The Banner Saga 2 ReviewPrice:
PC, OSX, PS4, Xbox One,
The Banner Saga 2 is less of a sequel and more a direct continuation of the original game, kicking off immediately after the concluding events of The Banner Saga. The blood spilled from the climactic battle with the immortal dredge known as Bellower has barely had time to cool on the snow before the red-bannered caravan of clansmen and varl head off once more on their long and perilous journey to the city of Abberrang.
This direct connection with the events of its predecessor is both a good and bad thing for The Banner Saga 2. On the one hand, it allows the game to pull that splendid Mass Effect trick of carrying over your choices from the first game, which the Banner Saga arguably does even better than BioWare's sci-fi trilogy. On the other, the desire to retain such a strong connection between both games means the core systems haven't evolved quite as much as they perhaps needed to. The Banner Saga 2 undoubtedly improves upon the original in a couple of important areas, but there are also shortcomings that cannot be ignored.
Nevertheless, The Banner Saga impresses with its commitment to telling not just the same story, but the player's version of that story. Depending on the choices you made at the end of the last game, the main character for the Banner Saga 2 can be one of two. Rather than attempting a quick workaround, Stoic tackle this significant game design task head-on. Not only do you have two complete narrative arcs for each of these characters, the entire tone of the game is different depending on which one you choose, right down to the accompanying orchestral score. In a genre where so many games take narrative shortcuts after important choices to return to the same plot thread, Stoic's effort to lend your decisions permanence is admirable.
Of course, regardless of who you play as, the key plot beats are the same. You're still making your way to Abberrang, still evading the hordes of stony-faced dredge swarming down from the north, still trying to protect a motley crew of individuals, races and cultures all with their own opinions and motivations, some of whom may not be entirely trustworthy.
Despite the arduous nature of the clan's march to Abberrang, the plot is breathlessly paced, with difficult choices arriving thick and fast. One particularly intense section early in the game sees you escaping from a massive dredge onslaught by walking your entire caravan across a series of floating islands held aloft by your cheery Mender Eyvind. Each decision you make in this minute-long segment can lead dozens of clansmen and varl to their deaths. It isn't only these major sequences that can cause you to agonise over both choice and consequence either. Seemingly innocuous events, such as coming across a group of wandering peasants on the road, can dramatically affect your overall prospects depending on how you deal with them.