The Let's Play Archive

The Banner Saga Trilogy

by FairGame

Part 1: P-1: Prologue


The game really means this. This isn't like Mass Effect where at best you receive an email from some dude you saved a game ago. Choice you make have meaningful and lasting consequences. To make matters more complex, most of the consequences don't manifest themselves until well after you made the decision. No save-scumming available for you.

As for the POV switches, we'll get to that when the time comes. (The time will come next update). Fortunately, unlike Game of Thrones, there's not a POV that you will ever particularly hate. Some POVs are worse off in the world than others, but all POVs have interesting characters.

I...I think this splash screen got changed from when I played it. There used to be a line saying "only one thing has stopped: the sun." No matter, we'll get there in a moment. Also, for the purposes of this game:
man = human
giant = varl, a cross between humans and yox (fantasy oxen, essentially). They're big, humanoid, and have big ox-like horns.

Our narrator for the prologue is UBIN, the dude in purple. He's a varl tax collector.

And there's your "the sun has stopped." In the world of The Banner Saga, nightfall hasn't existed for about a week. It's extremely not normal, but everyone is kinda just going about their business.
: We have been warned by stranded travelers about brigands on the path through Ridgehorn, our road home. Our captain seems unconcerned. Perhaps he is as eager as I to be done here. We will rest here this day and inquire further when we speak to the governor.

The tax collectors approach Strand, when suddenly...

A human runs up and shouts something at Ubin. He sounds concerned. Ubin stares up at the town hall...

Inside the town hall, brigands are murdering people. That poor guy bottom center just got cut open.

The brigand leader yells something unpleasant at who is presumably the governor. Things are looking pretty bad for the governor, until...

Ubin and his buddies bash open the doors to the hall, surprising the shit out of the brigands. This is more of a fight than they'd counted on.

We now enter our first combat. This is a tutorial, and the game forces you to make certain moves. As such, it's impossible to lose. Even if the game weren't forcing you, it'd be pretty damn hard to lose. It's 4 brigands vs. 2 varl (Ubin's just chillin' out leaning against the pillar. He doesn't take part in combat.)

The tutorial will give us the basics of combat. But I'll do that here myself instead.

Every unit has 5 statistics (seen in the "enemy raider" box in red in the lower left, as well as the unlabeled blue box in the far left. The unlabeled blue box describes the statistics of this generic varl shieldbanger (shieldbanger being the generic class of varl; the class has sub-kits that we'll recruit from later on.)
Armor (the shield icon): Think of this as damage threshold, a la New Vegas. It's a strict reduction on how much damage you take. If an enemy is going to hit you for 5, and you have 4 armor, the enemy only hits you for 1 instead, 5 - 4 = 1. If you have MORE armor than the enemy has attack, the enemy starts incurring a malus to hit at 10% per difference. So if you have 10 armor and a 6 strength enemy tries to hit you, he's going to take a -40% malus to hit. And if he does hit, he'll only do 1 damage anyway.
In general, heavy hitters tend to have low armor--glass cannons. Tanks tend to have high armor and little strength. There are some skills that bypass armor entirely and directly do strength damage. That's very helpful.
Strength (the fist icon): This is your HP as well as your damage. If it drops to zero, you fall in battle. Not "die," mind you. You just fall and take an injury--meaning you have a temporarily lower strength in subsequent battles until you sleep it off. If a character doesn't have one of the aforementioned "do strength damage anyway" abilities, a character who takes a hit to his strength early on is effectively maimed and pretty useless.
Willpower (the star icon): This is a modifier you can use for your attacks (you can attack armor or strength, by the way). The amount of modifier can be applied via your exertion stat, which we'll get to in a moment. Willpower also powers your abilities. If you have no willpower, all you can do is attack armor or attack strength. Or you can rest and gain back a willpower point. In general, though, if you're spending time resting, you're in deep shit because that's a turn where you could've been doing something useful.
Exertion (the chain icon): This is how many willpower points you can use to modify an attack. If ordinarily you can do 5 points of strength damage on an attack, and you want to kill an enemy with 6 points, you can use a point of willpower to modify the attack to do 5+1. Exertion is a set stat. Most every character in the game has either 2 or 3 exertion as their cap. It's hugely important. Movement is also governed by exertion. You can move 1 extra tile per exertion point, provided you have the willpower to actually exert.
Armor Break (the broken shield icon): This is a flat amount of damage you will do to enemy armor. Can be modified by exertion. Units in this game vary between 2 and 4 armor break as their cap. You need a few guys who are good at breaking armor so that your heavy hitters can start fucking up the enemy.

