The Fellowship of the Ring at the point of Gandalf falling into the Chasm with the Balrog rather than when Frodo decides to break away from the Fellowship; there's simply too much peril still in the air, the characters and the audience are still in shock from dealing with losses, and (importantly) there's almost zero positivity given to the audience in order for us to want to strive on.

    This bleakness could be seen as a general failing of the narrative. Not because it is bleak, but because that's all there is. Often it's just too nihilistic and dreary for a 1st chapter of something. While this is partially the point, the hopeless moments versus hopeful moments ratio here is something like 99:1. That ratio would work much better in the 2nd part of a trilogy when the characters end up at their lowest point, not the first part of a trilogy when most long stories end on a high enough note that the audience can believe in the protagonists' success. After the end of the Banner Saga Part 1, it feels as if Part 2 is just going to be more depressing than Cormac MacCarthy's The Road, so why bother?

    I mean, the Kickstarter said it was going to be a mature story. A truly mature story isn't just "Everything sucks literally all of the time". A mature story is, "Yeah, things suck. A lot of the time. But they also don't a lot of the time either. It's how you deal with the suck. How you view the suck that makes someone an adult."

    More importantly though, is the fact that when it comes to most of the decision-point "gameplay", there usually isn't enough information given to determine what your choices will entail, and moreover, the intent of the design is to apparently make sure that every choice you make is always the wrong one. As such, characters who you may have invested time and (more importantly) renown into often die (permanently) in frankly arbitrary fashions. At one point I suddenly lost a character for choosing to participate in a 2nd battle in row, after winning both battles and when choosing to participate in both battles actually seemed to make the most logical sense for the goals of the group. Losing even when you're successful like this simply feels insulting and undermines any sense of achievement the game otherwise lets you feel, and in general, destroys the player's trust in making choices at all. If, in the end, I choose to go left, but the plot forces me to go right, why even give the option of going left?

    This last bit - the all too often too arbitrary permanent character loss and always negative choices without respite - is what created the MOST frustration in my progression. The constant, unrelenting negativity and lack of control on my part to do anything about it didn't just kill the morale of the caravan. Often, it killed mine as well.

    The Craftsmanship

    The Good

    This is easily the game's strongest point. So much so that there's little to actually say. The visual design is excellent and the game is downright sumptuous to watch, the music is hauntingly, achingly beautiful, and everything fits the obvious vision of the creators. As an audio/visual tour de force, a 2D game doesn't get much better than this.

    "The Bad"

    That has to be in quotes because the the only "failing" that occurs with the presentation is that there's not enough of it at points. You want to see more animated cinematics, hear more wonderfully composed tracks, and wish there was some more VOs to bring even more life to the game's dialogue. There could probably be some more variation to the sound effects library, but that's really the closest thing to an actual flaw here.

    The Control (AKA Usability)

    The Good

    This is a pretty simple game to just pick up and play immediately. There are no complicated controls, and the flow of menus and options are the definition of streamlined. You can easily start the game and immediately "get" how to participate in battle and the ample tutorial chapter will hammer home all of the specifics you're going to need in order to play. While there aren't many options for the player to mess around with, the game really doesn't need many, since it uses such a simple system and is in 2D.

    The Bad

    In fact, there is perhaps far too much simplicity, especially with the Caravan gameplay sections. There is never enough information given to the player with this aspect of the game. How many supplies should I buy? Well, I don't know how long this leg of the journey is going to be, so I can't properly make that decision. Should I invest renown into supplies, or level up a character? Well, the arbitrary deaths of characters makes you want to safely invest in supplies, but the lack of importance with caravan members until the final chapter of the game makes you want to invest in character leveling. Why can't I sell the supposedly legendary items I find for some emergency renown? Why can't I choose to have my caravan ration food, forage or pick up the pace? How is morale calculated and how many days do I have with this amount?

    So much of what seems to be the 2nd most important element to the game is either left to mystery, or not allowed that the element simply feels again, incomplete.

    On top of this, there are simply a lot of fundamentally bad UI issues. There is no animation on the loading screens, so if you get a long one, you have no way to tell if the game is crashed or not (oddly inconsistent with Factions since there ARE animated loading screens there). There is no strong highlight that characters have unassigned skill points, so I went through a number of battles with characters weaker than they should have been. There is no option to cancel the upgrade character screen, so you have to back out of that menu entirely if you decide you don't want to level up a character yet.

    In general, though there are flaws here, much of this could be addressed in future patches, and hopefully will be.

    The Core (Gameplay)

    The Good

    First things first, the tactical gameplay is VERY sound. After reading some reviews that claimed that the combat was a dreary chore I have to wonder what game those reviewers were playing. Fundamentally this game's tactical combat system is the core of this game, and if you think it's a chore you probably just won't like this game at all. But if you actually like tactical games, it's a marvelous system that strikes that rare balance between simplicity and complexity.

    The tactical combat is easily the highlight of the actual you know, "game" part of this video game. Which is a good thing since it's what you'll be doing the most of. Again, like the world's setting it manages to create a lot of novel concepts in a space that often seems bereft of them.

    The Bad

    There are three issues here. The balance of the tactical combat, the lack of map variety, and the lack of variety in the overall gameplay.

    The first issue is kind of strange actually. The fact is, the initiative and Strength systems used works fundamentally better for the Multiplayer Factions than this single player outing. The constant turn switching that makes the MP fair and equitable makes the unbalanced teams of the campaign have lopsided pacing, especially against the Dredge, who seem the lumbering slow type, but often end up feeling nimbler than what should be your quickest characters by the end of the encounter. Then there's the fact that when you combine this initiative system with the strength system, the strategy of maiming everyone but not killing them just makes battles feel drag out artificially. I've never played another game where I was incentivized to NOT quickly kill the big monsters trying to kill me; it just feels very counter-intuitive. Another element needs to be added to SP to change this turgid pace of battle and encourage the killing of enemies like dredge. The other side of the balance lies with the wonky difficulty. Normal is a decent difficulty level with a couple appropriate spikes, but easy and hard are utterly ridiculous, with easy being a total joke and hard being more brutal than death metal. However, considering these aren't the major focus, this is a negligible aspect at best.

    As for the maps, the biggest problem is that there's no variety of layout. With one exception, every map is just a big rectangle with no terrain features to either work against or use to your advantage. Considering a big part of literally every tactical game in existence is in learning how to use terrain to your advantage, and that there is more variety in them more limited maps of Factions (the docks map with the posts and the fire interior fire-pit versus the one map in SP that has a pit in the center) the fact that there's no variety here is incredibly disappointing.

    The real killer though, is that there just isn't enough gameplay to this video game. As already mentioned, the Caravan sections are too forced by the narrative, too confusing, and too simplified to feel like an actual "gameplay" element. They feel more like a series of semi-interactive cutscenes. Which leaves just the tactical battles as literally the only gameplay option. While these are thankfully great, they simply aren't enough because there's nothing to break up their flow. It's this lack of flow breaking in the gameplay that I think the reviewers are complaining about when they were saying the battles become a chore, because I don't think it's the actual battles that are the problem so much as there's nothing to really do in between them.

    Because the end result is a game at odds with its concept. The concept is of an overarching grand saga, but in actual sagas lots of different types of events happen. In The Odyssey for example, there are moments when Odysseus and crew have to be crafty, or sneaky, or nice, or mean. They battle some foes, run from others, and outsmart others still. They do different things. Here my options are fight or walk or rest or decide on something. Walking and resting are automated, and making decisions comes down to picking from a list of options, so the only actual option that feels active is "fight". This would be fine if it were a 3-hour beat 'em up, but this is a 10-15 hour epic on your first playthrough.

    Conclusion

    At the end of the day, most of these flaws can be ignored by fans I think. The tone is what it is, however dreary. The arbitrary character deaths and always negative consequence "choices". The limited gameplay variety. All of these elements could be seen as intended functionality and the frustrations can be accepted by a certain number of hardcore fans. But that would be a huge mistake.

    If the audience stays limited, it's going to mean Stoic can't make enough money to produce a sequel, and thus, that crummy cliffhanger ending could end up being the official one. The immense potential of The Banner Saga would, instead of following in the footsteps of Final Fantasy or Zelda or Mass Effect, go down the path of Bionic Commando 2K9, Advent Rising, XIII, and the many other games that decided to start a trilogy and then undersold in their first installment.

    This scenario is exactly what I don't want. I really like the core gameplay and the setting. Enough that I've now become a Factions player, and expect that I will be for some time to come. But I'm not your average gamer. I'm a guy that plays XCOM on Ironman and often on Impossible. I can handle a challenge and I can handle the bleakness (the arbitrariness, less so).

