Stoic's June announcement is finally upon us. Banner Saga[$9.99] is now available on and designed for iPhone and iPad. This is one of those games that might just change preconceived notions about what mobile gaming is and isn't. The scope of this project should not be underestimated. Very rarely do we find an adventure with this much substance and depth even on one of those 'real' gaming platforms, but here we are. Unrestricted by cables or keyboards, Nothing is lost in translation from award winning PC title to this amazing iOS gem.

It's not easy to lay out an epic tale of sorrow and loss without feeling slow or plodding, but Banner Saga does it. Even after multiple play throughs, you will still find yourself facing new challenges that make you second guess each decision. Each step along the path feels like you could be on the brink of tragedy. The pragmatic and somber mood of the game hangs heavy like a sodden wet canvas threatening to snuff out any hope you might have of overcoming the odds. Composer Austin Wintory's soundtrack and the stark Norse inspired backdrop are key in generating and perpetuating this mood.

BannerSaga1

The story sweeps you into the world following two simultaneous plot lines. This is not a new plot device, but still remains to be a solid story telling staple used by the greats like Dickens and the kind of greats like George RR Martin. Your role in determining story development hinges on conversations you hold with party members and various individuals you come across in your adventures. You are also forced to react to emergencies and formulate ad hoc combat strategies. The difficulty of choosing the correct chat option sometimes borders on the impossible, but other times is pretty simple to figure out. I'm not convinced that it is the perfect system, but the variety functions much better than the typical black and white choices most 'story driven' games wholly consist of. Some of the most harrowing decisions occur when a party member is directly threatened and you might end up losing them from your party. More often than not you can save them, but usually you end up sacrificing something else in order to do so.

The last platform you would expect a game like this to do well on would be mobile, but this game has mobile at the core of it's design. Menus, buttons, and the entire interface function fantastically. I even saw some comments in our forum thread that not much has changed from the PC version, which I would consider a huge compliment towards a universally solid interface design. The game is beautiful and the cold barren world is somehow still dynamic and full of life. Banner Saga begs to be played on mobile, but not because you would want to play it in short spurts while on your commute. No, I imagine the ideal place to play Banner Saga is curled up in bed with some hot chocolate. I found myself abandoning chairs in favor of couches or beds as I played more and more. It might just be me, but much like a Lord of the Rings movie viewing, the best place to experience Banner Saga is one you wont mind spending a few hours at a time and reclined as much as possible. I found that the game even uses less battery power than I am used to and was able to play for pretty long stretches at a time. Everything about the game seems like an invitation to pull away from distractions and let your teeth sink in away from anyone and anything else.

BannerSaga2

What surprises me the most is just how involved I feel in the game. I'm not too proud to admit that I was a bit wrapped up in the story line. I may or may not have even had a few viking inspired dreams over the last few days. Having only played The Banner Saga: Factions on pc, I was able to start with a relatively clean slate when I fired it up on my iPad. Maybe the storyline won't do anything for you, but I found the game capable of delivering a compelling narrative that doesn't allow much to get in the way of telling a story. You might notice that I keep coming back to the story. Without it, Banner Saga would be a prettied up side note and not a blockbuster AAA title. I enjoy the tactical gameplay but it's just unique enough to avoid being called derivative. I don't think Stoic tried to reinvent the wheel with the finished product's gameplay. A good way to describe why this doesn't matter much to me is to compare it to Star Wars. A New Hope and Return of the Jedi didn't have the super flashy extended light saber fight scenes that Episodes 1-3 had, but EP 1-3 had very little story build up and I was more interested in the drama that existed in the original fight scenes and they had much more dramatic tension. In general you won't see stuff that rivals the complexity or magnitude of Final Fantasy Tactics[$13.99] or Disgaea or XCOM[$9.99] in the gameplay, but if you are tuned into the story, combat will carry more than sufficient drama.