The other major thing in combat: you and the enemy take turns, 1 unit for 1 unit. Meaning that if you have 5 units and the enemy has 10, each of your characters takes 2 turns to the enemy's 1. As characters fall, the turn imbalance gets changed.
Because of this, and because of the aforementioned "a low strength enemy is effectively maimed," it often makes a lot of sense to just maim a shitload of enemies but not kill them until you're ready to end the fight completely. If the enemy has only 2 or 3 fully healthy characters because you killed everything else, they can pretty quickly bring down a front-liner.
It's kind of silly. It's also a reason that you can dominate this game with a party of 2-3. We won't be doing that except in a couple battles where party size is mandated.

The "you take turns" portion is ended when one side falls to last man standing. At this point you enter what's known as "PILLAGE!" mode. And everyone gets to move as a team. So if you have 5 standing fighters, all of them move and THEN the enemy gets 1 turn before you get 5 straight turns.
In general, it's not really important. If you reach last man standing, you're going to win. If you ARE last man standing, you're going to lose. (Probably.)

Anyway, the tutorial shows off the varl warrior "warhawk" kit. That's what "Gunnulf" (see the lower left) here is. Warhawks tend to have insanely high strength and shitty armor. They're glass cannons. Weirdly, this iteration of Gunnulf looks different--both in clothes and in stats--than the one we're about to get outside of tutorial. Anyway, his default skill is "tempest," which hits up to 2 enemies adjacent to him. His passive skill is "heavy impact" which causes any enemy adjacent to an enemy taking strength damage get an additional +1 damage. So in this case, he'll tempest through 2 guys to do 6 damage, and then since each is adjacent ot the other, they'll cause their counterpart to take an additional +1 damage.
Warhawks get a shitload of kills. There are VERY few skills in the whole series that can do strength damage to multiple units simultaneously.

Our shieldbanger ends the fight by running through the bandit leader.

The game immediately switches to a cutscene with the governor of Strand.
: Like a rabid wolf, that one. How did it come to this? We fool ourselves believing that peace will last. My grandfather built all this from a poor fishing village, you know. He watched the gods die. Watched the chaos that followed. Watched man and varl slaughter each other, even before the dredge arose. All we've done is traded one struggle for another. Now that there are no more dredge to war against, we war against ourselves.

: This chieftain meant to kill me, and he's not the first. A dozen families in the city would gladly take my chair. This one had been waylaying merchants both north and south of the city, strangling trade. Quite well, I would add, though he denied it to his last. This sort of wolf doesn't stop biting because the head is cut off, it just grows a new head.
He wanders over to the door of the Great Hall, looking down at his city.

: I am in a bad way, my friend. Help me finish this fight and I will gladly send you on your way with double our king's tithe. Take any men you need. They're loyal; I promise you that. They will meet you down in the proving grounds.

Technically that was the prologue. Now we're officially in chapter 1. No POV switch, though. We continue as Ubin, immediately after the fight in the Great Hall.

We'll see screens like this quite a bit. The early game spoils us with a lot of animated cutscenes. For the most part we get a lot of talking heads. PRETTY talking heads, but talking heads nonetheless.

: Eirik, steward of Strand. I manage the governor's business. Ubin, isn't it?

We have the ability to make dialogue choices. In some cases, they're enormously meaningful. In most cases it's just flavor text. You might learn more about a subject or change someone's disposition for the better (or worse). I'll make the conversation choices when it's not meaningful.
: It is.
: The governor tells me you'll be giving us a hand.
: What did you have in mind?
: Skalfings that you didn't hack up in the great hall scattered after you took out their chieftain. The governor just wants to make sure they stay down. Was hoping you'd join me at the marketplace by the docks. If there's anyone left to worry about, I know who can tell us.

We're taken back out to Strand. Most town screens are like this--a nice hand-drawn picture of the town, with a few areas we can travel directly do. We're still sort of in a tutorial right now, though--all that's available is the market. So we head over.

: Let me handle this.
You meander through rows of open-face houses and eroded stalls. Colored cavases flap on a briny current. One man in particular blanches as you approach.
: Hadd, I'm not in the mood today.
I, uh...I didn't get a picture of the merchant. Let's just go with this.
: For...for what?
: Talking to an idiot. The Skalfing's chieftain bled out about an horu ago, Hadd. So when you tell me what rat anus the rest of them crawled back into, nobody's going to try to kill you this time.
: I don't talk to...they don't talk to me!

: Eirik, need some help here?
: Hadd, I had a change of heart. I hope you do give us a hard time.
Hadd sweats visibly, fumbling with some dirty trinkets on his table.
: Wait, one of these. If everybody thinks I'm getting worked over every week how am I supposed to know much? Just a little food money, yeah?
You toss a sliver of silver on the table. Both men look at you with surprise. Hadd gestures meekly to a variety of junk from his stall.
: Only thing I'd like is the name of a place.
: Nobleman, up by east wall! But that was months ago, last I know.
Hadd skulks away with a wave of Eirik's hand, gathering things from his hovel. Disappearing for a while until this blows over, you figure. Your bodyguard steps forward.

: Are we done here?
: Gunnulf were you wearing green back at the great hall?
: No. Just bought 'em while you were walking around, why?
: You look like a frog.
: Better than an eggplant.
Gunnulf goes off to look at more stalls.