    So please, Stoic, I hope you listen to the concerns I've brought up and that you can address them. Either in patches, DLC, or the subsequent chapters. Ideally with all of the above. Thank you for setting up these forums so folks like myself can voice our hopes and concerns, and if you read this, thank you for your time.

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    Developer raven2134's Avatar
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    Nice post there, albeit quite long . But it's gone into depth at what you think of the game so I feel compelled to discuss!

    One important thing I'd like to start off with before going into it with your breakdown (4 Cs). Honestly (and this has also been something I do) it's much easier to review anything by pointing out what comes short or doesn't quite fit. However, I think it's also really good to try to think of what would have happened if they tried to do some things some other way. Like, when we find a point of criticism that could have easily been addressed or worked out differently to greatly benefit the subject of review - then that's clearly something that the piece could have done better at. But when we find something that if even we tried to do differently might not work so well - that's something that could be improved, but most probably works given the overall picture.

    By your breakdown...

    CONTEXT

    Funny you mention that chunk of story with Hakon. I actually got a similar impression from seeing the story unfold the first time. I mean it does seem kind of clear that originally the script for the game had the parts where Hakon goes from Ridgehorn to Grofheim (not the quickmap version), and also when his contingent goes to Aberrang and finds Juno. That's kind of the weird thing. The story is disjointed by nature and told from different perspectives, so that it remains interesting and fresh. And so that it's the player that can put it together rather than being told via exposition dumps and whatnot.

    Yes from what we've seen so far, it does seem a bit out of place because the trip to Grofheim was longer than the one to Ridgehorn (and we did not get to play that), and also because that section to Aberrang seemed very important considering it was probably a big chunk that would have gotten into Juno. If we evaluate the narrative based on what we've seen so far, yes you (even I) do think it's as if we should have seen these parts of the story.

    That said, we need to consider some things.
    1. I think from the length of game we've seen, and the core gameplay content available (enemies, items, progression), Stoic couldn't have fit these part of the story into Saga chapter 1 without it overstaying it's welcome or becoming too long drawn.
    It's like adapting books into movies, you can't really fit all the content a book has into a 2 hour movie. It has to be distilled and adapted, and what we see in the game is probably that which was distilled and adapted to give a story which made the most sense and fit the content available. This doesn't mean at all that it's perfect (I do agree we could have used some additional dialogue or stuff here and there).

    2. Because of the disjointed nature of the narrative, there is still potential to see parts of the story we haven't seen in the sequels as parts of narratives focusing on other characters. Big what if, but what if Chap 2 starts in medias res with Juno bumping into Hakon? It could be a prologue, or flashback or something, but at least the potential for a coherent and fuller narrative does exist, given that the original vision for the entire tale is a 3 part overarching narrative.

    Regarding where the story in chapter 1 stops; well I duno, (spoiler) Book 1 of LOTR stops with Borromir dying after the fellowship sets out for Mordor. Saga stops when Rook/Alette dies to stop Bellower so they can get to safety and figure out what to do about the end of the world. I think people more had issues with the pacing rather than the actual content for the end. I think if we take a step back and break down the key events of chapter 1 we'll see it is a complete story and a good introduction because it raises all the points the overarching narrative needs to resolve, while at the same time opening and closing a particular perspective and mini story. Probably, if the mini story (perspective of Rook and Alette) was more greatly focused on (if we removed Hakon's party entirely), we would have felt the story was complete.
    Last edited by raven2134; 01-22-2014 at 08:21 AM.

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    CRAFTMANSHIP

    Well, everyone always wants more of a good thing Yes so many additional and misc. items like VO/animated cut scenes could have added to the experience...but one thing that hit me when considering this is...it's funny how much work/money goes into components which aren't really core to the game itself. This isn't stuff related to the combat or the narrative or anything, these are, when you get down to it, luxuries for games (but it does drive you crazy because whatever went into the Saga could be even more than a game). Not to segway too far, but given that good games can be crafted from 16 bit pixel art and midi tunes and still be enjoyable, we've gotten used to the luxuries big budgets and modern gaming have provided. (But yes, I'd love for modding...if only to experiment with fan dubs) .

    CONTROL

    I do agree with a number of your points there. I think it's honestly a fine line between abstraction and information utility, and it's not easy. On their side, I'd say I think while this is a game, (ironically) they didn't want to gameify it too much. I mean that's kind of the intent of the abstraction in gaming, to turn something real into a concept you can have fun with. And yes that's another fine line to be playing around with. When numbers are all too apparent, the game ends up becoming min/maxing, optimizing, getting the score; not saving peoples live, keeping morale up to get through the harsh north, etc.

    Still, I do agree stuff like morale movement, and assemble heroes stats could be improved.

    One thing, I'm sure people are definitely mixed about it, but I think one of the points the game WANTS to achieve is leaving you as much out of control of events as you are in control. Does your decision affect what happens? Yes it does. Do you always know what you're doing/what it will result in? No you don't. Are there times when the consequences could be clearer? Yes and I also think this is a potential area of improvement. They have the unpredictability down, but it would indeed do wonders if they had some good and crazy deterministic choices such as,

    "Lose X character or save 1000 people" (supposing population as a gameplay mechanic mattered/matters more).

    That's the kind of choice that really speaks of people's natures and motivations which could really affect their playing experience.

    And the loading screen is intentional. Actually a non-black loading screen was tried before, and that just really broke immersion. Perhaps a small corner icon does, however, make a lot of sense usability wise (to discern hanging and whatnot).
    Last edited by raven2134; 01-22-2014 at 09:01 AM.

  4.   Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread.   #4
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    Here I disagree with you. What is or isn't intuitive at this point could be driven by conditioning and convention. I mean by the very nature or fact of being new and different, that new element (TBS/F combat) will end up being unconventional and perhaps un-intuitive. What would happen if it reverted to old turn based style and convention? The key mechanic to win would simply end up becoming focusing and killing 1 threat at time faster than you can be killed. (As you said...you've NEVER played a game and so on and so on, which is kind of the point.)

    TBS changes this and I think really gives you that incentive to develop skill playing the game. It's not about killing, killing has always been easy. Now the game is about deciding who to attack first, how weak to make them, who needs to be killed and when.

    Difficulty levels were designed to cater to wide tastes, so I wouldn't be surprised if you found it wonky. Hard is supposed to be ridiculously hard (though some would disagree and just say it only made them pop a bead of sweat if any). While easy is supposed to be letting you steamroll fights to enjoy the story. If people are happy with normal, well that's great actually.

    Map variety would have been very nice. There just wasn't enough time to make custom maps and balance test them (even if the opponent was just AI). The worry here is that they could possibly make an exploitable map.

    I kind of agree with how over time, people start to notice the disjoint between travel/resource management and combat. I mean I think this is actually because of the development process. Quite clearly, from the history and experience of the game and devs, what got the most polish was combat, so it's bound to work really well. Travel however was something that only started iteration once SP work began, and while the framework is there, it's simplicity and the lack of variables to actually manage (because everything is centered on supplies), means it lacks that same depth which gets people hooked on combat. This disjoint is why I think people prefer 1 or the other (as people have actually given differing feedback on which was good/bad/better). Some people hated combat but were ok with travel. Some people thought travel was too rudimentary but combat was awesome.

    I think Stoic can definitely improve and deepen the travel aspect if they can introduce more and interesting variables and interactions
    Last edited by raven2134; 01-22-2014 at 09:03 AM.

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    Junior Member Sol's Avatar
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    I disagree that the Rook/Alette story felt complete. This is more a problem with their plot not feeling especially important, which is related to A) The caravan not having any characters to be involved in in order to care what happens to them, B) What I see as the intentional commentary on fantasy fiction (where villagers and huntsmen and other such nobodies inevitably end up saving the world) by blatantly rejecting it for the more mundane existence of just trying to survive (which drags the last act of the game into frustration), and finally C) Choices weaken narrative. Rook knows that whoever shoots the arrow will probably die and that it is almost necessary that he be the one to die since he is the only one who knows it isn't actually a magic arrow at all. If Rook chooses to fire the arrow and then dies willingly (to erase the only shadows of doubt in the party that Bellower is now mortal, and rally them to avenge him) it is a compelling and emotional moment of sacrifice and leadership. By making it just another choice among many, that impact is lost. The fact that Rook is mostly a plot device we use to pick gameplay options through also severely undercuts the character, as we never see him from another perspective, or get to have a conversation with Rook the character instead of Rook the decision menu. If this is meant to be a character-driven story it is a weak one because of these faults on a basic level and if it is meant to be plot driven then we need to feel like we are more than ancillary to it.

