Games of 2014: The Banner Saga

Stoic’s evocative role-playing adventure works hard to make you feel the weight of its world. The enormity of the situation lies heavily on the shoulders of its cast and it’s both absorbing and affecting to watch them trudge slowly across harsh, wintry landscapes, Austin Wintory’s fittingly mournful score soundtracking their journey. In close-up your heroes look haggard, and in battle the animation gives you a sense of the sheer effort involved: aching muscles swinging heavy swords with a mixture of desperation and weariness.

Its narrative establishes from the off that this is a punishing, capricious world, and so when you’re forced into tough decisions and things go horribly awry as a result, you’re more ready to accept such unfairness rather than be frustrated by it. I’ve begun to tire of the prevalence of grim fantasy, but there’s a powerful streak of humanity that shines through the darkness, and those moments of compassion and benevolence resonate all the more. It puts you right among people who are clinging onto life in the face of overwhelming odds, and asks you to make choices that might well doom some of them. You’ll feel that weight, all right.

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