Full disclosure: The Banner Saga is one of my favorite strategy role-playing franchises of the past decade. The combination of its beautifully realized setting, character building and storytelling pulled me in, and the crisp and often innovative gameplay kept me rooted through the first two entries.
But there are a disturbing number of people who haven’t sampled either game and may not have time to do so in the near future. (I get it it, #BreathOfTheWild is a long game.)
With a third game forthcoming after a massively successful $400,000+ dollar Kickstarter campaign, I think now is a perfect time for a recap of the series thus far.
I’ll focus mainly on the first story’s narrative and give only a brief overview of the second’s, for those still eager to delve into #TheBannerSaga2.
The Banner Saga games are set in the far northern climes of a Viking-inspired low fantasy setting — one that emphasizes its characters more than traditional fantasy tropes like elves, faeries and dragons.
The developers at #Stoic have cited the art of Eyvind Earle (particularly his work on the Disney film Sleeping Beauty), Don Bluth and Ralph Bakshi as inspiration, and it’s evident in the lush, stark visuals both in the environment and in the character design.
This world has been lodged in a perpetual gloaming since the sun was frozen in place some time before the events of the first game, and its living inhabitants —both humanity and the giant Varls — are under threat of extinction from an ancient and powerful race called the Dredge, harbingers of the apocalypse.
The first game tells the story of a world teetering on the brink of destruction, with human and Varl alike harried at every turn by increasing numbers of relentless, deadly. It opens with a small band of warriors, both human and Varl, escorting the human prince Ludin to the capital of the Varl to seal a lasting peace between the two factions. However, when the caravan reaches the Varl capital, they find it aflame and in the hands by a massive Dredge army.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, a young hunter named Rook and his daughter Alette are chased from their ancestral home Skogr by a band of Dredge. Along with their Varl friend, Iver, they eventually find shelter in the fortress Einartoft, after Iver reveals that he is in fact a legendary Varl warrior called Yngvar and persuades the Varl masters of Einartoft to open their doors to his ragged band.
At Einartoft the two groups of protagonists are united, Prince Ludin and his caravan and Rook and the remaining survivors from Skogr. Soon, however, Einartoft is threatened by another massive army of Dredge, at the head of which rides the Dredge leader Bellower, a powerful immortal warrior. Just as the companions are under mortal threat from the assembled Dredge host, a massive serpent (reminiscent of Jörmungandr, the world-eating serpent from Norse mythology) rears its head and the Dredge scatter in fear.
Cut to a mysterious woman awakening in the shattered remnants of a ruined city. This woman is Juno, friend to Eyvind, one of the members of Ludin’s caravan, and she is confronted by the great serpent that scattered the Drudge at Einartoft. The serpent reveals that he was to devour the remains of the world but was unsettled to find it covered in darkness.
Juno calls out telepathically to Eyvind and eventually joins the caravan in Boersgard, a fortified city that is besieged by Bellower and his regrouped Dredge. Eyvind forges a magic arrow that pierces Bellower’s mind and convinces him that he has died, thus throwing him into an indefinite coma, but either Alette or Rook is sacrificed in delivering the blow (depending on player choice). The survivors, along with Boersgard’s rulers, the mercenary Ravens, escape the city in longships after laying Rook or Alette to rest.
The second game picks up right where the first leaves off, following the exploits of the survivors of Boersgard as the face the impending Darkness and the returning threat of the Dredge. At one point, the Raven’s leader Bolverk breaks off from the main group (led by either Rook or Alette, depending on which hero survived the first game) with a band of warriors to escort a freight of mysterious cargo at the behest of Juno, who continues in her role as a sort of mystic visionary.
Rook or Alette guide their caravan to the human capital of Arberrang, the only place they feel suited to holding off the Dredge. However, upon arrival, the party is split in conflict between the king and Rugga, the former mayor of Boersgard. Meanwhile, Bolverk is possessed by evil, and depending on player’s choices, either revives Bellower and perishes, or is revived by the serpent.