    I do love the world building and lore for the record, and I am intrigued by the premise and by many of the characters. I just don't care about them. As I said in another thread: the story feels like a stretched out introduction to a grander story, rather than the first chapter of one. Unfortunately I feel that the design of the game (the caravan segments, at least, which form the backbone) severely limits the Narrative options. Road trip fantasy can work of course, but there are far more examples where it doesn't.
    Last edited by Sol; 01-22-2014 at 09:44 AM.

  6. #6
    For what it's worth:

    I really enjoyed the game's choices. After my first few leading to disasters, I felt fear- then liberation. In Mass Effect, your choices *always* work out. You can make absolutely bone-headed decisions (calling in the Alliance early to save the Council*) and they work out; because you're the Hero! Making moral choices led to nothing but success. But the Banner Saga flipped that happy concept on its head. Mass Effect had taught me my choices didn't matter- Banner Saga restored the potency to choices in-game, a beautiful thing.

    As far as plot goes, I'd really love more conversations outside of the main plot. Adding lots of the 'in-camp one-on-one' events would really expand on character relationships- and I want to hear more Ekkill. Because that guy is just *way* too entertaining.

    *I mean, really? If Sovereign isn't destroyed, the entire galaxy is forfeit; right then-and-there. EVERYONE EVER WILL DIE. And you would risk losing much of the Alliance fleet, your only shot at killing Sovereign, saving a small group of people? It magically works out that there's enough fleet to kill Sovereign left over; but that doesn't remove the sense of 'I just totally gambled with the universe's fate and am being rewarded for it'. Mass Effect 2 was significantly better; Mass Effect 3 dipped back into the realm of silliness, though. Turns out the Reapers are the most incompetent apocalypse ever.

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    Junior Member Sol's Avatar
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    Is it really any better if all of your choices end up going bad? The options on the bridge all result in the same downer plot point, it is only a question of if you lose X character in the process.

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    Developer raven2134's Avatar
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    In fairness Sol, that's your reading of the narrative. The choices, in my opinion really change the way someone can view or read the narrative, and not always in a consistent way. I think perhaps the weakness in terms of the Rook/Alette dynamic is that it never really develops Alette enough so that the player/reader/viewer can really consider her as a viable alternative main character.

    By playing Rook we as players identify with the perspective, and because we know he's the leader, he's a natural fit for the main character of the story. The shortcoming on Alette's part is that she remains at best an important side character. She is Rook's daughter, which is why she becomes important to the player/reader/viewer. It's not because the narrative develops her character to the point that even when playing as Rook, she occupies such sufficient and deep enough space in the narrative to rival what we experience as Rook. If for example, even while playing as Rook, there were so many events, conversations or happenings with Alette which kept getting Rook's attention, then we'd start to think she had her own story and she'd get better characterization (she would cease being just be an accessory). We would simply be "stuck" in Rooks perspective for the time being. (SPOILER) The ending where he dies would then become a natural avenue to shift focus to her in a sequel or alternatively, we're really hit by an emotional impact because Alette was characterized well when she dies, and this opens the story to exploring Rook's reaction/struggle to come to grips with this later on.

    Given the current content the game has, my own reading of it became, when framed against the ending choice: (note spoilers)
    A) Rook is the protective father who at the end makes the ultimate sacrifice
    B) Rook always felt Alette had her own independence growing up, she could be depended upon and was seen as a near equal (which is why you let her fight at the start and weren't too concerned with her talking to Ekill), which is why you're okay giving her the arrow
    C) Rook was in the process of acknowledging he can't take care of Alette forever, which is why either steadily or in the end, you reach the frame of mind where you let her take the shot.

    Now, clearly I think the narrative settles most strongly and naturally at A. That feels like the obvious line. B and C unfortunately don't see enough dialogue/interaction with Alette to feel like natural summations of the plot. They are, however, alternatives given the choice present in the game. I wouldn't say the choices made the narrative weak. I would say choice made the narrative more complex and harder to execute to its fullest potential.

    I think the story was good. Could it have been better? Maybe? Probably? Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say. The fact we can even discuss or break it down to this point, at least shows there was real meat (so to speak) to the plot/narrative.
    Last edited by raven2134; 01-22-2014 at 09:23 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sol View Post
    Is it really any better if all of your choices end up going bad? The options on the bridge all result in the same downer plot point, it is only a question of if you lose X character in the process.
    Perhaps. I do get why it could/does fail people's expectations when the story itself doesn't take a clear and perhaps drastic shift, a completely alternate story line. However, I think one subtle achievement the game does manage is to change the narrative via your varying experience of the same events.

    Spoiler

    Yes the bridge gets blown up (or well you could leave without doing that I think). But it's a big enough difference for me at least and some out there, if I blow it up by fighting and killing the Varl in the process. Or if I blew it up by fighting on the bridge and convincing Jorundr otherwise.

    Not to stretch the analogy too far, but it's kind of like assessing the weight of your actions even if the results would be the same. Saving the world without killing anybody or saving the world by killing someone...that's going to have an actual impact on whoevers involved.

  10. #10
    Junior Member Sol's Avatar
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    The story being good and the story being incomplete and flawed are not mutually exclusive. Pointing out problems (or at least what I perceive as problems) allows our friends at Stoic to see the potential they can pursue in the future if they recognize it. I'd very much like the next installment in this series to realize the potential that this first game has begun to reveal.

  11. #11
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    I thought the choices in the narrative work well. The first time I played through I was nervous about each decision, they feel like they matter. They were interesting enough that I wanted to repay the game to see how different options played out.

    Was it disappointing that some key choices didn't spark dramatically vast changes to the core story and lead to a never ending branching story? Yes it was, but that's simply a side effect of the inability to produce a dozen games and sell them as one.

    Also, in my first play through it seemed obvious that Hakons journey in the second half of the game was probably cut. Not sure if that actually the case. Furthermore the entire second half of the game feels less developed and polished than the first, on that I wholeheartedly agree.

  12. #12
    Junior Member Zekram Bogg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    Nice post there, albeit quite long .
    Thanks! I know, without an editor I blather on and on. But thanks for reading it and I especially thank you for replying.

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    But it's gone into depth at what you think of the game so I feel compelled to discuss!

    One important thing I'd like to start off with before going into it with your breakdown (4 Cs). Honestly (and this has also been something I do) it's much easier to review anything by pointing out what comes short or doesn't quite fit. However, I think it's also really good to try to think of what would have happened if they tried to do some things some other way. Like, when we find a point of criticism that could have easily been addressed or worked out differently to greatly benefit the subject of review - then that's clearly something that the piece could have done better at. But when we find something that if even we tried to do differently might not work so well - that's something that could be improved, but most probably works given the overall picture.
    Actually I meant to do an immediate second post where I added counter-points and offered some more positive suggestions and ideas on a couple things because I thought I went too negative. But I had tried posting in the forum a few hours earlier at the beginning of the evening before dinner after I finished the game, and then I wrote this thread right before I went to bed and saw that my earlier post still hadn't showed up, so I just posted the thread in the hope that it might go through and went to bed but wondering if I had registered incorrectly or something. Apparently it did and everyone replied while I was asleep and now I'm replying back instead of tossing in the positive (or at least less negative) counterpoints. Oh well.

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post

    CONTEXT

    Funny you mention that chunk of story with Hakon. I actually got a similar impression from seeing the story unfold the first time. I mean it does seem kind of clear that originally the script for the game had the parts where Hakon goes from Ridgehorn to Grofheim (not the quickmap version), and also when his contingent goes to Aberrang and finds Juno. That's kind of the weird thing. The story is disjointed by nature and told from different perspectives, so that it remains interesting and fresh. And so that it's the player that can put it together rather than being told via exposition dumps and whatnot.

    Yes from what we've seen so far, it does seem a bit out of place because the trip to Grofheim was longer than the one to Ridgehorn (and we did not get to play that), and also because that section to Aberrang seemed very important considering it was probably a big chunk that would have gotten into Juno. If we evaluate the narrative based on what we've seen so far, yes you (even I) do think it's as if we should have seen these parts of the story.
    Well, I'm happy to see that I'm not alone, and that my storytelling structure instincts can pick this stuff out. They should be, I've taken enough course on the subject, lord knows.

