I love this game.
The Banner Saga grabbed me in a way I didn't expect. I vaguely remember the game from it's early Kickstarter days, but completely forgot about it until it's release. And after watching about twenty seconds of a Let's Play, I bought it for it's art style alone. The game is gorgeous. It has a hand-drawn early Disney look. Or if you've ever seen the 1970's Hobbit/Lord of the Rings cartoons. It's a kind of regal, five frames per second type of art design. Sort of a moving painting.
The game itself is great too. The fact that the game is usually the second thing people mention is just a testament to the game's stylistic atmosphere created by the impeccable art and score by Journey's award winning composer Austin Wintory. The game is a sort of Final Fantasy Tactics - Oregon Trail hybrid. A large portion of the game is spent monitoring your caravan as a group of desperate survivors consisting of human clansmen, human warriors, and Varl (a horned giant race) wanders through a forever winter landscape fleeing from a race of stone giants called Dredge. You've got to decide when to camp, when to rest, keep everyone fed with supply rations, and deal with spontaneous encounters with strangers, or discontent in your caravan, or even wars. You choose from a number of equally difficult dialogue options that pretty regularly force you to decide between the lesser of two evils. You'll usually second guess your decision when a character dies. Even moreso if it was one of your mainly used hero characters.
The hero characters are utilized in the other half of the game. The Final Fantasy Tactics portion. During wars, or smaller conflicts, your team of around six heroes goes into a smaller, grid-based combat field. You position your fighters and take turns doing damage. If you're familiar with FF Tactics, XCOM, Advanced Wars, or Fire Emblem, you'll pick it up quickly.
A few unique wrinkles make this combat system stand out. Like your health and strength being the same number. So if you have max health, you do max damage. But low on health, and your character is essentially relegated to doing one damage, or having their attacks deflected. It's a smart and logical system, but without any way to regain health (no items or healing classes), it's usually just a bummer. But that fits the game's bleak Game of Thrones vibe. You'll lose a lot of battles, hero characters, and majority of your survivors. Making it to the next town is usually by the skin of your teeth.
And I was perpetually impressed by the game's story. Up until the game's "save the world from something that exists only to end the world" later chapters, the game is usually a struggle between equally flawed perspective's. The world is changing and no one knows why. The sun while ever present, is no longer heating the world, the dredge have returned, and everyone is at a loss. You'll be caught between racial boundaries, geographic boundaries, friendship boundaries, all while trying to raise your daughter. Sometimes making decisions based on food are as taxing as losing multiple battles in a row.
I can't recommend this game enough, and the entire time I was playing it, I felt sad that I was getting closer to finishing it. I want a sequel, as soon as possible. Make it a little longer, a little more open, and allow for more character customization, and this could be a franchise that competes with the best strategy RPG's.