The Stoic March under the banner continues...
The Banner Saga 2's playable demo was packed at PAX Prime. The game, the second chapter of the series that started as a Kickstarter by former BioWare developers at Stoic, retains its gorgeous Ralph Bakshi-inspired animated visuals and intense, difficult gameplay.
Stoic took player feedback to heart in crafting the new entry in the series. One of the major criticisms was the lack of an integration of the combat and story mechanics. Now certain character and story elements come up during specific battles, integrating the two more thoroughly.
As an animation nerd, The Banner Saga tickles my funny bone in general, and was why I was willing to toss some money in its direction when its first Lickstarter came around (though I've been so busy I've neglected to actually play the first game since its release and didn't contribute enough to get more than the first episode). The art remains the same gorgeous rotoscoped style—rotoscoping is an animation technique where actors are filmed and then traced over as a guide for the animation—with the relatively high (and expensive) 24fps of its hand-animated strategy RPG characters.
Additionally, the game has loosened up some and no longer forces the player to choose between cool items or resources to keep their Oregon Trail-like wagon train alive. This frees up the game for more combat effect items without having to worry about squandered resources during the movement sections.
The demo itself opens with a choice between one of two characters from the end of the first game that determines whom you play in the following game, entering almost immediately into a fight with the enemy Dredge. This combat continues with the player rescuing a bard whose village is under attack by the Dredge. Though it wasn't until a later combat after his rescue that I discovered the bard's ability to buff your characters with stories or songs that temporarily increase stats. It also showed off the game's destructibles, barriers that can be placed/destroyed as a tactical element.
Following him back to his village they join you on your way after making purchases, speaking to prominent characters, and upgrading and managing your heroes. After this, the whole group ends up heading downriver on a set of longboats, before an ambush at the top of a waterfall by The Dredge forces you to take to shore to fight again.
Combat is mostly the same here but with a new special condition for winning. By targeting and killing the enemy commander, you can end the combat without having to defeat each individual enemy. The commander was significantly tougher than the other Dredge, meaning a lot of attacks needed to be dedicated to reducing his armor's efficacy first. Even knowing this, I nearly lost the battle, just barely surviving by the skin of my teeth to come up with the thank-you message for playing the demo.
While the combat scenarios remained fundamentally the same as prior entries from what I was told by devs, there were interesting tweaks here and there that optimize the experience. As in The Banner Saga, the character interactions were vastly different from each other depending on which of the two characters the demo started with (again, determined by the player actions at the end of the first game). This carries over to the secondary characters as well, all of whom have their own arcs and narratives, which may also split and divide based on player choices.
As mentioned The Banner Saga 2 continues with the beauty that was in The Banner Saga, and while the demo had temp music from the first game, I was told that Austin Wintory was composing a brand new score for the game. The game is targeting a winter release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. I'm definitely going to playing the first title now that I've had a chance to try the second.