    I suppose the issue this "cut" causes though is that, if it was meant to prevent an exposition dump and keep certain aspects vague, it didn't succeed. We still get a long conversation from Juno and the Serpent, which is immediately followed by Eyvind speaking to Juno in a dream in a manner that is VERY exposition dump-like. So other than saving budget (though of course that's pretty damn important) I don't know what this cut accomplishes.

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    That said, we need to consider some things.
    1. I think from the length of game we've seen, and the core gameplay content available (enemies, items, progression), Stoic couldn't have fit these part of the story into Saga chapter 1 without it overstaying it's welcome or becoming too long drawn.
    It's like adapting books into movies, you can't really fit all the content a book has into a 2 hour movie. It has to be distilled and adapted, and what we see in the game is probably that which was distilled and adapted to give a story which made the most sense and fit the content available. This doesn't mean at all that it's perfect (I do agree we could have used some additional dialogue or stuff here and there).
    Here's the thing about this cut in particular and the issue of overstaying the welcome: it wouldn't. Because it would improve the pacing of the game, which is more important than the actual length of time the player is playing.

    At this point in the game, which is about halfway/two thirds in, the game's flow has been set up as: Varl Chapter, Human Chapter, Varl Chapter, Human Chapter. It's a flow that makes sense and it creates a pacing expectation for the player. At this particular point though, the game skips a Varl chapter and does 2 human chapters in a row, breaking the expected flow. Unlike the cut during Hakon's journey that removes the trip between Ridgehorn and Grofheim, which works (this cut actually improves the flow in the intended manner, by removing what would probably be excess) I think this cut ends up breaking from that flow. Thus, by skipping something the expected result of speeding things up actually ends up causing a sense of drag.

    It's funny that you bring up films, because this is something you can see in movies easily, especially if you have access to two different cuts of the same movie. Terry Gilliam's Brazil probably being the best example: When Gilliam finished the film in 1985, the studio thought it too long and wanted it cut down (also for content since they thought it too dark). Gilliam's cut was a bit over 2 hours long, and the studio edited a much shorter version with about fifteen to twenty minutes cut out. If you get the criterion colection of the movie, it comes with both cuts of the film, and the funny thing is that the shorter version feels longer than the longer version, which feels shorter. The reason is entirely to do with the pacing, which the studio version mangles by removing sections of the story.

    I think this "missing" Hakon chapter is doing the same thing to the Banner Saga for the first time player. The player doesn't know why things feel off at they point, just that they do. And they don't know they it feels like things start to drag at Einartoft, just that they do. Even a REALLY short Hakon chapter that ends in just as much a cliffhanger way would resolve this.

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    2. Because of the disjointed nature of the narrative, there is still potential to see parts of the story we haven't seen in the sequels as parts of narratives focusing on other characters. Big what if, but what if Chap 2 starts in medias res with Juno bumping into Hakon? It could be a prologue, or flashback or something, but at least the potential for a coherent and fuller narrative does exist, given that the original vision for the entire tale is a 3 part overarching narrative.
    I think that in this case, it wouldn't matter if we see this section of the story later, and it wouldn't fit anywhere else not only because of the flow issue I described above, also because it would stop fitting the tone.

    I suppose it comes down to the tone of Rook's story: which is the excessively bleak part of the game. I was constantly on the verge of starvation due to the lack of supplies, constantly seeing characters die due to choices, and overall, this side of the story endured a LOT more direct hardship with little recourse to combat it.

    On the other side though was Hakon. He's still dealing with the same harsh world as Rook, but he's at least taking the fight to it. Having him basically go "we're going to take the fight to the Dredge, and keep on fighting!" granted the game some much needed tonal venting from the well kicked shaggy dog story that was Rook's side. Adding in this chapter - which I guess would be about Hakon and company fighting out of Einartoft, then taking the Wandering Road back toward Strand to get to Arberrang before encountering Juno (and maybe that doom serpent) who would forcefully stop them (perhaps as a mini-boss or something?) - would bring the pacing balance set up earlier back to the full campaign and actually make the game feel shorter even though it would be adding content. Importantly, it would bring back the counter-tone to Rook, and we'd also be able to bear the depressing nature of Rook's story longer. It would also make the lack of a Hakon chapter once Rook arrives at Boersgard more shocking, where the displacement would be MUCH more effective than it is earlier.


    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    Regarding where the story in chapter 1 stops; well I duno, (spoiler) Book 1 of LOTR stops with Borromir dying after the fellowship sets out for Mordor. Saga stops when Rook/Alette dies to stop Bellower so they can get to safety and figure out what to do about the end of the world. I think people more had issues with the pacing rather than the actual content for the end. I think if we take a step back and break down the key events of chapter 1 we'll see it is a complete story and a good introduction because it raises all the points the overarching narrative needs to resolve, while at the same time opening and closing a particular perspective and mini story. Probably, if the mini story (perspective of Rook and Alette) was more greatly focused on (if we removed Hakon's party entirely), we would have felt the story was complete.
    Ah, but that's not how The Fellowship of the Ring ends in the books. In the books, Book 1 ends with Frodo leaving the Fellowship, and Boromir dies at the beginning of The Two Towers. It's only the film version that Boromir dies at the end. This is due to expectations for films versus books, and works there. But the Banner Saga has more of a book's pace - more than five hours - and not a film's - three or less. This is why I bring up the sudden stop - a book or long game needs to wind down, not crash in the end. A film or short game (any game you can finish in one sitting) can get away with that. Portal, for example.

    You do bring up an interesting point, removing Hakon entirely, to which I'd think was a mistake for the tonal reasons I already mentioned. I mean, I suppose you could make up for Hakon's tonal counterweight by adding them to Rook's story - you could switch between Rook and Alette for example, with Alette's chapters bringing more positivity than Rook's chapters I suppose - but I think Hakon's story actually worked well in this regard as it is, it was positive, yet grim, which fit the tone well.

    The only other thing I originally wanted to mention on the Context side was a manner to address the all too arbitrary character deaths. Even though this idea here actually would alter a gameplay system, the deaths are more tied into the narrative, so it makes more sense for this section.

    Basically, I think in order to relieve some frustration an alteration would be made to the current injury system, so that it becomes "strike" system, with the number of strikes (i.e. injuries) before a character is out (i.e. dead) being related to the chosen difficulty. Something like, a character would have six strikes on normal, four on hard, and the "hero" characters (Rook and Alette at least) getting + 3 on normal and +2 on hard. When a character receives enough cumulative injury strikes, they either die, or are too injured to ever fight again if they are story critical.

    This would obviously change not only the narrative tone, but the tactical battles up a bit more. Not only would you have to worry about injuries in the fact that they take a character out of commission for the next fight, but you'd also have to worry about risking certain characters in battle at all once they get close to their total injury limit in a slightly more "realistic" fashion (not that realism is a requirement for a fantasy featuring horned giants, but hey, it can be good too).

    The big thing it would alleviate is the currently arbitrary feeling of many of the character deaths. With this system in place, an event that currently results in a character death would instead add two or three strikes to a character's total injury limit. This way, these events still have a good chance of killing that character, but the characters also have a chance of surviving the player's apparently poor decision. I say "apparently poor" because in a lot of cases, I don't think the player gets a fair deal, with description text that doesn't even indicate that certain characters are at risk and they have no way of knowing a choice could kill someone from the description of the scenario (the early deaths of Egil, and the non-scarred Thrasher twin are particularly "WTF?").

    This is especially important because if I find a character I like, I'm going to start investing renown into them, then they become the last character I want to see die for gameplay as well as narrative reasons. So when they do bite the big one, it hurts a HELL of a lot more than just emotionally, it can completely screw over my caravan management (this happened to me on four different occasions during my progression, four). One other addendum to make this concept even more reactive could be to clear an injury strike whenever you level the character, thus, letting the player gain a little more strategic control over the character deaths as well.

    The big reason these deaths feel so frustrating is that they ALWAYS have almost nothing to do with the player's perceived sense of control. To elaborate:

    Fire Emblem games also famously have permanent character death. But these deaths don't feel nearly so arbitrary or hurt as badly as in The Banner Saga, even though they're just as permanent and a character that dies takes the player's investment of resources (in that game, the time spent leveling them) with them when they die in a very similar manner. The reason? The deaths ONLY occur in battle, where the player has maximum control over the characters and their actions. Or to look at it from a slightly more analytic angle: where they have to make many more choices that will result in a death.

