So this article will be split into two halves that were written about two weeks apart. I finished the second part after a particularly large Banner Saga: Factions binge and that is the review of the mechanics, art-style and gameplay, including my ideas about what the Singleplayer, called "Banner Saga", available on Steam will be like. The first part will be me talking about "popular" mobile game "Candy Crush Saga" and the ridiculous copyright law they are trying to exploit, which was partially covered in the return of the What About Cynics Podcast earlier in the week.
Safe to say if either part interests you more, they do not need to be read together so the world is your oyster in terms of skipping my content. (Though obviously I will cry if you do) ((Dota one, rounding off 2013, will be my next article, once again this was more timely))
As you can tell they are very similar games: They both have a man and a woman on the front, and both have the word "Saga". Frankly this is the worst thing I've seen since that Chinese LoL clone.
The Saga of Candy Crush Saga And Banner Saga (Saga)
So this section won't be that long, but I figured if there was a time to highlight the idiocy of the makers of "Candy Crush Saga", King, and add my voice to the growing online anger against them; now was it. As of earlier last month the "Casual games company" and now largest Facebook developer, simply known as King launched a series of legal actions involving the word "Saga". Which in itself is mental. What made me believe it was unacceptable was the next development.
Banner Saga, a kickstarter funded when the whole thing was new and people weren't really annoyed at Early Access (article in-coming) is a beautifully animated Viking turn-based strategy which invokes the whole 60s Disney thing beautifully. Candy Crush Saga, from the research I've done because like hell am I wasting my very worthless time on it, appears to be fucking Bejewelled...With Candy.
And these guys have the audacity to claim that Banner Saga is infringing on their copyright with a dangerously similar name. You can't make that stuff up. It is like that guy who tried to copyright the word Edge, but if he had also stolen the concept of Edge's from someone else. I'm also probably most annoyed at this whole thing because Banner Saga actually deserves the term Saga...A Saga (as I can attest to), is a Scandinavian word meaning a story, meaning Banner Saga earns it twice, whereas Candy Crush Saga has neither a story, nor Viking.
An intellectual property worth protecting
Ultimately I feel the other gaming media might be blowing it out of proportion, I'll be amazed if the makers of Banner Saga, called Stoic, cave so easily, and equally I do not believe (maybe foolishly) that any court will uphold such insidious logic. But yeah, that is my done, the topic is basically too obvious to have any meaningful discussion on, it would be like my trying to tell you Genghis Khan was bad, you already know that. Onto the review.
The mind of Aaron from two weeks ago: Banner Saga: Factions.
Before we begin I should state that this is the review of only Banner Saga: Factions, the free multiplayer element of Banner Saga that has been out for a while, as opposed to Banner Saga itself which costs near £18.99, was realised recently and is purely singleplayer. Invariably some of my criticisms of Factions will be applicable to Banner Saga but for the most part I will treat them like the two separate products they are.
So let's get the one thing everyone immediately thinks upon seeing Banner Saga for the first time. “Holy hell that looks beautiful”. It is an apt observation, the artstyle is somewhere between the German Comic Style, beautiful hand drawn 60s Disney animation and that Lord of the Rings Animated film that never got a sequel. And it works, boy does it work. I imagine Stoic Studio formed based primarily around their art team.
However, you might realise like I did that every review and sales quotation you see about Banner Saga and Banner Saga: Factions revolves around their aesthetic beauty, it made me suspicious, and apparently rightly so. Technically and mechanically I think it might be somewhat lacking.
So BS:F's combat takes place entirely on a grid that if I had to recall from memory is probably something like 25x25 squares big. The combat is turn based and reminiscent of Fire Emblem if you took out all the under-age girls and replaced them with burly Scandinavians (marked improvement). You each have 6 units which have a persistent kill/level count throughout your engages, and as you promote and rank up your units you will be placed against progressively harder opponents who also have ranked up their units. Sound good? Well, off the bat, there are only 4 classes, 2 giants (called Varl) in the form of an Axe guy and a Shield Guy and 2 Human guys, Archers and Raiders. Each of these has three level-1 promotions, so in total you have 12 end-game units and that is your lot. Every subsequent rank isn't a class improvement, merely an extra stat point in one area.
