The Banner Saga 2's story also has a broader scope than that of the first. A few hours in, the tale effectively splits off into two strands, one focussing on the major characters of the first game, the other telling the story of Boeverk, leader of a clan of mercenaries known as the Ravens. Boeverk's tale offers a refreshing alternate perspective from the main storyline, mainly because Boeverk is, by nature, a complete and utter bastard. He's a Beserker warrior who fights with axe-blades made from his own horns, and radiates aggression from every inch of his vast, muscular bulk.
It's a curiously enjoyable experience playing a character who so naturally fits the role of all-around jerk, taking what you want and killing who you want without concern for guilt or consequence. That said, the game does let you play him in a gentler, more amicable fashion, and in such a way that still fits with his overall character, which is a little bit of genius on Stoic's part.
All told, the storytelling of The Banner Saga 2 builds brilliantly on what was already strong foundational work. In addition to this, Stoic have clearly put a lot of effort into improving the combat, which is a good thing as it was undoubtedly the weakest aspect of the previous game. To start with, the variety of units, abilities and enemies has been increased. You're no longer fighting endless battles with the same three types of dredge. Furthermore, these new enemies fight in demonstrably different ways. One new faction focuses on area attacks, while another places emphasis on skirmishing units which strike quickly before retreating several paces.
You get access to some new units as well, including several of those your enemies can use. More importantly, however, The Banner Saga 2 better explains how to use and combine your units to create better strategies. Now while in camp, you can take on "challenges" laid down by your trainer, each of which teaches you a new tactic, such using powerful varl strikes to push enemies into arrangements that enable effective chain attacks. Completing these challenges also earns you renown, the game's universal currency that lets you purchase supplies and upgrade your soldiers, which is a clever incentive.
Unfortunately, while the combat is definitely much better, it remains just a little, well, boring. The problem is the Banner Saga's combat doesn't effectively represent the scale at which the rest of the game is working. During the travel sections, you see your dozens, maybe hundreds of followers traversing the frozen wastes. But the battles themselves comprise a total of no more than twenty individuals, and that sudden discord makes battles an underwhelming experience .
I think to really work, The Banner Saga's battles need to be more like those seen in Total War, grand and violent affairs with hundreds of participants. In all likelihood that's an impossible ask. But it doesn't change the fundamental problem. The Banner Saga is an epic tale in the original sense of the word, but it doesn't have the epic conflicts which go with that.
Still, the battles are no longer the weakest aspect of the game, that is now the travelling segments - the lengthy cutscenes that see your party travelling across the land, interspersed with dialogue-based scenarios. Stoic have clearly tried to improve these with more frequent occurrences during your travels, but these section still feel weirdly lacking interactively. I'm also slightly disappointed that more work hasn't been done to improve the method of storytelling. Most of the story is still conveyed through silent, largely static screens.
It's a shame, because the smattering of animated cutscenes are absolutely fantastic, and I would so dearly love to see the entire game done this way. The fantasy world is so beautifully put together with such a wonderful atmosphere that it deserves the full-blown treatment; animation, voiced-dialogue, the works. The Banner Saga 2 may not be quite the leap forward I hoped for, but it is still a soulful, sombre continuation of the original's engrossing fantasy tale.