: Eirik, that man of your seemed unreliable at best.
: A blind dog wouldn't trust Hadd, but he used to be Skalfing. If they're licking their wounds, they've probably gone to old haunts, not new ones.
: Nobleman is a mead hall?
: Best I can tell, the name's ironic. Listen, I know a guy who would love to put a few of these skals in the ground. I'm going to find him. I'll meet you there.
: Shouldn't we have an approach of some sort?
: What a luxury. C'mon, you've already mopped up worse today.
: Just make sure the governor remembers his promise. Double the usual tithe.
: I'll remind him.

There's not really anything we can do here. We're on rails until we head to the Nobleman.

: That's the spirit! OK, here we go!
Valgard boots the front door open so hard it won't close again without repair. As you enter the hall Eirik is already at the head of a table, his axe drawn. Wide-eyed drunken Skalfings scramble to find their own weapons, turning tables and mead steins in the process.

Now we're in our first combat that we actually could lose. We won't, though my playing sloppy ends up leading to injuries.

You can position your characters (and in subsequent fights, your initial turn order) at the start of most battles. In this battle we've got Valgard, Gunnulf, Eirik, and that generic shieldbanger.

We've seen the 2 varl in action already. The 2 human units are new, though.
Valgard is a raider class, raidmaster kit. That means he gets "shield wall" as his passive--when standing next to an allied unit, that unit AND Valgard get +1 armor. This mean that if 2 raiders are next to one another, they each get +2 armor--1 from themselves, 1 from the ally. If for some reason you have a 2x2 block of raiders, everyone gets +4.

You won't get a 2x2 block of raiders ever.

He also gets the "stone wall" ability, in which he gets a temporary +3 armor resist. The AI doesn't see this, meaning he can run out and tank the shit out of a bunch of attacks while your less-protected allies get into position.

It's not as useful as it sounds. There's a character we'll get to shortly that has this skill as well and it's a lot more useful on him since he has access to items that'll force the enemy to attack him.

Eirik is a landsman class, whose passive ability is the ability to move through allied units. Helpful for dodging into and out of trouble. His active ability, "rally" allows him to trade his own willpower to an ally at a 2:1 ratio. Very helpful, though not until higher levels when you can go 6:3 and really move meaningful amounts of willpower.

We're up against a shitload of raider-backbiters (they run through an enemy, dealing armor damage, and then do strength damage. Very dangerous) and generic raiders who don't have an ability. We'll take 2 turns for each of their moves.

I group everyone up. The plan is to deal with the near raiders while the other nerds waste their turns just getting into melee range. It doesn't work particularly well.

Eirik stands back-to-back with Valgard, each getting a +1 armor bonus. But...who cares?

Gunnulf makes the first kill of the fight, splattering a swordsman. But also putting himself too close into harm's way.

This is why the "run through" ability is so dangerous. I thought I had Gunnulf protected by Eirik/Valgard/shieldbanger, but instead the guy just dashed through Valgard AND Gunnulf, shredding Gunnulf's armor and taking down his high strength. Bad move, me.

Things compound themselves as a healty backbiter does significant damage to Gunnulf. He won't be one-shotting anyone anymore.

At this point I figure Gunnulf's gonna go down, so I might as well try and feed some kills to Eirik.

A tempest kills one of the raiders, giving Gunnulf his second kill and making him eligible for promotion.

The enemy AI is coded to prioritize kills over pretty much anything. Gunnulf makes too tempting a target, and he goes down. He'll now need 6 days of rest before he's back in good fighting shape.

My shieldbanger goes down, too. I promise I'm better than this, but I also figured I didn't care too much about taking an injury to a temporary character.

Eirik dashes forward and avenges the shieldbanger, making himself promotion-eligible.

Despite taking two injuries, this fight was never really all that threatening. Eirik finishes things off, hogging kills.

We earn 10 renown for our efforts. Renown is your resource pool that's used for level ups and for trading.

: There they are. Gods be damned, I've got to go wash off this blood.
Eirik is looking out the hall's windows onto the bay. A fleet of longships approach with sails of bold reds and blues.
: One banner I know well. Vognir. Next for varl kingship, last we spoke. The other flag? Looks important.
: Yeah, important guests. See what I deal with all day long?
: Ah, things make a little more sense. You hoped i'd have a stake in saying "everything's fine here" when the royal guests arrived.
: Not me. The governor. Now I have to make sure there are no rotting bodies or pools of entrails still in the great hall before they come by. Can I ask one more favor?
: What is it?
: If you happened to stall our guests down on the docks, I wouldn't object.
: Maybe I will.
Eirik and Valgard hustle from the mead house. To his credit, Eirik toses the barkeep a spar of silver for the mess. You give an apologetic shrug, and go to greet the new arrivals down at the docks.

Next time: We meet the important guests.