    Because in a single battle in either Fire Emblem or The Banner Saga, I'm making far more choices than I am cumulatively through all the caravan sections of TBS. Sure, I made the choice that gets Egil killed (for example). But it was only ONE choice. If he had died in battle, I would have had to make thirty choices that cumulatively got him killed. Having the single choice result in death makes that choice more important, true, but if I can't get a clear picture of what my choice will result in before I make it (and like I said, I think you can't from several of the current events) then it isn't even a real choice that I made. Hence by making a non-choice, a character dies, and "ARRRGH WTF STOIC?! THIS GAME SUCKS!" says the average player.

    I do understand that this is a fine line, and I do get that forcing deaths makes the tone of oppression feel heavier, and that this is sort of the point. I also get that player choice in games is mostly illusory, they're something that the developer puts in to make the player think they have control. But if the player stops believing in the illusion because they feel like their choices don't matter, that's when players quit and don't come back, which is my ultimate concern.
    Last edited by Zekram Bogg; 01-22-2014 at 02:16 PM. Reason: fixed a sentence fragment

  13. #13
    Junior Member Zekram Bogg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post

    CRAFTMANSHIP

    Well, everyone always wants more of a good thing Yes so many additional and misc. items like VO/animated cut scenes could have added to the experience...but one thing that hit me when considering this is...it's funny how much work/money goes into components which aren't really core to the game itself. This isn't stuff related to the combat or the narrative or anything, these are, when you get down to it, luxuries for games (but it does drive you crazy because whatever went into the Saga could be even more than a game). Not to segway too far, but given that good games can be crafted from 16 bit pixel art and midi tunes and still be enjoyable, we've gotten used to the luxuries big budgets and modern gaming have provided. (But yes, I'd love for modding...if only to experiment with fan dubs) .
    Yeah, they are luxuries, that's true. And yeah, basically it comes down to wanting more of the good stuff.

    That said, the two things here I would literally shell out more money for:

    - Full VO's.

    - A set of unique animations setting up the "War" segments, to really add punch to these. I feel this area was one that, due to the fact that it's repeated at several different points, could have it's own animated visual hook to it to make every intro and outro of these apparently grand battles feel even larger than some text against a purple pop-up.

    That said, one observation I'm confused by: why isn't a banner motif not more prevalent in the UI of a game called the Banner Saga?

    For instance: the chapter selection. Wouldn't it make sense if it scrolled from left to right over the backdrop of the unfurled banner, as if it was along the Banner itself, since the titular Banner is what is theoretically recording the history of the story, and the chapter selection is the literal "record" of the story?

    On this note as well: when a Caravan/Town event choice pops up, wouldn't it make sense if there were a few types of ""banner images" that came with an accompanying event, the idea being that the image is a representation the event being encountered and what would be put onto the theoretical banner itself? You actually kind of do this with the "War" moments, with apparently a "Banner image" warrior on the menu option. I guess I'm just wondering why there aren't more of these images that come with every "type" of event - Squabble amongst Clansmen, Encounter with a group of Strangers, The Caravan grows, Warriors/Varl/Clansmen die, et cetera.

    But again, there's really nothing here other than "Please sir, can I have some more?"

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    CONTROL

    I do agree with a number of your points there. I think it's honestly a fine line between abstraction and information utility, and it's not easy. On their side, I'd say I think while this is a game, (ironically) they didn't want to gameify it too much. I mean that's kind of the intent of the abstraction in gaming, to turn something real into a concept you can have fun with. And yes that's another fine line to be playing around with. When numbers are all too apparent, the game ends up becoming min/maxing, optimizing, getting the score; not saving peoples live, keeping morale up to get through the harsh north, etc.

    Still, I do agree stuff like morale movement, and assemble heroes stats could be improved.

    One thing, I'm sure people are definitely mixed about it, but I think one of the points the game WANTS to achieve is leaving you as much out of control of events as you are in control. Does your decision affect what happens? Yes it does. Do you always know what you're doing/what it will result in? No you don't. Are there times when the consequences could be clearer? Yes and I also think this is a potential area of improvement. They have the unpredictability down, but it would indeed do wonders if they had some good and crazy deterministic choices such as,

    "Lose X character or save 1000 people" (supposing population as a gameplay mechanic mattered/matters more).

    That's the kind of choice that really speaks of people's natures and motivations which could really affect their playing experience.

    And the loading screen is intentional. Actually a non-black loading screen was tried before, and that just really broke immersion. Perhaps a small corner icon does, however, make a lot of sense usability wise (to discern hanging and whatnot).
    Interesting about the loading screen. I can see that. Still think there needs to be some animation to discern hanging, like you said. Just some moving elipses on the "Loading", maybe?

    Aside from that, an "Unspent Skill Points" image hovering over a character's portrait in the Heroes Menu would have saved me several headaches (maybe the willpower star?) and there really needs to be a better way to back out of the "Upgrade Character" confirmation screen other than to back out to the previous menu entirely. I don't understand why there isn't one because there is in the same menu in Factions. It's a big red "Cancel" button.

    Also, you bring up a good point, about the line between abstraction and utility. I suppose I just fall on the side that would appreciate more utility. I don't think it necessarily has to become a distraction or even not be abstract though.

    For example, what if, in order to give the player an idea on the rate of morale change, the morale face didn't just change when it hits the breaking point at its tiers, but the color of the face filled up or drained out with the rate of the change as it occurred? So you could watch as the time circle fills, and the morale face drains of color, and know, "oh hey, I should take a rest now" before morale shifts. Yes, this would make it a bit more "gamey" I suppose, but honestly, I think that's what the caravan section needs in order to serve as a stronger gameplay break in between battles rather than seem just like a fancy cinematic.

    The other big thing in informing the player was mentioned in another thread is to have a way to see our ETA to the next township so we can gauge how many supplies are necessary for each leg of the journey. Obviously this would be a flexible number as well, changing with events. Perhaps it would show up only when making camp?

    I don't understand the insistence on informing the player entirely on the fact that X number of days have passed when that only affects a single achievement, when the far more important bit of info is: how many days is it gonna be before I can get resupplied?

  14. #14
    Junior Member Zekram Bogg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    CORE
    Here I disagree with you. What is or isn't intuitive at this point could be driven by conditioning and convention. I mean by the very nature or fact of being new and different, that new element (TBS/F combat) will end up being unconventional and perhaps un-intuitive. What would happen if it reverted to old turn based style and convention? The key mechanic to win would simply end up becoming focusing and killing 1 threat at time faster than you can be killed. (As you said...you've NEVER played a game and so on and so on, which is kind of the point.)

    TBS changes this and I think really gives you that incentive to develop skill playing the game. It's not about killing, killing has always been easy. Now the game is about deciding who to attack first, how weak to make them, who needs to be killed and when.
    A fair point. I can concede that yeah, it's what gives the game its uniqueness and yeah, this should be retained.

    I suppose my bigger issue with the battles has to do with again, the pacing more than anything. In Factions the pace feels right for an MP match, and fair-minded initiative system keeps it slow but balanced.

    In SP I just feel the fact that you're fighting against generally larger groups (usually it was 6 v 9 I noticed, with the possibility of more) works against the established system and makes the battles drag on a little too long. Not much, mind you, just enough that cumulatively, the game crawls a bit when it might not want to.

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    Difficulty levels were designed to cater to wide tastes, so I wouldn't be surprised if you found it wonky. Hard is supposed to be ridiculously hard (though some would disagree and just say it only made them pop a bead of sweat if any). While easy is supposed to be letting you steamroll fights to enjoy the story. If people are happy with normal, well that's great actually.
    It's primarily "ridiculously" hard for first time players (like I was). If you play Factions for a bit (and I've started now), it seems much more appropriate because you're used to the system. Honestly I just think this is something that some playtesting with fresh players, not fans who had played a lot of Factions could have resolved, that is, if it even needs "resolving". It really doesn't, and I'll concede that the difficulty levels are probably fine as is.

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    Map variety would have been very nice. There just wasn't enough time to make custom maps and balance test them (even if the opponent was just AI). The worry here is that they could possibly make an exploitable map.
    I think having a few exploitable maps would actually be a good thing in single player. This overzealous drive to make everything balanced is fine for MP, but ludicrous when your opponent is a computer rather than a human. The computer is always going to present an unfair challenge: more enemies, more resources, more power. It's the player's job to overcome those challenges and having a few maps that let me, the smart human, take advantage of the dumb AI lets me feel a bit stronger, a bit more powerful.

    A forest map with various tree that take up the battle space here and there and can block ranged arrows or do armor damage if knocked into would be especially neat. As would a marsh map with swamp sections that take two movement points to move through one square (especially if adding terrain move-square modifiers makes Landsman class characters' Light Step ability more useful).


