The Banner Saga is a series of tales set in a fantasy north, where humans struggle to co-exist with the varl, a race of horned giants. They live in the shadow of a race of armored beings known as the Dredge, forcing them into an uneasy alliance. One day, the Dredge attack again, threatening all of mortal civilization.The gameplay is reminiscent of both Tactics Ogre and The Oregon Trail, with a lot of difficult moral choices thrown in.There is also a free-to-play spinoff named The Banner Saga: Factions focused entirely on player-versus-player combat.
This video game provides examples of the following tropes:
All There in the Manual: There's tons of lore and world building on the map that you're given in the game, and characters are given backgrounds on their character pages. There's also a lot of information that is only given if you inspect the godstones.
Always Chaotic Evil: The Dredge, who don't even speak. They just attack. Turns out, they must have had a reason for going to war each time.
An Axe to Grind: Rook has one as his up-close weapon, with a bow for distance. Many other characters have a one-handed version.
Anyone Can Die: The majority of the cast can be killed in some way or other, depending on the player's choices. There is at least one occasion where the player is forced to choose which main character(s) live and which die.
Badass Beard: It's a game about fantasy vikings. So, of course, a lot of them will have epic beards to go with their battle prowess.
Bittersweet Ending: The Dredge army has been broken due to the defeat of Bellower, but it came at the cost of either Alette or Rook, not to mention any other party member that died along the way. And while we're at it, Bellower's not really dead, he's just tricked into thinking he is.
Plus, the world is still ending and there's some sort of Evil Giant God Snake revealed.
BFS: Varl naturally have weapons appropriate to their size, which includes swords as long as a man is tall.
Big Damn Heroes: Hakon's caravan arrives at Boersgard just when it looks like the city is about to fall to the might of Bellower.
Crapsack World: The copious amounts of information available on the map paint a picture of a joyless world that is downright hostile to life in most places, and merely survivable at best. And now that world seems to be coming to an end, as the sun freezes in place in the sky and the human and varl kingdoms are being overrun by dredge who, it transpires, were driven out of their own lands by some yet-to-be-explained creeping shadow. Oh, and what appears to be the World Serpent is roaming about casually destroying entire mountains.
Critical Existence Failure: Averted for once, as the unit's strength, whether allied or hostile, is directly tied to their health. They more wounded they get, the less damage they'll be able to deal. Thus, the best combat strategy is to wound all enemy troops before killing any of them. Conversely, your heavily wounded soldiers become nigh-useless, and it's better to suicidally throw them into the fray rather then letting Dredge cripple more soldiers.
Cutscene Incompetence: No matter if the archer who shoots Bellower is behind a bunch of Varl with shields raised, Bellower will always find a way to grab him/her.
Dark Is Evil: There is a vague "darkness" consuming the land from the north, so dark that it even scares the Dredge and the world-eating serpent.
Decapitated Army: Once Bellower falls, the rest of the dredge following him retreat and go their separate ways.
Doomed Hometown: Skogr, which is abandoned when it's attacked by the dredge.
Elite Mook: Any enemy Varl, and all large-sized dredge. The Dredge themselves have an additional special class, the Sundr, who have special names like Razer and Bellower.
Eureka Moment: If Rook attempts to solve the puzzle box, then decides to take a rest, he has a flash of inspiration in the middle of the night and manages to solve it.
Evil Twin: The dredge are one to the varl and humanity, having been "created" by another god that was jealous of the Loom-mother. The dredge also have one to the menders, in the form of their stonesingers, which seem to also be part of some kind of priesthood.
Fiery Redhead: Played with in the case of Alette. She refuses to Stay in the Kitchen like the other girls of the village but becomes very close to breaking down when she and Rook encounter dredge in the forest near Skogr.
Foreshadowing: The game will often subtly hint at the long-term consequences of any major decision that needs to be made. For instance, Onef will invariably betray the player if recruited. This is hinted at both by his class name — "Backbiter" — and by pre-order exclusive Tryggvi near the start of the game, who will tell the player, "do not trust a man, just because they have faces and use their mouths. A man will look at your (sic) right through his helmet and lie."
Giant Mook: Not only any large dredge, but also any Varl as well.
God Is Dead: All of the pantheon has died somehow (they apparently all killed each other) and now the sun has stopped in the sky.
Good Scars, Evil Scars: Hogun and Mogun, the twins, can be distinguished because Mogun has a scar across his face. Yrsa also has a scar across her face, though it isn't as pronounced as Mogun's.
Gory Discretion Shot: When the time comes, Bellower will grab the person who shot the arrow towards him, they will dangle in the air... and a sickening crunch can be heard but the crushing motion itself is not shown on-screen.
Grey and Gray Morality: There are no easy choices. Men and Varl do what they can to survive, and sometimes this appears to conflict with your own needs, but there are no 100% right answers.