The unique gameplay bits, while pretty minor, are still fun and promote strategic planning. Each hero and enemy in a battle has armor and hp pools that can be directly attacked. Armor reduces damage taken and HP increases damage dealt. Dealing HP damage is usually preferable unless armor is high enough to reduce damage down to a nominal amount. Each hero and enemy has a special skill that requires energy expenditure. Energy can also be spent on increasing damage or move distance. The combat system boils down to a basic resource and risk management exercise. Like I mentioned before, I enjoy the combat but its because of the drama. The combat system itself is a little watered down compared to other tactical turn based systems but shines out as being capable of doing it's job without distracting from the storyline. I'm not the guy that gets hyped up for story based games. I am actually the antithesis to that guy. This is that game that will change your mind on story driven games. As soon as you get caught up in the story, Banner Saga will give you a ride well worth the price of admission.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Maglor

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       \( 'ㅅ' ) THAT ★★★★★!!! Awesome!!!
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    • dancj

      Who are these people who keep hitting the 'like' button on these cat pictures. Really - stop encouraging them.

      • Lemmonz

        But why? They're

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      • Andrew Fretz

        Its usually the same guy, and its usually just games he really likes. He's kind of the unofficial mascot around here.

      • nini

        Easy likes at the very least.

  • Psac42

    This seems like a quality title, but my backlog is already way too big, which could be a testament to how good mobile gaming has gotten over the last few years. I still haven't gotten to Oceanhorn yet.

    • bababewey

      Do yourself a favour and bump this to the top of your list. Oceanhorn isn't all that great, this is fantastic.

      • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

        Agreed. Oceanhorn stands out as a good game amongst a lot of crappy games. Banner Saga is just a flat out great game.

  • the_rebel14

    Added to wish list. Birthday is coming up so hopefully I'll get some iTunes moneys to get this!

    • Flash Cloud

      I'm playing it now! It's great! 😀

  • speedyph

    AWESOME REVIEW

    • wedge598

      I'm going to have to give this a try down the road when I have time. I wish the review went into a little detail on how the battles play out as I love turn based combat and was hoping to hear how it compares to other turn based games.

  • bababewey

    I'm necessarily a big fan of the genre, but all the respective parts of this game really hit for me. The soundtrack, the art, the story. I think this game moves into my top 20 all time.

    • bababewey

      Ugh, *not necessarily a big fan of the genre.

  • gnomekingofpain

    The game is fantastic but there are two points I think people should be aware of.
    1. Big chunks of the story is delivered in voice over without any option for subtitles. This really should not ever be the case for any video games, but it is an even bigger oversight on a narrative heavy Mobile game.

    2. The save system straight up sucks. There are no manual saves and there is no clear indication when the game chooses to auto save. I have had to replay multiple battles when coming back to the game after a break.

    • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

      Yeah those are both really bad for any kind of mobile game. That's unfortunate. Maybe they can fix that in an update.

      • onetime74

        IT'S NOT TRUE. THEY ARE BOTH AVAILABLE IN THE GAME!!

      • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

        Oh! Well that's very good then.

    • Psac42

      Ouch those are both big issues!! Deal breakers for me.

      • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

        Apparently there is a manual save and subtitle option. Hope you haven't been scared off! It would still be worth playing regardless. Awesome game.

    • onetime74

      There is a manual save. It even explains how to do it during the story! I guess you were just to daft to figure it out, and most likely don't even know about the "camping" option.

      The entire game is pretty much reading text !!!
      It's like a choose your own adventure book with some chess gameplay. I think people should be aware of people like you, when reading comments which could influence their decision in purchasing a must have fantasy / tactical game.

      • Psac42

        Thanks for the extra info.

      • gnomekingofpain

        Camping has effects beyond just saving the game, some positive, some negative. There are points where you may not want to camp for resource management reasons. Camping is not equal to having a dedicated manual save. Camping, and the game's intended save points have also not been 100% reliable in my play through.

        That said, I do think this game is fantastic and that anybody interested in mobile games with depth, SRPGs, or video games with great narratives should buy The Banner Saga. I simply think that people should go into any game well informed of technical or design issues that could impact there experience. Personally I find the lack of subtitles to be the real problem since I have met some deaf gamers who would have loved to be able to play Banner Saga on iPad properly. (Not sure if the current status of subtitles in the PC version, though I do remember that that version was also released without subtitles)

      • onetime74

        YOU LYING PIECE OF ****.

        THERE ARE SUBTITLES, IT'S IN THE F---ING OPTIONS MENU!!!

        SAVING DOES NOT COST RESOURCES.

        DO NO LISTEN TO THIS GUY!!!

      • HelperMonkey

        Odd controversy here, as I found the subtitles option to be uncommonly noticeable amid the option menu choices.
        It's literally three buttons: "sound effects...music...subtitles."