    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    I kind of agree with how over time, people start to notice the disjoint between travel/resource management and combat. I mean I think this is actually because of the development process. Quite clearly, from the history and experience of the game and devs, what got the most polish was combat, so it's bound to work really well. Travel however was something that only started iteration once SP work began, and while the framework is there, it's simplicity and the lack of variables to actually manage (because everything is centered on supplies), means it lacks that same depth which gets people hooked on combat. This disjoint is why I think people prefer 1 or the other (as people have actually given differing feedback on which was good/bad/better). Some people hated combat but were ok with travel. Some people thought travel was too rudimentary but combat was awesome.

    I think Stoic can definitely improve and deepen the travel aspect if they can introduce more and interesting variables and interactions
    I'm definitely in the camp that thinks the combat needs very little alteration because it works for the most part, and that the travel system is what needs a lot of fixing, especially if games 2 and 3 are to feature it as well.

    Primarily because of the issue of lacking variety in the game which I think again, drags the pace of the game down. Ideally the Caravan sections would counterbalance the battle sections and everything would flow well, but right now, it's pretty obvious that the lack of stuff to do in the Caravan renders it ineffective at providing an active break from the battles. It provides a passive one, but in a game as with tense usage, passivity seems a worse choice than activity.

    To this I have two ideas, one simple, one complex:

    Simple Caravan Change

    What's needed is more activity for the player to do with the caravan as it travels. This would allow the player to actually be a bit more involved in the travel element, and it could then serve as a more active break from the battles, thus lessening the chance that the player gets bored with the repetition of combat. A few more simple options would change that.

    The big two options that would require relatively few additional assets are Marching Speed and Rationing Level. The basic idea being that at camp or in towns before (or as) you leave them, you can choose between Fast, Moderate, and Slow marching speeds, and Plentiful, Sustainable, and Meager rationing allotments.

    With the Current Pace of the Caravan's movement and supply consumption as the middle options for both, the modifiers would be something like:

    Fast March: + 0.25 Travel Speed, + 0.5 Morale Penalty
    Slow March: -0.5 Travel Speed, -0.25 Morale Penalty Per Day, +0.25 Character Loss on Events (like War events) which kill Clansmen, Fighters or Varl due to delay in gathering people together should an attack occur, Every 25 Clansmen add 1% chance to gain 1 day of supplies per day from foraging/hunting while they march (modified by location).
    Plentiful Rations: 2x Supplies Consumed per person per day, -0.25 Morale penalty, +0.25 to injury heal rate, prevents Fast March.
    Meager Rations: 1/2 Supplies Consumed per person per day, +1 Morale penalty, -1 to injury heal rate, +0.5 Character Loss on Events that kill Clansmen, Fighters, or Varl due to the hunger making characters weak should they arrive at the battlefield.

    These may not seem like a ton of options, and if the settings weren't touched from their defaults they would literally alter nothing about the game itself, but the fact that they'd exist would incentivize the player to use them, and it's that desire of the player to try and themselves into the "simulation" of leading the caravan that's more necessary than actually crafting a complex simulation itself. With these few options, the caravan would ultimately feel more like a "game" than it currently does, thus allowing the player to focus on something else other than the battle aspect for a bit.

    Complex Caravan Change

    Basically as with the above, but you'd go full Oregon Trail with the Caravan. Add in mini-games like hunting for extra food, cooking grand meals to boost morale at the end of each day, and maybe even a camp version of poker to while away the night. More options on setting up a watch during the rest period, and assigning various duties to your heroes while you march. Divide the caravaneers up into even more categories - so Clansmen are now the total pool divided between Fighters, Varl, Workers, Gatherers, Hunters, Healers, Children etc - each with a different function for the caravan's survival - Fighters and Varl basically remain unchanged, Gatherers increase the chance to find supplies while marching, Hunters increase supply yield during the hunting mini-game, Workers could build various objects while marching and could be used to resolve various events, Healers affect injury rate and death penaltied during battles, children affect Morale etc. Toss in extra "in-camp" events and really, just add a whole new game here.

    Obviously this is a bit of a ludicrous option. It would certainly resolve the problem of lacking gameplay variety, but it would likely take a year alone to get half-way finished, and as much money as that would entail. So I don't see this happening. But it sort of just needs to be mentioned as the obvious thing that could have been done here, and may have been what people were expecting.

    While I'm tossing ideas out, I'll throw in this as well:

    Speeding up the pace of Single Player Combat
    The most bang for your buck would be to alter the initiative system in such a way that killing lots of dredge quickly isn't quite so discouraged by the turn order, thus incentivizing mass maiming before cleaning up as in MP and letting the player theoretically fight larger hordes of dredge in less time.

    A neat idea would be to add something like Tactics Ogre's Tarot Cards, perhaps in the form of the various gods, where depending on the difficulty the player can add a differing number of global team modifiers (3 on easy, 2 on normal, 1 on hard) to either their team or the enemy's for a full "revolution" of the characters in the initiative list. Or maybe there's a Battle Rhythm Meter so that whenever a team goes through a full "revolution" of its members (thus the usually larger Dredge hordes would have fewer activations at start of battle) it adds a point to the meter (with each defeated team member increasing the number of points needed to fill the meter by one to encourage quick kills), and when the meter fills the player and/or the enemy side gets one full revolution of "Pillage" mode before returning to a standard turn order?

    Like I was saying earlier, I tend to think the combat is fine overall aside from the lack of map variety. I mean, it has turned me into a Factions player, after all. These ideas are fairly minor suggestions as a result. Especially compared to the elephant in the room:

    After writing all this, I've realized the one thing that absolutely needs to be addressed and currently isn't is this: In terms of gameplay, why should I, the player, care about the numbers that represent the members of my caravan?

    A theoretical ending variable after the conclusion of the trilogy just isn't going to cut it here. Not when the setting is so bleak that I figure "Everyone died" is probably going to be the ending, and certainly not when the game actually getting to its third portion is not itself a certainty.

    The current reason to care in the game is fairly weak - these people affect how your week in Boersgard and thus the days leading up to the final battle play out - and perhaps more importantly, cannot be telegraphed to the 1st time player on account of the fact that it'd be a spoiler. So again, why should the first time player actually give two figs about this element other than the vague promise that "it'll be important later?"

    Right now, I can understand why I should worry about my morale level from a gameplay perspective - it has a direct impact on the tactical battles due to it affecting willpower. Since there are a couple of battles I need to succeed at in order to complete the game, and the willpower I have going into those battles affect them, there's a good reason for me to try and keep the morale of the caravan high. Since I encounter this meta-mechanic with every single battle in the game, I have a lot of time to get used to it and understand it.

    However, due to the way supplies work versus the number of people in your caravan, and that you can run from the "war" battles if you don't want to engage the enemy, and the fact that most other forced encounters simply use your hero characters without affecting your larger caravan numbers that much, the player actually has every incentive to spend the early game resting without supplies until the caravan is devoid of almost all life except for the heroes (who I'm pretty sure can't starve) and then proceeding on with the game spending very little renown on supplies and buying lots of items and leveling your heroes with renown. Since you'll have so much extra renown since you won't have to buy many supplies, character deaths also mean a lot less.

    Basically the mechanics totally encourage you to effectively massacre your entire caravan through starvation. Which is completely antithetical of the whole "flee with the last of your civilization" premise. This would basically be like if Battlestar Galactica opened up with Adama Massacring the entire colonial fleet and then going onto fight the Cylons by himself. Again, the best strategy for playing this game lessens the importance of choice, goes against the fundamental concept, and make you into a genocidal monster.

    NEEDLESS TO SAY, THIS IS PROBLEMATIC AND HAS TO BE ADDRESSED SOMEHOW.

    So, yeah. I dunno what could be done here honestly. I think the heart of the issue is the Clansmen. Fighters and Varl at least participate in the Wars and man the walls at Boersgard. But all of the war battles are ostensibly to protect the Clansman losses from piling up and keep that number high, but it's the clansmen that are pretty much the dead weight.

    If the number of Clansmen generated more events, or created an item find percentage, or was needed at key events that affect whether or not certain heroes lived or died, or well . . . something, then there's no issue. Importantly, if it's something the player can be informed about early in the game and ideally remains important throughout the progression, it'd certainly resolve this.

    At the end of the day though, it doesn't matter so much how the elephant is addressed, so much as that it gets addressed.

    Anyway, that was a bit of seqway. It just sort of hit me how important that was while I was writing this response. I did say I write a lot, right?

