Banner Saga Out Now For Backers, Everyone Next Week

By Nathan Grayson on February 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

Friends, countrymen, flowing cloth aficionados, lend me your ears. OK, now put those away, because they’re not very good for reading. The Banner Saga: Factions – the free-to-play intro to Stoic’s world of handsomely bearded vikings and handsome-beard-stroking strategy (no word yet on an immersion-enhancing handsome beard peripheral) – will be out for everyone next week. Better still, it’s open to some of everyone right now. Specifically, those who raised a hearty mug of monetary ale to Stoic’s success on Kickstarter. But wait, what about that sprawling, vaguely Biowarian single-player epic you paid for? Well, the former Biowarers (sp?) at Stoic are calling Factions a necessary first step.

First up, here’s the plan for Factions going forward. In short, backers get exclusive events and a neat green banner stone this week. After that, however, the floodgates open. So community manager Sean Dahlberg wrote in a forum post:

“The current characters, stats and rankings have been wiped for the last time and the game is essentially now LIVE, along with a fully functional tutorial. Later in the week we’ll be holding the first tournament exclusively for backers. Factions will be released to the public on Feb 25th. If you’ve been waiting for beta to end before trying the game, this is your week.”

This release also serves as a mighty, avalanche-summoning horn blast from Stoic that Banner Saga’s combat systems are tightly tuned and ready for prime time. So then, the next step(s)? Travel, conversation, and everything else its multi-chapter single-player story demands.

Which, from the sound of things, is quite a lot. And by “things,” I mean this gargantuan chat we had with Stoic in Austin late last year. Originally, the plan was to have Chapter One out “early” in 2013, but it sounds like things might be moving slightly more slowly than initially anticipated. Mostly because that’s right now. But then, these things are unavoidable sometimes – especially when your entire dev team can be counted on one hand. Thankfully, however, my patience tends to go up quite a ways when I can stitch flowing tapestries into soaring, silent, ever-enduring cultural odes. Oh, and I guess I like the viking fights too or whatever.

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42 Comments »

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  1. Feferuco says:

    Anybody here used to play Dofus Arena? I used to, fun times. Fun times will be had next week.

  2. Choca says:

    Cool, maybe we’ll finally get some fights going on without having to wait forever in matchmaking.

  3. Teovald says:

    For other backers, you can access this version, but you have to create a forum account and wait for the activation. I am still waiting for mine, looks like it is at most only once a day.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Siresly says:

    Only really care about the singleplayer, so I’ll wait for that. Would’ve been somewhat irked by their decision what with the whole multiplayer microtransaction thing after the Kickstarter ended otherwise.

    • Cosm says:

      Yeah, I really loved this game during the beta because you had enough renown to have a full team and change your build up, etc. Now that they’ve made it so you either have to grind or pay for it, I have no desire to play the multiplayer because it takes so long to get new units and promote them. Now you have the problem where if no one your level is on, you get matched against someone lower or higher, and that is no fun for either side. Both progression in competitive MP games and microstransactions really annoy me, so I’ll just wait for the single player now most likely. Sucks because this game was amazing in beta. I wish they would’ve just made cosmetic stuff what you grind/pay for.

    • AngoraFish says:

      I’m only in for the single player also. I was willing to give multi a go in the absence of an alternative, however after the very short tutorial mission there is no option for even a couple of trial runs against bots (or even stationary figures), so game stays sadly unplayed.

      I appreciate that the devs argue that working on the free to play version before the single player version everyone backed will ultimately result in a better single player game, but in the end that sounds a lot like an excuse to me.

      I didn’t pitch in seed funding to pay for a development of a multiplayer free to play game, which wasn’t exactly the focus of their pitch. As a backer, this game has been a big disappointment for me so far.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I can certainly see your point, and I’m most interested in the SP side, too. However, having been into Factions on and off for a while I can see that, in focusing on a supremely balanced (and extensively tested) MP game first, Stoic are really showing they care about getting the mechanics right. I’d rather they nail the more demanding balance issues in MP and build the SP around that than they do it the other way around. If you see what I mean?

        • AngoraFish says:

          Playing against an AI is very different from playing against people.

          PvP balancing is largely about tweaking the game to reduce the effectiveness of over-used tactics and minimising exploits. Against an AI, all the work goes into tuning the AI logic so that it is somewhat effective against a real person. Managing exploits, for example, is not an issue.

          Balancing is not required at all for a campaign since the flow of the campaign manages the difficulty level by adding new/extra units and abilities to the AI’s arsenal. Asymmetrical armies are not an issue. And on a related note, how is the campaign going to be tuned to cater for both multiplayer 600-game veterans and those whose only experience of the game is a few battles earlier in the campaign?

          I also note that the game was sold as heavily story-driven (across multiple yet to be released chapters), not combat driven. It seems that we’re still a long way off from seeing any ‘story’ at all.