        Meanwhile, you say, "I have met some deaf gamers who would have loved to be able to play Banner Saga on iPad properly."
        No you haven't.

        And hold on, people! I'm colorblind. Do you have any idea how many games use colors as foundational gameplay elements? And not just match-3s, either. Colors are everywhere. There's a whole pile of quality games out there that I am GENETICALLY INCAPABLE of playing. But whatever!.. I guess disabled people don't really need to have fun.
        [I say this with utmost irony. I know there are many people -- gamers, even! -- that have legitimate challenges facing them everyday. Subtitles are a legitimate issue. Until things get silly. Then I tend to go way overboard. As I just did. My apologies.]

      • http://jesse-dylan.livejournal.com Jesse_Dylan

        Probably someone who just hasn't played long enough or explored the options menu. I don't think they were trying to be harsh.

  • Benjamin Rodriguez

    The biggest issue that stops me from buying this is the controls. Some people mention that controlling this game can be a problem. In my mind only a few games have seamless controls, so I suppose it depends on the severity of it. Games like Yesterday have horrible controls and it makes it unplayable in my book, as well as a few dual stick shooters/platforms with static gamepads. The reviewer didn't seem to mention controls at all, just blah blah blah his view of the positives of the game. Not a fulfilled review in my opinion, as well as biased so that does not do it enough for me. So I guess I'm hoping someone can shed light on it, as I do like a good game.

    • NickyNichols

      Controls are a non factor in this game. You only "control" the space the guys move on the battlefield.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        What do you mean?

      • NickyNichols

        It's more of a gamebook/turn-based strategy mashup than a dungeon crawler or rpg.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        Ah, okay. Thanks for the clarification.

    • gmattergames

      Controls? This is a turn based tactics game; you point to where you want the piece to move and confirm. The review is not fulfilled? He covered the game from end to end. Are you commenting on the right review?

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        There's a difference between a review and a praising of a good game. And if you're saying a turn based game is immune to bad controls...well lol.

      • gmattergames

        But this one doesn't have bad controls, it applies an effective and intuitive control scheme. Perhaps some have challenges on smaller phone displays. Secretly, I do wish for an undo function, but it's forced me to more carefully plan.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        And that's what I was asking. I wasn't bashing the game and some people just get too defensive automatically. All I was asking was for opinions on the controls so that I myself could buy the game.

      • bilboad

        The thing is you weren't *just* asking for an opinion, and I doubt anyone would have been critical of your post if you'd just asked how the controls were. The last third of your comment was just criticizing the review for supposedly being inadequate, and I think that's what people are responding to. In any case the reviewer does mention the controls. Here's a direct quote: "Menus, buttons, and the entire interface function fantastically.". I suppose he could have gone into detail about how the controls work, but it makes sense to me that since he didn't think there was any problem with them, he spent most of his time discussing the experience of playing the game.

      • Andrew Fretz

        Thank you for reading the review +1 reading is fundamental.

        Some other remarks also question why I dont mention the gameplay/battles so if you want to quote that part of the review too, feel free =)

        I have to admit, I played on an iPad so I dont have much input on the iPhone side of things.

      • bilboad

        This isn't directed at you specifically, but one thing I've often thought would be helpful is if reviews included a note saying which device(s) the reviewer played the game on. This would be helpful in judging how my experience is likely to compare to the reviewer's, especially for things like how small things look on screen, or how well the game performs.

      • Andrew Fretz

        No, I think this is an important point(and I did mention casually that I was playing on an iPad in the review =P)

    • romiem

      I have to agree- I don't really feel like this review has been objective enough. It seems like a gushing piece full of the authors emotional response to the game. There is very little info about controls, how it performs on iPhone, and I didn't really feel that there was enough info on the battle aspect of the game. Probably won't stop me buying it though.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        Exactly. Which is why I think this "review" is more suited for TA's game of the week. It's just a concern, since some people mentioned a few control issues. The author rarely strays away from "this is a good story, did I mention this was a good story?" So as a consumer you can't help but take that with a grain of salt. To the people I say, what do they think, so here I am asking about the controls.

    • onetime74

      Congratulations, you reached the next level of stupidity. LEVEL UP and claim your reward

  • NickyNichols

    The only issue I have, and this is just me being lazy, is that it requires you to tap the arrow in the middle of the bottom of the screen to advance the text. I'd really like to be able to tap anywhere on the screen.

