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Review: ‘The Banner Saga’ — Eat, Fight and Be Merry

'The Banner Saga' offers a strategy/RPG that is simple, refined and more than a little somber — and quite beautiful in its harshness.

An ax of cold

Graphics and art

"The Banner Saga" looks both subdued and cartoonish, making use of a palette of whites, blues and browns, with limited use of red and green buried underneath a layer of powdery snow. The characters are hand-drawn and animated with artistic black lines highlighting each facial crag and brawny muscle. If one of Ralph Bakshi's films became a video game, it would look very much like this.

Although some of the animation's jerkiness is probably intentional, it still feels a bit off during battle. Watching characters take a hit, shudder, revert to a standing position, fall to their knees and collapse in four distinct motions breaks the flow of combat, and also makes it difficult to tell whether a character is injured or knocked out until the animation is complete.

Music and sound

The sound effects and limited voice acting in "The Banner Saga" are just fine overall, but the score is easily one of the game's strongest points. From haunting choirs to moody strings, the minimalistic, somber melodies help drive home the game's danger and bleakness.

MORE: 15 Best Mobile Strategy Games

The use of silence is also quite effective — marching across a snowy tundra with nothing but the howl of the wind makes it feel less like a heroic quest and more like a desperate struggle for survival.

The bottom line

Not everyone will appreciate the punishing difficulty and austere tone of "The Banner Saga." Anyone in the market for a deep strategy/RPG would be wise to check it out, though. The unprecedented level of control over the story and pitch-perfect production values take a good game and elevate it into something worthy of the treasure halls of Asgard.

Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: Stoic
Genre: Strategy/RPG
Price: $24.99
Release Date: Jan. 14, 2014
Platforms: PC, Mac

Requirements (PC):

OS: Windows XP SP3
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space

Requirements (Mac):

OS: MAC OSX 10.7.5
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space

Follow Marshall Honorof @marshallhonorof and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi. 

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