  15.   Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread.   #15
    Developer raven2134's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sol View Post
    The story being good and the story being incomplete and flawed are not mutually exclusive. Pointing out problems (or at least what I perceive as problems) allows our friends at Stoic to see the potential they can pursue in the future if they recognize it. I'd very much like the next installment in this series to realize the potential that this first game has begun to reveal.
    That is indeed a very good point. Good on ya!

  16.   Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread.   #16
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    Here's the thing about this cut in particular and the issue of overstaying the welcome: it wouldn't. Because it would improve the pacing of the game, which is more important than the actual length of time the player is playing.

    At this point in the game, which is about halfway/two thirds in, the game's flow has been set up as: Varl Chapter, Human Chapter, Varl Chapter, Human Chapter. It's a flow that makes sense and it creates a pacing expectation for the player. At this particular point though, the game skips a Varl chapter and does 2 human chapters in a row, breaking the expected flow. Unlike the cut during Hakon's journey that removes the trip between Ridgehorn and Grofheim, which works (this cut actually improves the flow in the intended manner, by removing what would probably be excess) I think this cut ends up breaking from that flow. Thus, by skipping something the expected result of speeding things up actually ends up causing a sense of drag.

    It's funny that you bring up films, because this is something you can see in movies easily, especially if you have access to two different cuts of the same movie. Terry Gilliam's Brazil probably being the best example: When Gilliam finished the film in 1985, the studio thought it too long and wanted it cut down (also for content since they thought it too dark). Gilliam's cut was a bit over 2 hours long, and the studio edited a much shorter version with about fifteen to twenty minutes cut out. If you get the criterion colection of the movie, it comes with both cuts of the film, and the funny thing is that the shorter version feels longer than the longer version, which feels shorter. The reason is entirely to do with the pacing, which the studio version mangles by removing sections of the story.

    I think this "missing" Hakon chapter is doing the same thing to the Banner Saga for the first time player. The player doesn't know why things feel off at they point, just that they do. And they don't know they it feels like things start to drag at Einartoft, just that they do. Even a REALLY short Hakon chapter that ends in just as much a cliffhanger way would resolve this.

    From a narrative/story-telling perspective you'd be right that it wouldn't be long drawn or drag it out. However, from a game perspective I have to disagree with you. We have to remember that people will be fighting battles or going through the same game mechanics for what could be an additional 1-2 hours for additional story content. And given what the game was available (maps, enemy types, items, rules, items, etc.) there's just not enough (by my own instincts) to feel that this content could have been added without people feeling the game was getting stale. We already see mixed feedback regarding some content issues in terms of repetitive battles/maps/mechanics (like travel not quite there yet in terms of depth). These would clearly be exacerbated by extending the story portion which needs to be played, so that if this formed an additional chapter (which I do agree makes sense narrative-wise), even more people would feel tired by chapter 7 (gameplay/mechanics wise). There probably just wasn't enough time/manpower resources to get that much more gameplay/mechanics content to straddle more narrative and overall game time.


    I think that in this case, it wouldn't matter if we see this section of the story later, and it wouldn't fit anywhere else not only because of the flow issue I described above, also because it would stop fitting the tone.

    I suppose it comes down to the tone of Rook's story: which is the excessively bleak part of the game. I was constantly on the verge of starvation due to the lack of supplies, constantly seeing characters die due to choices, and overall, this side of the story endured a LOT more direct hardship with little recourse to combat it.

    On the other side though was Hakon. He's still dealing with the same harsh world as Rook, but he's at least taking the fight to it. Having him basically go "we're going to take the fight to the Dredge, and keep on fighting!" granted the game some much needed tonal venting from the well kicked shaggy dog story that was Rook's side. Adding in this chapter - which I guess would be about Hakon and company fighting out of Einartoft, then taking the Wandering Road back toward Strand to get to Arberrang before encountering Juno (and maybe that doom serpent) who would forcefully stop them (perhaps as a mini-boss or something?) - would bring the pacing balance set up earlier back to the full campaign and actually make the game feel shorter even though it would be adding content. Importantly, it would bring back the counter-tone to Rook, and we'd also be able to bear the depressing nature of Rook's story longer. It would also make the lack of a Hakon chapter once Rook arrives at Boersgard more shocking, where the displacement would be MUCH more effective than it is earlier.
    I disagree here partly. On tone, you may have a point, but we won't know until we know what the tone for chapter 2 is. On continuity or cohesion, I don't see why this wouldn't fit from Juno's perspective, meaning we played the portion she bumps into Hakon and reaches Boesgard. From there the narrative just has to straddle Bellower being felled which happened in chapter 1. Or they could skip to another perspective entirely to tackle the main development for chapter 2, having closed out some of the big questions left for Juno from chapter 1.

    I just mean to say we aren't limited to sticking with the Rook/Alette thread or Hakon's thread.

    On that note and you commenting on my idea of removing Hakon's plot line from chapter 1...(and damn retrospect), but the narrative would have probably really fleshed itself out better if we simply alternated chapters between Rook and Alette, as the chronology played out...(DAMN YOU HINDSIGHT)

    Like, game narrative could start at chapter 2 with Rook, Skogr to Frostvellr (1). Then Alette from Frostvellr to Einartoft (2). (Maybe) Iver for Einartoft (3). Insert Juno/Eyvind part (4). Back to Rook for Einartoft to Sigrholm (5). Alette for Sigrholm to Boesgard (6). And finally Rook for Boesgard (7). What do you think? I think this would have been a solid setup.

    The problem here would be you create a very good continuity for chap 1 but make it harder to tell chap 2, because you cut out the contextualization and exposition for Hakon. At least in the current way the narrative has been told. We're already introduced to the gaps which need to be filled. Usually introducing gaps early in the story rather than later is better for pacing. Otherwise the resolutions end up becoming convenience mechanisms (rushed ways to resolve the story) rather than actual closures.

    character deaths
    Honestly I feel that the format is just something not preferrable to you (and well others also). But the intent/decision to make death play out the way it does is intentional. I think the dialogue could be fine tuned a bit more, bit it's generally good where it's at insofar as it accomplishes what Stoic intended.

    The truth of the matter for this particular game is: your control of who lives and who dies is minimal. I mean yes I know the game touts your decisions hold sway or are the determining factor for life or death (which they are), and the perceived problem is that without knowing the clear outcome, the choices become roulette. In some cases that's true. It's also true that there aren't enough consciously deterministic choices that will really gut a player (emotionally) for making that painful choice to really let someone die because you had to (for the other choice).

    But there are choices which should hint already that something is going to happen:
    Spoilers:
    1. Bring alette and egil into battle - chapter 2? (You should know your risking getting the kids killed)
    2. Send eirik back - (this is perfectly clear).
    3. Send ludin away - (well by george, this should obviously mean he and his retainers won't be around to help you)
    4. Use mogr as a distraction - (well what do you expect? the decoy has the most dangerous job)
    5 hogun and mogun dying at the shortcut - (well, someone's going to die if your charging into a place the game is dropping hint after hint to turn tail at)
    6. Onef backstabbing you - (this is honestly an ironic twist, its Onef that gets you, not Ekkill, but hey you were expecting one of them to do you in)

    I mean there's just as many, if not more choices which do hint enough and who could die/what happens that the remaining events are just that, that element of randomness where the player doesn't have control. Yes it's frustrating that the story (the world so to speak) got you. Yes the renown invested was lost. (and I don't mean to overplay this argument) but that's kinda like life. It's not always fair and you don't always expect or have stuff like this in your control, and I do think this was the intent.

    Could there have been a death mechanic for battle? (Supposing we could straddle the mechanical part of making the narrative work) Well that is an interesting idea, it would probably just require balancing. It's hard to get this in without putting a player in a corner. As much as possible the design intent is to let people enjoy the battles (where it's inevitable someone is going to go down). Rather than make battles restrictive where people would want to avoid it for mechanical reasons. Stoic wanted people to be drawn to battles because it's fun. If people were going to avoid them, as much as possible they wanted them to do this because of story reasons. (Injuries were evidently a compromise to make hero casualties have impact/weight).
    Last edited by raven2134; 01-22-2014 at 07:51 PM.

  17.   Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread.   #17
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    Yeah, they are luxuries, that's true. And yeah, basically it comes down to wanting more of the good stuff.

    That said, the two things here I would literally shell out more money for:

    - Full VO's.

    - A set of unique animations setting up the "War" segments, to really add punch to these. I feel this area was one that, due to the fact that it's repeated at several different points, could have it's own animated visual hook to it to make every intro and outro of these apparently grand battles feel even larger than some text against a purple pop-up.