          • sweetjer says:

            I didn’t really want to post another text brick in defense of this game, but as a 600 game veteran here’s my thought on the SP implementation: since the combat works rather like a puzzle already, I imagine the experience/data they’ve gotten through the beta gives them additional insight into the ways their systems can be pushed and manipulated for the purpose of making better puzzles in the single player game. They’ve also completely reworked abilities that weren’t fun or reduced the strategic complexity of the game. Unnecessary? Maybe, I dunno, I don’t work in game design. Fun as hell? Definitely. It has been. And a great community devoid of knee-jerk reactions and crazy anonymous whinery. I get the impression you haven’t played much, and instead are vocally reacting to a perceived slight regarding your investment or whatnot. A good place to bring those concerns would be the developers.

        • Thants says:

          I think it’s impossible to make a supremely balanced free2play multiplayer game.

      • Balbina says:

        I was in for the single player too. I’ve now put in 100 hours into Factions and am still blown away by how amazing it is. I’d never played any mulit player before and i never liked chess, but this game has so many elements going on, the battle of wits, the artwork, the Vikings, and the amazing community participating that I can’t wait to play every day. Heck, sometimes i log on just to get in on the banter.

        AngoraFish, the mulitplayer has a lot to do with the single player, and the very good folks at Stoic are working their butts off to make the Saga even better. The multi player is the combat component of the single player and, in my opinion, worth it all on its own. I was a backer and I’m happy to add to the pot that keeps their small team going.

        Cosm, I agree that the initial base team feels a bit like a grind, but it really doesn’t take long to promote a couple of units and then you’re back into the swing of things and the fights are that much more dynamic.

        I hope all you folks that didn’t get a chance to play the beta get in there and give it a try. And stick it out through those intial defeats! I’m pretty sure i lost my first 20 matches, but now feel all the more accomplished for it!!

        • Premium User Badge

          particlese says:

          Also in for the single-player here. And for the artwork, dev posts*, and what will probably be an amazing soundtrack. I’ve been kept busy by Other Things so haven’t had/made the time to try Factions, but I’m glad to hear it’s so enjoyable. A good story can be tarnished by a lack of fun elsewhere…

          *I think these game-dev posts/videos are my favorite parts of Kickstarter rewards. They have that “I’m in the beta!” excitement about them, on top of being interesting for their behind-the-technical-scenes content.

  5. guygodbois00 says:

    Thanks for the news, Mr Grayson. Was waiting for this quite eagerly.

  6. karthink says:

    I’ve played 31 games in the beta and I’ve won once. I enjoy the aesthetics and the depth of the combat. I just can’t seem to get any practice without getting crushed.

    I’m not a competitive person, but being trounced twenty five times in a row can crush anyone’s spirit. I’ll wait for bots or the singleplayer.

    • sweetjer says:

      hey karthink, I’ve been in the beta since november. There are a few of us in the game who have put in A LOT of time. The reason is because this game is truly the deepest and most engaging turn based strategy this side of chess. It’s better than XCOM (by leagues), and most people paid 50 dollars for that. You’re catching uneven matches because there’s a fairly small playerbase currently and a fair amount of those players are the hardcore ones I mentioned. I paid stoic money for renown because I want to support the devs who made my favorite title in ages, and also cause I completely missed the kickstarter campaign. When this game launches to the public I have full faith in stoic’s ability to make fair matches happen. That’s the point, I think. Progression doesn’t matter as much in this game because matches at any level are fun, as long as you are matched evenly. So I’d say, if anything, don’t quit the game, but maybe wait until next week when the game launches to the public and there’s a larger playerbase to work with (meaning more accurate matchmaking). Stoic is also taking steps to improve the matchmaking algorithm as we speak. I played 600 hundred matches (roughly 300 hours of client time) when we were all on even footing at rank 1 and I can say, again, and wholeheartedly, progression doesnt matter; as long as matches are fair it’s fun.

  7. internisus says:

    Bit of a dumb question considering I’m a backer who should know better, but, for someone only interested in the single-player story experience that will be Chapter One, is this Factions business worth bothering with as anything more than a demonstration of the combat? Does the tactical action have any sort of storytelling frame, for example? Are the fights connected by some narrative?

    • karthink says:

      No connection.

    • Cosm says:

      The new tutorial shows sort of what the cutscenes/voice-acting is going to be like, but other than that no. Basically it’s just different teams competing in Strand, which is the big trade city of the world.

    • internisus says:

      Sounds like a mere demo that I can certainly skip, then. Thanks to you both!

      • sweetjer says:

        I say try it out even if you have just passing interest…it’s going to be free to play in less than a week. I bought into the beta on a whim and have neglected my enormous backlog of games ever since. Also if it’s a demo, then the multiplayer components of all games henceforth shall be known as demos.

