"...while the story and art direction are more or less a continuation of the previous game, the team tried very hard to beef up the combat and create even more variety in the gameplay."
Going in to E3, The Banner Saga 2 was my most anticipated appointment. I loved the first game and could not wait to see how the series would evolve in the second entry. I was not disappointed with what I saw or played.
The story picks up shortly after the events of The Banner Saga, and players can import their save to carry over all of their choices from the previous game. Players also have the option of starting fresh if they were not happy with the outcome of some of their previous choices.
Although Drew McGee is new to his position as head writer, he had been heavily involved in writing the previous game and assured me that his main priority was telling a contiguous story across the entire trilogy. I was pleased with the writing, particularly with dialogue options giving me a choice in how to express my character while still feeling true to the situation.
Speaking of, the situation of the caravan remains dire in the sequel; the survivors of Boersgard are attempting to reach the human capitol while fending off the dredge at every turn. McGee hinted that this installment would focus heavily on understanding who the dredge are as a people and how they fit into this world. The centaur-like horseborn will also make an appearance, but I did not get a chance to meet any in the demo.
Programmer John Watson told me that while the story and art direction are more or less a continuation of the previous game, the team tried very hard to beef up the combat and create even more variety in the gameplay. From the very first fight they introduced destructible obstacles on the battlefield and a new unit that is essentially a bard; his ability will buff an ally to allow them to deal extra damage when attacking a stronger enemy. His passive ability will earn extra renown when he is adjacent to an ally that kills an enemy. Another new unit that I saw, but did not get a chance to use, was the Shield Maiden, who can reduce an enemy’s armor at the expense of her own.
There are also new enemy types like the invisible Skulker, who hunt in packs, and the Direguard. The Direguard can alter the ground to damage units who walk over it, but killing it will frighten the dredge and end the battle early.
In addition, Watson said the fights will have more of a narrative focus. Combatants will banter and converse more during combat, and actions will trigger story events. Also, player decisions will affect the battlefield more directly than ever; in one fight I directed Oddleif to support me with her archers, so during combat she was on the sidelines firing her arrow traps.
Stoic has made changes to the caravan as well. For instance, the clansmen will now gather supplies and spread word of your deeds to earn you more renown. Moreover, you can convert some of them into fighters in your army, although more hungry soldiers will put a drain on your food stores.
Army battles will also make a comeback, and though I did not get to try any I am told they will be improved as well. One improvement is that players can keep advisors who give counsel during army battles on how best to proceed.
Austin Wintory is back as composer for The Banner Saga 2, and the game sounds great. John Watson also told me that certain events in combat will trigger subtle changes to the battle score, which should add a nice immersive touch.
I cannot overstate how excited I am for this game. The team is aiming for a Winter 2015 release, but from everything I have seen it will be worth the wait.