    That said, one observation I'm confused by: why isn't a banner motif not more prevalent in the UI of a game called the Banner Saga?

    For instance: the chapter selection. Wouldn't it make sense if it scrolled from left to right over the backdrop of the unfurled banner, as if it was along the Banner itself, since the titular Banner is what is theoretically recording the history of the story, and the chapter selection is the literal "record" of the story?

    On this note as well: when a Caravan/Town event choice pops up, wouldn't it make sense if there were a few types of ""banner images" that came with an accompanying event, the idea being that the image is a representation the event being encountered and what would be put onto the theoretical banner itself? You actually kind of do this with the "War" moments, with apparently a "Banner image" warrior on the menu option. I guess I'm just wondering why there aren't more of these images that come with every "type" of event - Squabble amongst Clansmen, Encounter with a group of Strangers, The Caravan grows, Warriors/Varl/Clansmen die, et cetera.

    But again, there's really nothing here other than "Please sir, can I have some more?"
    Haha yea I totally agree with the banner stuff. It's something I actually kept asking about during playtesting, but well, core game trumps this generally superfluous layer. I mean yea it could be important (the original idea was to have a journal kind thing/a record of your story as a banner that kept growing/becoming sewn onto the banner as you played. But again, rather cut the core to mess around with extra features they made sure to get the core itself solid first (and despite that there's so much more to be done.


    Interesting about the loading screen. I can see that. Still think there needs to be some animation to discern hanging, like you said. Just some moving elipses on the "Loading", maybe?

    Aside from that, an "Unspent Skill Points" image hovering over a character's portrait in the Heroes Menu would have saved me several headaches (maybe the willpower star?) and there really needs to be a better way to back out of the "Upgrade Character" confirmation screen other than to back out to the previous menu entirely. I don't understand why there isn't one because there is in the same menu in Factions. It's a big red "Cancel" button.

    Also, you bring up a good point, about the line between abstraction and utility. I suppose I just fall on the side that would appreciate more utility. I don't think it necessarily has to become a distraction or even not be abstract though.

    For example, what if, in order to give the player an idea on the rate of morale change, the morale face didn't just change when it hits the breaking point at its tiers, but the color of the face filled up or drained out with the rate of the change as it occurred? So you could watch as the time circle fills, and the morale face drains of color, and know, "oh hey, I should take a rest now" before morale shifts. Yes, this would make it a bit more "gamey" I suppose, but honestly, I think that's what the caravan section needs in order to serve as a stronger gameplay break in between battles rather than seem just like a fancy cinematic.

    The other big thing in informing the player was mentioned in another thread is to have a way to see our ETA to the next township so we can gauge how many supplies are necessary for each leg of the journey. Obviously this would be a flexible number as well, changing with events. Perhaps it would show up only when making camp?

    I don't understand the insistence on informing the player entirely on the fact that X number of days have passed when that only affects a single achievement, when the far more important bit of info is: how many days is it gonna be before I can get resupplied?
    I like and agree with these suggestions. I don't think you lean on the side of utility. I do think the UI could use more, just that we need to be careful of how much to present and what really is needed to maintain the abstraction.

    I don't really know why stuff like travel duration via map wasn't done (might have been time constraints or maybe they just wanted it to be old school, real maps don't show days anyway), but I do agree these ideas, like the morale icon being a gauge rather than just a color/mood display, and also some way to again gauge estimated travel time, are pretty much essential for ACTUAL MANAGEMENT to occur.
    Last edited by raven2134; 01-22-2014 at 07:55 PM.

  18.   Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread.   #18
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    A fair point. I can concede that yeah, it's what gives the game its uniqueness and yeah, this should be retained.

    I suppose my bigger issue with the battles has to do with again, the pacing more than anything. In Factions the pace feels right for an MP match, and fair-minded initiative system keeps it slow but balanced.

    In SP I just feel the fact that you're fighting against generally larger groups (usually it was 6 v 9 I noticed, with the possibility of more) works against the established system and makes the battles drag on a little too long. Not much, mind you, just enough that cumulatively, the game crawls a bit when it might not want to.
    Well depending on the hardcore reception, this would probably just mean making the AI smarter while reducing the enemy count. Until we hit a point in between MP even and close teams kind of play, and SP you're not supposed to have close fights if you play right.

    Speeding up the pace of Single Player Combat
    The most bang for your buck would be to alter the initiative system in such a way that killing lots of dredge quickly isn't quite so discouraged by the turn order, thus incentivizing mass maiming before cleaning up as in MP and letting the player theoretically fight larger hordes of dredge in less time.

    A neat idea would be to add something like Tactics Ogre's Tarot Cards, perhaps in the form of the various gods, where depending on the difficulty the player can add a differing number of global team modifiers (3 on easy, 2 on normal, 1 on hard) to either their team or the enemy's for a full "revolution" of the characters in the initiative list. Or maybe there's a Battle Rhythm Meter so that whenever a team goes through a full "revolution" of its members (thus the usually larger Dredge hordes would have fewer activations at start of battle) it adds a point to the meter (with each defeated team member increasing the number of points needed to fill the meter by one to encourage quick kills), and when the meter fills the player and/or the enemy side gets one full revolution of "Pillage" mode before returning to a standard turn order?
    Well that's funny cos that's close to pillage alternatives which were discussed during Factions beta days. Moving along though, I think there's a simpler solution, and generally that is to have a mechanic that reverses or makes it harder for the player to enact the maiming strategy.

    Some ideas:
    What if Dredge as AI had an additional ability? What if when maimed they could rest for a turn/cycle and regain half of their total strength? This automatically means that yes maiming units is a good idea. BUT you can't just leave them alive to long or they recover while you don't. This would obviously need some testing.

    Or

    What if maimed Dredge could sacrifice themselves to restore another or combine to become a fresh bigger unit?

    There seem to be ways to play around with the enemy units themselves to create more strategic depth and choice, vis a vis killing versus maiming.

    clansmen/supplies
    People have started to notice similar as you have and exploit the system that way. Clearly this wasn't the intent at all, and the mechanical solution is to make them have a bearing to reflect the fact that they're supposed to matter.

    As an aside though...well that's actually kind of how it is in real life (not arguing it should be this way just cos, but just reflecting on it). I mean in a war or struggle, yes the peasants are going to drag down the soldiers/warriors. Yes leaving the weak to die would benefit the strong who would be able to fend for themselves. That's kinda a harsh truth. Maybe Stoic just needs to make it so that you could do that, you could let the clansmen/families/peasants die while your heroes survive, but craft the story to reflect the impact of if you do make that choice. That or they fix letting you finish the game on 0 pop.

    This is kinda interesting because if the player looks at their population/clansmen as numbers and the game as even less than a score thing, well you're not going to care. Just win. If the player at least sees it as a score, they'll try to keep the number up. If the player sees it as even more than a score. If he/she imagines those are actual people...well it frankly drives you up the wall when people are starving to death. I'm honestly not sure if the problem here is that Stoic needs to improve getting across these are people, or let people's natures play out .
    Last edited by raven2134; 01-22-2014 at 08:15 PM.

  19. #19
    Junior Member Bastilean's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zekram Bogg View Post
    NEEDLESS TO SAY, THIS IS PROBLEMATIC AND HAS TO BE ADDRESSED SOMEHOW.
    Thank God for you. Please do not desist your eloquence on the subject matter is smart and tasteful.

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    Could there have been a death mechanic for battle? (Supposing we could straddle the mechanical part of making the narrative work) Well that is an interesting idea, it would probably just require balancing. It's hard to get this in without putting a player in a corner. As much as possible the design intent is to let people enjoy the battles (where it's inevitable someone is going to go down). Rather than make battles restrictive where people would want to avoid it for mechanical reasons. Stoic wanted people to be drawn to battles because it's fun. If people were going to avoid them, as much as possible they wanted them to do this because of story reasons. (Injuries were evidently a compromise to make hero casualties have impact/weight).
    I think if you lose a battle it should be game over. It's representative of your larger forces and would make the traveling deaths seems more balanced with the combat. On the same note, starvation should have an end game scenario tied to it... maybe not when you hit zero but sooner or later.

    I think casualties work fine.
    Last edited by Bastilean; 01-22-2014 at 08:26 PM.

  20. #20
    Senior Member roder's Avatar
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    Nice criticisms, i agree with many points. I also appreciate raven's points while also being unbiased. I thought Zekram's ideas of Travelling speed and Rationing Level are amazingly awesome! thats all id like to say for now because this entire thread is full of wall OF TEXTS :P so i will keep mine short

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