Great Offscreen War: Two of them. The first was between humans and varl and ended in a stalemate at what would become the Red River, the second was between humans, varl and dredge when the dredge appeared in the north. The humans and varl made peace and turned on the dredge, and the war eventually ended with the dredge being driven north.
Grim Up North: Not only is the entire land grim, but north is said to be where the dredge make their homes after the second great war.
Egil, one of the most sturdy characters the player has access to in battles, can die permanently on at least four different occasions throughout the game, usually as a random casualty from a poor judgement made much earlier. Keeping him alive is as much luck as anything — there is even an Achievement in the Steam version for keeping him alive throughout the entire game, and it is one of the rarest unlocked.
Half-Human Hybrid: The Varl were made as a combination of man and beast, probably yox. There are also the horseborn, who seem to be centaurs according to the rough drawings on the map.
Handicapped Badass: Iver barely even seems to notice it when he loses an arm to Bellower. After a few days unconscious, he returns in full force, both as a party member and as an important member of the cast.
Heroic Sacrifice: It's possible for Egil to run in front of a dredge's mace, sacrificing himself to save Alette.
Hold the Line: There are many moments where you may choose to hold the line, rather than attack or retreat. Also, fighting endlessly on the bridge at Einartoft, and surviving the final siege at Boersgard.
Hopeless Boss Fight: Iver vs Bellower at the bridge to Einhartoft, where you control Iver by himself. The game even uses different stats for Iver for this part.
Interspecies Adoption: At Godstone Ingrid, you find a dead female dredge and her baby. You can argue to take the baby with you, and though it isn't popular the rest of the caravan will defer to your judgement.
It Can Think: While the dredge seem to just be mindless monsters at first, as the game progresses their society becomes more complex and you learn more about them.
Law of Chromatic Superiority: Bellower, a massive red dredge known as a Sundr that is also apparently immortal. There are also the red slag slingers, who are more powerful than their other variants.
Long Lived: Varl live for hundreds of years, and nobody knows exactly what their natural lifespan is, mostly because they're more likely to fall in battle before they die of old age.
Luckily My Shield Will Protect Me: In general, units who have shields will have high Armor (blue number), and therefore excellent survivability. They also have higher chances of deflecting attacks outright.
Mythopoeia: The world has a vast mythology and two unseen great wars before the beginning of the main game.
Oh Crap: The caravan flying the Banner of the Prince has a collective one when they crest a hill to see that Grofheim, capital of the varl, has been besieged and destroyed by the dredge.
One-Gender Race: The varl, since each of them are made individually by Hadrborg, the god that created them. Now that Hadrborg is dead, no more varl will be made. Averted with the dredge. Everyone only sees the males, which are normally the only ones that go to war.
Only Mostly Dead: The plan to take down Bellower in the end is to injure him with a special arrow made of silver that Juno can use to influence his mind into thinking he's dying. He'll be like that for a period of time before he realizes he isn't dead.
Our Hero Is Dead: Whoever you choose to shoot the arrow to wound Bellower in the finale, whether it be Rook or Alette, the chosen one will die.
Pyromaniac: How the varl, who apparently are mildly pyrophobic, view siege archer Yrsa, given her slightly unsettling presence and preferred method of battle. Her conversation with Hakon suggests she might be playing it up a bit just to mess with them, though.
Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Banner of Skogr (i.e. Rook's party), since it is a caravan of starving refugees and whoever is crazy enough to join such a group.
Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The massive serpent that slithers around the land, and speaks to Juno later in the story.
Robot War: The Dredge don't even seem to be organic, and are referred to as "Stone Men". They also summon help by using their weapons as tuning forks. Subverted - they have women and children among their species.
Sadistic Choice: You'll be given many, such as during the escape from Skogr. The dredge are attacking the caravan and things are falling apart: do you save as many supplies as you can, try and keep people together, or help the chieftain and other warriors fight off a group of dredge?
Scenery Gorn: Various scenes of destruction, such as the serpent bringing down mountains and the view of the burning ruins of Grofheim.
Scenery Porn: The backdrops to the traveling montages are beautiful.
Survivors Guilt: Rook or Alette develops this for each other, depending on who shoots Bellower. Alette has a more standard reaction, while Rook is too emotionally shattered to express almost anything.
Timed Mission: Food and caravan members are finite, so, you must hurry along.
Title Drop: A "banner saga" is a story woven into a banner. There's also the Menders, the Tapestry of the World, the Loom-mother god, etc.
You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: This is the real reason why Onef tells Rook's caravan where his bandits stash their supplies - Onef was done with Frostvellr and figured that his chances of survival were better with Rook. He later pulls this on Rook when Onef starts to believe that Rook's new allies will put him in danger.