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Game Review: The Banner Saga: Factions - A Turn-Based Strategy game for PC!
This game is an oasis in the desert that is turn-based strategy games on the PC. This genre is nearly non-existent in the PC market but Stoic Studios has taken the lead in producing a highly tactical, turn based experience.
One of the main attractions to this game is that they have decided to go with a free-to-play business model. So, if you are even remotely interested in strategy games, there is no harm in trying it out. The in-game store does give “Renown” (experience points) boosts but this isn't exactly buying power since you are almost always matched against an opponent with roughly the same amount of experience. Other than that, they also sell cosmetic items which are all pretty cheap, around a $1 a costume.
Banner Saga also has a very interesting art style and theme. The game is based in a frozen tundra and focuses on vikings. This means there is no magic in the game and your units are fairly realistic. The game also chose to use a cartoon art style which I feel fits very well with the theme. It is reminiscent of old Disney movies, like The Sword in the Stone, in animation to me but with a higher polish.
*Note* This game currently is only multi player but a single player campaign is planned for later in the year.
Units - There are currently 4 different base units in the game with each one able to branch off into 3 different classes when they rank up. It doesn't sound like much but it gives you a lot more variety than you'd think. You have 6 units in a match and the game starts you off with a Shield Banger (Tank), a Warrior (High Damage), 2 Archers (Mid-Range), a Raider (Mid-Range Damage), and 1 Thrasher (A ranked up Raider with High Damage). This initial set up is fine and covers all the bases and is great to getting to know the game at first. However, the real beauty of the units is to experiment with different combinations to find what works for you. I personally use 2 warriors, 1 Thrasher, and 3 Archers but having so many archers can harm you if you are not careful.
Formation- Before the battle starts, you are given a bit of time to arrange your units on the field as you wish. You are shown what units your opponent is using before the match starts but you will be unable to see how they are setting up their own formation. Having a really good starting formations are key and can sometimes entirely make or break a fight for you. It'll take some practice, getting used to different maps, as well as learning what each individual unit is capable of before you can perfect a formation.
Once battle begins the game will decide who goes first and sometimes you'll be happy to be going second. You also only move one unit at a time instead of your entire team before switching off to the opponents turn. The order your units go in is not determined by a speed stat like in some tactics games but instead is predetermined by you in your squad menu.
Mechanics – What of the factors that makes this game incredibly strategic is the armor system. Each unit has an Armor value and a Strength value. Armor reduces damage you take but can be destroyed if you specifically target the armor. Some units will have a lot of armor and it will require you to chip away at it before attacking their Strength points. Strength has a dual purpose, HP and damage. When a unit reaches 0 strength, they die. However, strength also determines your damage, so when you start to take hits, a units effectiveness will rapidly decrease. This balance of attacking armor or strength gives an entire new layer of strategy to the game and will make for some interesting fights.
There is also a resource called Will Power. Each unit has a different value of it and a different amount of what they can use. Will Power enables units to move farther at the expense of 1 point per extra square moved. It also can be used to increase the damage of your attack by 1 per will power. These points don't come back unless you wait a turn but I have never once had a time where waiting to gain will power has seemed even remotely worth it. Also, the ranked up units each have an ability they can use which will also use will power points.
By the end of each battle, win or lose, you will gain Renown which is used to rank up your units once they have gained enough kills to do so. The renown gaining process isn't that slow and would probably only take 5-8 battles to gain enough points to level a unit. Going against other players really makes you think on your toes and it is not uncommon to have battles come down to 1v1 for it is pretty rare to be completely dominated.
This game does have some faults. For one, even if they are adding it later, the lack of a single player option is off putting. I am not a very competitive player when it comes to turn-based strategies and I was incredibly disappointed to find out that multi-player was my only option. After a few games though, I fell in love with it and already have 7 hours played only after playing it for a day.
Server stability is also horrendous. The game only came out a couple days ago as I write this, so this may be fixed in the near future, but there is a lot of lag and connection issues. A lot of people have been losing their connection mid-match which results in them gaining no renown. Fights themselves will also lag and the time between each unit's turn can take a couple minutes occasionally. This can get aggravating, especially if you know it is a loss in progress.
This game has a lot of potential. It is a unique game to the PC market and the fact that it is free-to-play makes it all the more curious. This is one of the first non-mmorpg that we have seen use a business model like this and it is quite refreshing. All the better that none of the in-game purchases are really needed.
It also appears that Stoic Studios plans to update this game frequently with the eventual addition of a single player as well as introducing new units as it goes along. Although the server instability can be a headache, the game is also pretty casual despite its tactical nature. When the game is lagging I just tend to alt-tab and do something else or watch TV while I wait for the audio queues that it is my turn again. I think that this game deserves a shot by everybody and it won't cost you a penny to try it.