Oh, also there are only 2 maps. Well, there are probably more, but the rest are just pretty (and boy are they pretty) backgrounds. The only maps with any variation being one is a empty 25x25 room, and the other is an empty 25x25 room except someone spilt some fire in the 5 middle squares. No terrain either save for fire and everything else. Rivers, hills or even molehills wouldn't go amiss.
I have heard some rumours that Factions was largely neglected so they could focus on the Single Player campaign and would return to it after it's release (Which just happened). I've also heard that the single player campaign includes both new unit variations and equippable weapons; if those are ported over then factions might be elevated from interesting diversion to 'worth mastering'.
Welcome to the only battlefield you'll ever conquer. A weird square training ground.
Though lack of unit diversity and upgrades aren't the only problem here, some mechanical aspects that I assume are repeated in Banner Saga SP are either flat out lazy or stupid, perhaps a combination of the two. You are rewarded in-game currency for how many units you kill out of the enemies 6. If you lose and kill 5, 5 of currency. Win and kill all, 12. Fair enough. However you aren't rewarded for killing, the enemy doesn't get less turns if you remove a unit, their healthy ones just get more turns. The lack of an initiative system short of “I stab, you stab” really cripples the game, and it isn't until one unit remains and “pillaging” is activated that this system is removed and it becomes a free-for-all for the last person.
Sweetest word in the English Language: Pillage.
A second gripe of mine is more personal in nature I suppose, as I know some people who don't mind luck-based missing systems. But then I also know people who like to torture cats so I guess that isn't really an excuse Stoic Games, ah ha! So yeah, the more wounded you are the more likely you are to miss. I personally think that this critically undermines the one thing I really like about BS:F, and that is that it is a pretty unrelenting and very equal fight between two people where strategy is the major factor. An easy way to remove this would obviously be to just scale up the numbers, so wounded units still damage but do less numbers. Yes it makes it more predictable but sometimes balance and challenge are fun! Said the worlds blandest sentient life form.
The persistent kill system is a pretty good one, as I write this my archer currently has 30 or so combat kills which is always rewarding to look at. She is a Kill-stealing whore though because Archers have an ability that once the enemies “armour” bar has been reduced, they do mega damage, so she is always attacking once for massive damage after everyone else’s hard work. The other bar is strength and it is nearly always better to reduce Strength because it not only makes enemies attacks weaker but it brings them closer to death. Unlike armour which is basically only useful for archers and the occasional hit and run.
Games normally end quite differently, but if there was one generic outcome, everyone being dead but the archers would probably be it. Which would be really awkward if it happened in real life.
The persistent bodies on the floor and the animations are suitably beautiful, though again that is more an aesthetic thing. There is nothing more haunting than watching the last two remaining wounded archers battle it out in a battlefield full of 5 other bodies. Equally I suppose the current system does allow for comebacks slightly, though sadly it doesn't reward being smart as much as it probably should.
I probably won't be buying Banner Saga: SP off the strength of Banner Saga: Factions for £18.99, but that isn't so much because BS:F is bad more than Steam has utterly ruined the concept of paying full price for a game to me. I will however be buying it the second it goes on sale because I am nothing if not a loyal Valve-drone.
RabbitOfHate, if you ever read this, you and Thorgal were the only worthy opponents. (Yes my characters are Frozen references).
Currently the main debate within my head is whether I continue to play Banner Saga: Factions. It is a genuinely promising game with some nice ideas and I want them to keep working on it, but given how few people play it I doubt they will bother if even more stop playing. So I sort of feel like I'm being held hostage, keep playing this game you half enjoy on the vague-promise that it'll be better down the line.
Really this is why I should never not play Dota 2.