RPGamer Feature - The Banner Saga 2 Interview
Banner Saga 2
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Stoic Studio
Publisher: Versus Evil
Release Date: 04.19.2016 (PC)

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The Banner Saga arrived a couple years ago after a solid Kickstarter campaign, and impressed gamers and critics alike with beautiful art and music, solid gameplay, and an engaging narrative. Stoic Studio released the sequel and second part of a planned trilogy in April, with its console version set for July 26, 2016. RPGamer sat down with Stoic co-owner and art director Arnie Jorgensen to discuss The Banner Saga 2.

Johnathan Stringer (RPGamer): Could you highlight some of the new additions and features in The Banner Saga 2?
Arnie Jorgensen (Stoic Studio): We feel that we have a good base combat system, but it could have had a little more variation in Saga 1, so we focused a lot on that. All the battles are now hand built and a lot more cinematic. We added more win conditions and they aren't all just 'kill them all' now. Maybe you'll have to kill this one boss, or perhaps clear a pass for the caravan to continue though. Units may walk onto, or off the board, and you'll see banter among the heroes as they discuss strategies with each other. The whole effect is that the combats now tie in a bit better to the story. Matt "Thug" Rhoades handled the bulk of the combat and did a fantastic job, we’re hoping the players really enjoy it.

We also focused a lot on the caravan management aspect of the game. The Clansmen now play a large role in the success of the caravan as a whole. The more Clansmen you have the more they'll forage while traveling through the world. After a War the Clansmen will also reward the hero with more Renown, so it's a very good idea to keep them alive. That being said, the player can now train them into Fighters, who will help protect the Clansmen during War, and also make the War more manageable for the heroes fighting it.

Heroes can now promote up to rank ten! They can chose a second class ability, and also unlock Talents, which are special perks awarded when a unit maxes out any stat. They may add a chance to dodge, a chance to avoid a killing blow or even a chance to deal double damage.

There also a myriad of upgrades in Banner Saga 2 to UI, tutorials, tool tips, etc. We'd be here a long time if I explained them all. Suffice to say that Banner Saga 2 is a larger, more polished experience than Banner Saga 1.

JS: Have the large-scale simulated battle scenes been fleshed out a bit more, and will the loss of supplies, and caravan soldiers and civilians have more of an impact in the sequel?
AJ: The War system has been completely rethought from Banner Saga 1. It actually makes sense now and its effects will be felt more by the player. The more Clansmen a player has in their caravan, and the more of them they keep alive during a War, the more Renown they'll shower on the player after it's over. It takes Fighters to protect them though, so it's a balancing act of keeping as many in the caravan as Clansmen, and also training a correct amount of Clansmen into Fighters. The player will also have decisions to make before the War that will affect how the combat plays out.

JS: Does the story pick up right where the first left off, or is there a gap?
AJ: There is a gap of about two weeks. The players who import a saved game will find some subtle changes to their caravan stats. They've picked up some more Clansmen, Fighters, and Supplies in Boersgard. All their heroes will be a minimum of Rank 3 since they all fought in the battle of Boersgard, and were able to promote in the interim.

The story, however, picks up right where they left off. They will be playing either as Rook, a bereaved father who is struggling to "keep it together" as his clan looks to him for guidance, or Alette, the daughter of a well liked clan leader who is trying to prove herself in a world dominated by men. How these stories play out will be up to the decisions the player makes.

JS: With the big decision at the end of the first game, has that increased scope dramatically for the sequel? Was it necessary to write two different dialog trees for both characters, or is there some overlap between them?
AJ: Drew McGee, the amazing writer on the game (he does a lot more than just write, however; he hooks up all the decisions in the game and basically establishes the flow and timing of the events; he's the MC of The Banner Saga; Wow, what a guy!) has written two stories based on which hero the player starts with. In the beginning of development, we were hoping to minimize the amount of differences between the two, but as he got deeper into the story, he realized this just wasn't acceptable. A bunch of warriors in the world of The Banner Saga simply aren't going to react the same to a proven male, like Rook, as they would to his teenage daughter who has a moral dilemma about killing anyone. So Drew worked really freaking hard to make both playthroughs different.

