The cartoon splendor and gameplay of Banner Saga

, | Games

Banner Saga is out today. It’s certainly lovely, and any turn-based game should be proud to have artwork this nice. I remember Jean d’Arc on the PSP was pretty, but you can’t beat a big ol’ computer screen to bring to life this kind of animation, even if it’s not very animated. These are a lot of talking heads, with the bare minimum of drifting snowflakes, wafting Nordic braids, and fluttering capes, but they’re far prettier than the average talking heads.

Unfortunately, it seems like Banner Saga is a series of dull tactical combats with a whole lotta storyline between every battle and a character development system with broad simple strokes. And then a whole lot more storyline. At a time when I could be fighting richly detailed battles in Card Hunter or Fallen Enchantress, why am I poking around with this basic system, which turns into a bit of a mess thanks to the uncompromising 2D graphics and the not very good interface. Can you figure out what’s going on in the above screenshot? Do I have a dude behind those tall black robot guys? How do I rotate the camera? And why do I get to see the numbers, but not how they work? Since the artwork is so pretty, am I not supposed to care so much about the math?

It’s still early. I’m only three chapters in, with no telling how many to go. At this point in a tactical SRPG, I’d just be getting warmed up. So maybe there’s a lot more to reveal as Banner Saga goes on. But it’s not looking very promising. I didn’t know I was signing on for a pretty cartoon with a lot of dialogue about some burly Norse guys and some humans and some evil black robots and occasional primitive tactical battles. Personally, I was hoping for a tactical combat game first and foremost, with a strategic level where I managed varied interesting characters and made meaningful choices, with a bunch of historical flavor on top. Fortunately, I haven’t uninstalled Expeditions: Conquistador.

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