Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Banner Saga: Factions - First Impressions

The Banner Saga: Factions is the online multiplayer component to the upcoming Strategy RPG (SRPG): The Banner Saga. Developed by Stoic, a fairly new indie developer comprised of some former Bioware devs, The Banner Saga was Kickstarted very successfully last year and is now on track to make a full release later this year. The Factions multiplayer portion of the game was released yesterday on Steam and is free to play for PC and Mac.

First thing I did when I got home yesterday was jump on Steam and get this sucker downloading. I have been craving a good Strategy RPG for a while now. It doesn’t help that everyone and their brother seems to be enjoying the crap out of the new Fire Emblem while I sit comatose in the corner lacking a 3DS entirely. But Stoic and The Banner Saga have come to save my poor ass. The single player campaign for The Banner Saga will cost money, and that is what I’m really looking forward to, but this online component is free and will do for now.

I had a very small amount of time to play the game, but what I did play touched me in all the special places. First, the art is stunning. It looks very much like a cartoon about Vikings with horns growing out of their heads, that I can play! How can that be bad? Everything is animated in this way, even the menu screens that usually get no mention in first impressions unless they are super awful. But they are great. The fluidity in which these animations run together is astonishing. I love a good art style in games more than good graphics in games and The Banner Saga delivers big time in this regard.

Factions starts out with a short cinematic and the Tutorial. The tutorial covers all the basics of combat and character customization. It’s pretty standard fare here. You have some units and as they fight, they gain renown for you. You use renown as general currency for things like recruiting new units and powering up your units when they can be promoted. The system has its own quirks, but anyone with a little SRPG background will be right at home as soon as the tutorial is done.

Once you finish the tutorial, you are free to customize your units and engage in battle with other players online either by Match Maker, or set up a private game with a friend. You’ll gain renown from these battles to use to further upgrade your units and recruit more. I played a few random games and found the overall system for matchmaking works reasonable well. It takes very little time to be paired with an opponent and in my limited time, it seemed to match people according to the power of their units. I cannot speak to how things are for more experienced players, but I never felt at a huge disadvantage for being new (The game came out yesterday for us peasants, but the Kickstarter backers have been playing for a week). My only gripe was the servers seemed to be a little unstable with some frequent drops. This is to be expected from day one of any multiplayer game however. It also helped that a dev from Stoic was chatting with people in the games chat channels apologizing for the hiccups.

With every free to play game, there is a store. I didn’t get too into it last night, but the basic fare seems to be cosmetic items and renown boosters. I have heard some people say you can buy straight power as well. I cannot verify these claims but that does invoke the dreaded pay to win mantra. I think the match maker probably sorts those people into the appropriate areas, so it may not be too big a problem.

The Banner Saga: Factions is free people. It has a full tutorial and free online multiplayer. It looks great and plays great. There is no reason for a fan of Strategy RPGs to not take a look. The Banner Saga single player campaign is due out later this year.

Throw a comment down below if you’d like to meet up for a battle or five.

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