The Let's Play Archive

The Banner Saga

by ProfessorProf

Part 2: Day 0: Nobleman

This is Ubin, our first perspective character. An old tax collector and historian.

I'm sure you'll get it, if not more.

It's been worse. We've got a lot of irons in the fire.
What does he want, exactly?
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.

Strand! A nice place.

I'll get to what all that HUD means later. For now, all we can do is go to the market.

You meander through rows of open-face houses and eroded stalls. Colored canvases flap on a briny current. One man in particular blanches as you approach.

Hadd, I'm not in the mood today.

Talking to an idiot. The Skalfing's chieftain bled out about an hour 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.

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, just... buy 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?

Human bickering tires us.

You motion to Gunnulf, your enormous bodyguard, who looms over the man like a snake over a mouse.

Gods! Eirik, laying it on a bit heavy, don't you think?
Where are the Skalfings?
Nobleman, up by the 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.

Gunnulf, were you wearing green back a the great hall?

Better than an eggplant.

Gunnulf goes off to look at more stalls.

Eirik, that man of yours 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 the 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.

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.

Still in the linear section! To the Nobleman.

"They ran to a mead house," says Valgard. "I'll be surprised if they can stand up straight right now. Ok, here we go."

Valgard boots the front door open so hard it won't close again without repair. As you under the hall, Eirik is already at he head of the table, his axe drawn. Wide-eyed, drunken SKalfings scramble to find their own weapons, turning tables ad mead steins in the process.

We're up to four heroes for our second battle! From left to right: Valgard, Eirik, Shieldbanger (he doesn't have a name), and Gunnulf. Two humans, two Varl.

Our opposition:

Eight thugs. The gray-shirts have 6 strength and 6 armor, and the beige-shirts have 8 strength and 5 armor, plus a special ability called Run Through. We'll probably see it in action soon.

I can reposition my men inside the blue area, but since I have no archers and this is going to be a pushover anyway, I don't bother.

Valgard's primary trait is his shield - his passive ability Shield Wall gives him and an adjacent ally +1 Armor when they're adjacent. His active ability, Stonewall, reduces the damage of all incoming attacks for 1 round by 3 points. It means he can't attack that turn, though, so it is of limited use.

Shuffling forward a bit - better to let them come to us.

This game's combat system is very sparse with hidden information. I know exactly how much damage every attack will do, how far every enemy can move, and what order everyone will act in. The only major uncertainty is the decisions my enemies take.

I can select any enemy to see their move range - as with me, the gold area is where they can move if they spend Willpower. Until one of them charges in, I'm moving everyone a single space short of the enemy's move-and-attack range.

The blue banner on the left is Eirik's stats. Not as strong as the varl, but he has less trouble maneuvering - his passive ability, Light Step, lets him move through spaces occupied by allies. His active ability, Rally, spends 1 Willpower to grant 2 Willpower to an ally.

Note that his Willpower is 7/5 - above the maximum. That's true for all of us, because our caravan's morale is fantastic.

Those two extra points of will are very handy. As a result, I don't feel any reservations about using one to push Shieldbanger into attack range of the thug who just charged in.

This is the most common tactical question in the game - Armor or Strength?

In this case, the answer is obvious. Their armor is so weak already that Shieldbanger can slam out 4 damage - not only will that kill them in two hits, but the first hit will drop them to 4 Strength, which isn't enough to do more than scratch any of us.

Gunnulf's stats, strangely, have changed completely since the tutorial. Most notable is the lack of gold area around his move space: He has no Exertion, so he can only spend his will on using Tempest.

Gunnulf advances, the thugs keep stumbling around each other while we remain out of reach.

This actually takes some consideration! I could rush in for the attack right now, but it would cost 2 will, and I'd risk Valgard getting mobbed. It might still be worth it, but...

What makes me ultimately reconsider is the fact that all of these thugs have Shield Wall - in that cluster, the one in the middle is at +6 Armor and the others are all at +2. I'm going to lurk outside of their attack range and wait for them to break up and come for me.

It pays off! The enemy still hasn't gotten a single attack off against me, and now Eirik is in range to punish the advance.

Eirik's Strength isn't very impressive, but he has 2 Exertion, so I can still do a full 4 damage here. 3 probably would've been fine, but eh.

The situation in this fight has changed as well! Shieldbanger was going to kill this guy in 2 hits, but an ally moved into range, and now they're giving each other Shield Wall bonuses. 2 extra Armor means that I can only take out 2 of his 4 remaining Strength, and since Shieldbanger only has 1 Exertion, he can't force the issue.