  8. JFS says:

    Factions’ art and style is super gorgeous, the mechanics seem interesting. However, without a serious investment of either grind time or hefty sums of money you’re not going anywhere. I’d have to win at least three more battles (each of which takes around 30 minutes) to even promote one lowly Archer. Around that time, I’ll have my whole team ready for promotion, but no renown (ingame currency) to do so – not even talking about extending my roster, hiring new fighters or customizing anyone’s stat points.

    The microtransaction design in this game is seriously flawed, since it hinders game progress in an extreme fashion. Just bashing your starting army against an identical starting army is just not fun after two games, either. Combine this with outrageous prices, and Factions is already a goner in my eyes. Seriously, 5 $ to change the colour on a single unit, or 20 dollars for a renown bonus per battle that only pays off after 166 battles… and the worst thing, you’re practically able to buy advantages, such as a “starter set” with advanced units for 13 $ (at the moment, mind you, since those are all the already *discounted* prices for early adopters).

    I’m still looking forward immensely to Banner Saga itself, and I’m glad I backed as the underlying systems and the art are top-notch.

    • Reapy says:

      Troubling, was looking forward to trying this out, but if you are dead in the water with a starter team for a long while there really is no point for me.

      It’s also troubling in general their thoughts on how badly they think they can teabag their customers with their meager content. Makes me want to revisit whether I’ll go for the single player game at all.

      • JFS says:

        It is my perception that starting out is not that much fun and seems very grindy. Still, I’m not a multiplayer gamer and don’t play F2P games very much (mainly just Realm of the Mad God), so maybe I’m just the wrong guy to judge. Might be it isn’t that bad compared to other F2P games. Maybe you should just try it as soon as it’s available, but yeah, I guess I expected better.

        • AlexStoic says:

          Hi guys! Hmm, it wasn’t our intention to make the game not fun and be crushed early on, this is the kind of feedback we want right now, so thank you. We’ve also gotten a lot of feedback about hindering progress and we’re super-concerned about that. We’re looking into how we can adjust the whole thing before launch to feel more balanced.

          As for buying advantages, that shouldn’t be the case. You should be getting matched against players with equal power regardless of how they got to that level. We’re looking seriously into all this stuff right now. Thanks!

          • Premium User Badge

            Johnny Law says:

            The point-based matchmaking is a great idea, but presumably the reality of the situation is that you can’t always find an exact match. I know in my first game I was matched against a dude with an advanced/customized army anyway.

            Have you considered doing any handicapping when there’s an uneven match? For example how XCOM gives the first move to the lower-points team. (Apologies if that’s already the case and I just didn’t notice.)

          • Premium User Badge

            Illessa says:

            Have you considered having some sort of “team of the week” pregen that new players can take for a whirl to let them feel a bit more powerful and test drive some advanced class builds? That way if people get bored of using the base classes they have other options for accumulating renown.

          • Frank says:

            @Illessa: I think that would go a long way towards making the game more fun for players who haven’t invested in the game.

  9. gruia says:

    Dude, put factions in the title. This is not the game, its just the multiplayer part of it. We didn’t back the project for this, this is only .. like 10% of it.

  10. Lucas Says says:

    I needed a tutorial to understand what was going on in this game, so my interest has increased (I don’t have the time or the patience to puzzle out how esoteric systems work anymore, sadly). Hopefully a public release will mean more lower level players, too, fixing a lot of the matchmaking problems everyone’s reporting.

    Still, it’s all about the single player.

    • Premium User Badge

      Johnny Law says:

      Yeah I had bounced off of it once pre-tutorial.

      The current build has:

      – a “basic tutorial”, sort of a one-pager graphic overview
      – an “advanced tutorial” that shows you various screens
      – and then an actual tutorial that walks you through the whole startup process and a sample battle

      There’s some info in the basic/advanced tutorial graphics that is omitted from the walkthrough so I’d say to do them all. I felt pretty well-informed. :-) (And then lost my first real game of course.)

      So far I’m a big fan of the visual style and the combat systems. But like several other guys here I was immediately crestfallen at earning my first promote-able unit without having enough “renown” to actually promote them. It seems odd that you would hit a wall like that so early in a F2P system.

      I’m not totally on board with the way most F2P games work though. I tend to do mental comparisons of “how much would I pay for a complete game like this” vs. “how much would I actually have to pay to avoid being nagged/roadblocked by this game”. If the former answer is $15 and the latter is tens or even hundreds then I get grumpy.

      Anyway: fun times, I’m certainly going to keep at it for a while to get a better picture. Really looking forward to the singleplayer game.

  11. cckerberos says:

    The original release date given in the Kickstarter was Nov. 2012, not early 2013.

    The whole thing feels a bit like a bait-and-switch, honestly, since it’s obvious that this F2P thing is where the money and development time has gone.

