Version Reviewed: 1.0.17
App Reviewed on: iPhone 6 Plus
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Thanks to the recent revival of the “old-school” immersive strategy RPG genre on PC, iOS has also been fortunate to reap the benefits. In reality, the touch interface is the perfect way to consume these expansive experiences on the go. Following in the stellar footsteps of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Shadowrun Returns, Banner Saga is facing a serious uphill battle. Fortunately, it looks like the game has more than enough resources in its pack to survive the assent to greatness.
Titles that feature the graphical polish of Stoic’s Banner Saga don’t come around every day. Seemingly pulling inspiration from the art style featured prominently in Disney’s animated films such as 1963’s “The Sword in the Stone,” the game tells two parallel storylines of parties venturing into the wilderness and relative unknown, with the simple goal of surviving to see another day. Amazingly, the animated aesthetic doesn’t dull the bite of the compelling storytelling and weighty decisions facing the player. People can die at virtually every juncture; so try not to get too attached to any one character.
The action itself plays out through the standard fare of conversational decision trees and third person tactical turn-based combat. Depending upon the abilities of any one character, as well as their prior achievements on the field of battle, they can be upgraded to better meet the steadily increasing challenge brought forth by AI combatants. Any player who is familiar with the tropes of the tactics genre will find that Stoic has stuck very close to the formula, which also reflects well on Banner Saga’s approachability.
Despite offering up an outstanding story and solid yet predictable combat, Banner Saga isn’t without fault. Even on the oversized iPhone 6 Plus screen it can be a struggle to perfectly select the proper cell on the grid or desired dialog option in a decision tree. Playing the game on the iPad’s larger form factor would undoubtedly help alleviate this issue more long term. Thankfully there is rarely an occasion where the game immediately plays off of a touch input, which allows for the player to quickly remedy any inadvertent mistakes.
Somehow, Stoic has managed to perfectly distill the experience of playing a hardcore PC tactics title in iOS form. No bones about it: this is the complete Banner Saga experience, with no compromises to the already critically-lauded gameplay. Not only is this a title that should be played, it should be savored like a fine digital wine.