Aside from this, we've added a second whole caravan lead by Bolverk Bloodaxe, who players will recognize from the end of Banner Saga 1.

JS: Along the same lines, how are characters who could've been killed off in the first game handled in the sequel? I imagine it would be difficult to have those characters as plot devices if they died off in the first installment. Will players miss any content in this game if certain characters died in the previous one?
AJ: Will players miss any content if they don't have certain heroes alive? Yes. For instance, only four percent of players actually finished Banner Saga 1 with Egil alive, but he's a love interest for Alette! Drew had to carry all these heroes stories through in Banner Saga 2 as if every player had them all alive.

JS: With this game being in the middle of a planned trilogy, how do you handle the issue of making it as new and exciting as the first, and also have a compelling ending, when the player knows there will be a follow-up?
AJ: It's the middle story, The Empire Strikes Back of The Banner Saga, and I loved Empire. In Banner Saga 2 we go deeper into the mysteries surrounding the Dredge, the serpent, and the darkness threatening to engulf the land that seemed far off in Banner Saga 1. It gets a bit darker, a bit weirder, and a bit more involved.

JS: What were some lessons learned from the first installment that aided in the development of The Banner Saga 2?
AJ: I think we understood scope a bit better. I knew we couldn't fit fifteen new chapters into this game, like we originally thought we could in Banner Saga 1. Still, we have quite a bit left on the cutting room floor in Saga 2, which serves to make the experience tighter.

JS: With the success of The Banner Saga, do you feel any added pressure or expectations with this release in terms of quality or scope?
AJ: I definitely do. We have a pretty fervent community and the expectations for the second game are high, I don't want to let people down. Thankfully, we've received a lot of really positive feedback about Banner Saga 2 so far from players who I really trust. I think the players should look forward to a much improved experience.

JS: When I first met and interviewed the Stoic team, you were in a small studio in Austin, and since then, your studio arrangements have changed. How have these changes affected the development of The Banner Saga 2, and what are some the ways you handle the logistics behind it?
AJ: We're now fully "modern". We all work remotely with Drew, Matt, and I located in different cities in Texas. John logs in from Seattle, and then we have music, sound, QA, another artist (Igor Artyomenko), and voice actors located in Los Angeles, Australia, Canada, Russia, and Iceland. I've found this, like everything, has upsides and downsides. I love working from home and there's no going back, but often times it's hard to get someone to answer a question because they aren't sitting next to you, and it's hard to tell if they're even at their computer, or in the bathroom, or whatever. It slows up some communication, but we're getting better and better at minimizing the hiccups. I think we can do this because we're a tiny team. I don't blame larger teams for demanding employees come into an office.

Versus Evil is our publisher, but this isn't necessarily new, as they helped us launch The Banner Saga the first time around. There is no situation where they are anything other than an asset. John and I consider them a huge time savings for us and can't see doing what we're doing without a great publisher helping, as it's all just too much work to take on by ourselves.

JS: Austin Wintory did an excellent job with the first soundtrack, and will be returning for the second. Will some songs be used again, or will The Banner Saga 2 have an all new score?
AJ: Austin has created an entirely new score and it was performed by the Colorado Symphony. It's hard to top what he did for The Banner Saga, but I honestly think The '' 2 original soundtrack actually takes it up a notch. He just put it up for pre-order and made four songs available, have a listen for yourself!

The Banner Saga 2 OST

JS: Anything else you would like to add for the readers?
AJ: We deeply appreciate the people who are enjoying the game and we endeavor to keep them served up with full dishes of good Banner Saga stuff. We couldn't do any of this, any of our dream, without the excited community.

Special shout out to you as well, Johnathan, for taking in an interest when The Banner Saga was small enough for many to not care to take an interest in.

We thank Arnie for setting aside time to answer our questions concerning the release of the second part of The Banner Saga trilogy. We eagerly await the conclusion of the trilogy, and wish Arnie and the rest of Stoic Studio luck with its development.

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