However, the turn roster shows me two important details: Neither of those two are acting next, and Gunnulf is coming up. So, a plan is formed.

Step 1: Shieldbanger moves out of the way and softens the thug up a bit.

Bleagh, that was crappy framing. Oh, well.

So that's Run Through. He charges through the enemy, inflicting 2 Armor damage, then turns around and does a Strength attack. This guy is just a feeble grunt, but in the right hands, it is seriously one of the best abilities in the game.

And here's step 2. When you have two adjacent enemies, and Gunnulf is near them, Tempest is the answer.

With the extra point of damage from Heavy Impact, this is nearly a double KO. The weaker thug dies, and the stronger is left with 2 Strength.

Note the light that just lit up on the horn at the top of the UI. Every time I kill an enemy, one of those five lights fills up. At any time, I can blow the horn to grant 1 Will to the person whose turn it is.

I'd like to take a moment to outline how awesomely complicated this game makes the simple strategical minigame of who to attack and how. First, I have to choose between strength and armor - the former is the only way to victory, and a single Strength hit reduces the damage dealt by the target for the rest of the battle, but a single Armor hit increases the damage they take from every attack of the rest of the battle, so you have to judge how low you want to bring each enemy's Armor before going for the kill. Then on top of that, there's the actual, legitimate question of whether to finish off a weakened foe or injure a healthy one. Once an enemy's Strength is low enough, they can barely hurt you at all, so leaving them alive doesn't seem like a huge crisis. On the other hand, they can still do full damage on Armor attacks. On the other hand, because of how turn order works, every slain weak enemy means more actions for their stronger allies. On the other hand, killing an enemy can give you the Willpower you need to survive elsewhere.

It's wonderful.

One of the thugs from the back gets in a hit on Gunnulf in retaliation! I'd be worried, but Gunnulf's Strength is an insane 15 - even after both of those hits, he does as much damage as my Shieldbanger.

In this case, the thing to do is to keep an eye on the turn order. This thug was acting next, and still has 8 Strength, so that needs dealing with.

Good thing, too - that Run Through would've done 5 damage to Gunnulf if I hadn't weakened him just now. The enemy is focusing on my heavy hitter, whose Armor is getting very low.

This move from Eirik serves two purposes. First, getting that Strength down from 8 before he can attack. Second, blocking his movement - now he can only reach the two humans, who both have 10+ Armor. Unfortunately, Eirik's subpar Strength and the enemy's Shield Wall means that even with full will usage, it's only 3 damage.

Did I mention that Run Through can hit multiple people? It goes forward 3 spaces, and the 2 spaces in the middle are both subject to attack. So, 1 varl or 2 humans. Seriously an absurdly good ability.

And here is one of the rare pieces of RNG in the game. If you Strength attack someone whose Armor matches or Exceeds your Strength, the attack will do 1 damage, but there's a random chance it will be deflected, doing no damage instead.

Looking around the map, this is the only guy with more than 6 Strength left, so let's fix that.

Gunnulf is in a bad place here. From ruthless enemy swarming, he's down to 3 Armor and 6 Strength - barely enough to damage his enemies. Also, because of the enemy positioning, he can't actually move from that spot.

Hell with it - he's gonna get a kill before he goes down.

And a level up! I'll talk more about how that works later, but kills are experience. Gunnulf eats another hit on the enemy turn, dropping him to 4 Strength.

This move with Valgar serves two purposes. First, killing off another thug...

...and second, establishing a Shield Wall with Gunnulf. 1 extra Armor doesn't seem like much, but it moves him from taking 2 damage to 1 damage here, effectively doubling his life expectancy.

Another kill, but...

Gunnulf had 4 Armor and 3 Strength left. The thug had 6 Strength and 1 Exertion. Putting a point of will into his attack was just barely enough to drop Gunnulf.

Units falling in battle has consequences reaching beyond the battle itself. More on that when it becomes relevant.

The two enemies on the left are the only real threats on the map at this point - both are at full Armor and Strength. Still, I'm going after this straggler for a reason.

If Shieldbanger has gone in close, the thugs could have stood their ground and hit back. Because I remained at a distance, he had to move to attack anyone, breaking up his Shield Wall.

And once he's out of his Shield Wall, Valgar kills him in one hit.

From here on out, it's pretty much wrap up. Eirik gets the kill and promotes, beginning Pillage. Valgar finishes off the last one.

Victory is mine!

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 are there are no rotting bodies or pools of entrails still in the great hall before they come by.

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 tosses 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.