    • AlexStoic says:

      I can honestly say that this is not the case, but I can see how it appears. We don’t intend multiplayer to be a big money-making endeavor, and we’re re-thinking a lot of that now. Compared to games like LoL or DotA we made the prices way lower, but probably need to not use those games as a measuring stick. We’ve also been doing big updates about progress on the single player campaign regularly. Thank you for the comment!

    • AngoraFish says:

      Seems very much bait and switch to me as well. Had I known that my seed funding would be going towards priority development of a multiplayer free to pay, possibly the two things I have a most most aversion to in PC gaming, I would never have considered backing. Having pubs get to kick around for free a good chunk of the game I paid for before I even get a version I consider playable leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

      • Dysp says:

        I can see how you’d be upset if that were the case, but I don think that is… I think what actually happened is their game was funded to such a great degree, they ended up adding more content to the single-player, delaying the launch. And secondly, they had the multiplayer version already to launch, so they’re releasing that for players now. The MP mechanics are a subset of the SP, such as unit balance and mechanics. They don’t have to have story lines, AI, and other components unique to the SP fully polished to release the MP.

        It’s free-to-play only for the online competition, which, personally, I think is a great idea, it’s a separate and different game.

        The single player is still coming, and it sounds amazing. Just watch the new intro video, it looks and sounds AAA to me. With the option they chose, everyone is getting more.

        In the case they hadn’t released Factions (MP) earlier than Saga (SP), they’d just be sitting on one completed game, waiting to launch the other game. And the players would have to wait just as long for the final products.

  12. Jack-Dandy says:

    Sweet! I really wanted to see how the battle parts of the game will play out like.

    It seems kinda-sorta odd, though, that this is coming before the actual game.

    Although, I can somewhat see the reason for it- they can use revenue from it to keep them afloat, and making the actual game better.

    Hoping they won’t just hoard it and push the real game out as an afterthought. They’ll have to deal with an angry mob if that happens.

    • AngoraFish says:

      What happens if the FTP side of things falls completely flat and no income is generated? In that case backer’s money has simply been wasted, calling into question whether we’ll ever see a SP version of the game at all.

      edit: responding to earlier, unedited version of the above post

      • JohnStoic says:

        @AngoraFish:

        1. Allow me to provide some information about the progress of the Saga:

        Factions is a subset of the Saga. We tackled the most difficult parts first: Combat and City Exploration. Almost every piece of tech and content that we have created for Factions is directly a part of the Saga. Please check out this massive Single Player update that we put out a few weeks ago:

        http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/stoic/the-banner-saga/posts/396284

        2. Allow me to respond to your concerns about the budget:

        All funds for the Saga have been allocated to the Saga. Factions could make zero dollars and the Saga is unaffected. We are still not receiving income, even after a year of development.

        3. Allow me to clarify Factions’ position in our development plan:

        Factions multiplayer was publicly a part of our pitch and development plan from day one, on Kickstarter and before. It was always our goal to break the development into 2 bite-sized chunks. We are very proud of our progress so far. It’s totally OK though, if you are not into Factions, because your single player Saga is coming.

  13. Veringatorix says:

    So I backed the original project because it seemed like a cool SP project, then along came the word that Stoic was working on a f2p multiplayer version that would showcase the combat system. I decided to check it out though I normally don’t bother with betas or online communities, and this game drew me in completely. I’m not gonna rave about how cool the game is, try it out for yourself, but I wish to state some of the other things surrounding this game.

    The gameplay is incredibly deep, every player uses different tactics and different units/ abilities. The first few matches with base units allow the player to grow and get an idea of how they want to play before giving them even more varied options to later tactics. This gives the multiplayer a sense of progression and the cost of upgrading gives weight to decisions concerning which units you want to upgrade and how to stat them to maximize their efficiency for your play style. This progression might be too slow for people who simply want to have everything handed to them, but is much more rewarding in the long term. I don’t see an issue with this because I haven’t seen any strategy game that one can simply pick up and understand every aspect of immediately, time is required to learn the game.

    Another very cool aspect of this game is the fact that if you have any concerns, just hop over to the forums, and there’s always players willing to discuss things as well as the incredibly approachable dev team, who answer questions and concerns very quickly. So to sit and make assumptions or voice concerns rather than spending that time perhaps bringing it to their attention seems to be counterproductive to me.

    In closing I would highly recommend those who have an interest to give the game a chance, ask questions, and spend some time with the game to learn it. It is incredibly rewarding and the community is very happy to help. If you don’t have the time or patience to learn you will most likely not have such an enjoyable time, there is no instant win to be had here. :)

  14. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    The comparisons with chess are just silly. You don’t get to pick which piece to move, and you have to destroy everything on the board. The only thing the two games have in common is the grid you play on.

    • Frank says:

      Dude: alternating turns.

      Don’t see that in many computer turn-based games, eh?