    • romiem

      Maybe I'm just clumsy, but an issue that I've had in previous games where you can tap anywhere to forward text is accidental taps (which has meant I've missed part of what was said). I actually prefer a small arrow to minimise the chance of accidental taps.

    • moeTi

      I also find that a bit annoying because my hand does not rest there normally

  • pepsodont

    How about playing on iPhone?

    • pepsodont

      Err I meant how does it play on iPhone. Sorry.

      • Cold Hand

        Actually, pretty well.

  • spsummer

    How does this game play on an iPad (third gen)? Anyone know?

    • lifeat78

      I had almost no problems. An occasional stutter in the animation, some slightly long load times, but nothing that took away from the enjoyment of the game.

      • Pier

        Are you sure you have a third gen? Mine stutters all the time and the app is quite unresponsive.

    • Pier

      In my iPad 3 it stutters too much. I played for an hour and deleted it. It has some serious performance issues.

  • thiagovscoelho

    They're really risking it now, putting themselves on King's main market.

  • gmattergames

    This game is a master-class in modern turn based tactical board gaming. The combat system features some interesting mechanics, fatigue management, etc. Oh yeah, then there's the AAA presentation and story. Only gripe, the loading times seem excessive.

  • RomanReigns

    Any option to turn off parallax effect..i mean the screen moves while dragging character box-to-box..the only thing that annoys me is this parallax effect.Else great game.Defo on the top of my list atleast until 2015

  • Tonk Montana

    Awesomeness has three S's! Thatsss Awesome!

    Everything is awesome!

  • Tommmy

    Some people reported performance issues, is it true or not?

    • moeTi

      iPad 3 stutters a bit in movie sequences, and loading really takes long sometimes. Stutter is not bad as movies are slow paced anyways, but loading is a bit annoying imho

      • Tommmy

        Thanks for your reply. I've got iPad 3 myself.

      • moeTi

        Don't hesitate to pick it up anyways, it's really worth it even on "older" hardware.

  • jar0d

    No comments on how it plays on iPhone (5/6/6+)? iCloud save games?

    • NickyNichols

      Well. If a game does not fare well on the 6/6+ then I don't think it will work well on anything. Right?

  • Frank Hopewell-Smith

    I've only played 1 hour and I'm wrapped up! It's brilliant!

  • Duke12

    Thing Im missing is to rotate battlefield or did I miss it somehow? Sometimes hard to choose a char when its behind someone.

  • moeTi

    I just started (finished two battles in act 2) and I'm still a bit overwhelmed. First of all, combat is fairly complex at the beginning, I still need to learn the pros and cons of all my fellows. Secondly, I find it really hard to remember all the names of characters and cities.
    I'm sure I will get used to everything. I turned down difficulty to easy now to get used to fighting and stuff, let's see how it turns out.

    Well I guess we all wanted more complex mobile games 🙂

  • Benjamin Rodriguez

    It'd be on an 5s, so not the largest screen. It sounds like it has a few minor issues but nothing that stops you from playing.

  • Ultima12

    Sounds awesome! I'm in!

  • anabolicMike

    It's amazing

  • onetime74

    Do not listen to liars such as user gnomekingofpain

    There are subtitles for the movie scenes. There is manual saving

  • jeffyg3

    I love this game, but if you have an iPad Mini 1st gen, the experience isn't as good. The long load times is a big drag. Thinking about trying it out in the Mac instead, load times are kind of bothersome for me on the iPad mini

  • Prhaber

    Playing on an iPad mini 1st gen. A bit of slow down and some long (ie 30 second) loading times, mainly when going into a battle - but otherwise a very engrossing and enjoyable game. I can't quite put my finger on what makes it so good, but it is very much more than the sum of its parts...

  • pinOi32

    That dude on the app icon is like "Look at my horns, I'm so proud of them!"

  • PoloBaquerizoH

    This are the games, that makes gaming on an ipad, being almost even more outstanding than the experience on pc, a truly 5 star game, a "must have"

  • rabid

    This is a story with rpg elements. It is astonishingly beautiful and worth the price just to behold, but I havent the patience for gamebooks and really wish it was all rpg, because it is amazing! Just like how I wish 80 days was just a pure game.

Banner Saga - Viking Strategy Tactics RPG - Best Indie Game of 2014 Reviewed by Andrew Fretz on . Rating: 5