As a fan of Game of Thrones and the fantasy genre, I was excited when I received an email for a game called Bannermen. It is a real time strategy game in a fantasy setting, and the demo was interesting enough that I agreed to review a copy of the game. After ten hours of game play I will say that it was not what I was expecting, and I feel as though there are things about the game that players should know about before buying. Here are my first impressions before we get into the meat of the game.
Starting with the art style I found the artwork of the hand-drawn cut scenes interesting and beautiful. There are some cutscenes where the character models are just standing idle with speech bubbles to continue the story. The various maps themselves are also pleasing to the eye but the character models and structures you build are a bit bland and much lower quality than the maps they are fighting on. Buildings in-game all look a little too similar. Unless you organize them perfectly it is difficult to always find the correct building. The audio is also a bit weird as well, with the soundtrack early game not giving me a fantasy game vibe but more of a western/fantasy combo vibe that feels out of place. All your unit types have a few different voice lines they recycle through when they are given orders, but it is so repetitive that I found it annoying after an hour, so I just turned their volumes all the way off. I also can’t be sure, but I feel as though the archer units’ lines sound Swedish compared to the rest of the voice acting using a British accent throughout, but that may just be me. Finally, the keyboard layout is weird, having you move the camera with your arrow keys and use character powers with WASD which is not common but is changeable in the menu. However, if you go to change any settings in the menu the game carries on in the background and will not pause while you navigate and make changes. All these things were very noticeable, but not a deal breaker, so let’s move on to game play.
Mechanics of the game are very solid. The core of the game uses the formula of older real time strategy games and it does it well. Game play starts off by giving you a base and some builders to gather resources and you go from there. You try to control resource points around the map while using those resources to build structures and units to build an army. Then, if you are like me, you take a massive army and march it across the map in a huge wave to erase your opponent from the game. You can play the game with more strategy by getting hero characters with special abilities to use to your advantage. You can level those heroes up by going to certain areas of the map with AI controlled enemies and killing them repeatedly for experience. You can also build temples on holy sites throughout the map which grants you spells that do massive damage to enemy forces. Bannermen uses an old but solid formula that works well for it. The game is relatively bug-free, but my problems with it start with the story mode.
To be honest here the story mode is terrible. The first level after the tutorial is a forced stealth section. You must guide the main character who is wounded and moves excruciatingly slow to a town that is not marked in any way and that is not even visible on the map. You just have to stumble blindly across the map without being seen because you will die after more than one encounter.
The levels afterwards are ridiculously easy until any level where you have an ally leader who you cannot control. Regardless of how well you are doing, AI controlled ally leaders tend to leave their army to chase after enemies, get overwhelmed, and die which causes a game over. All cutscenes are also not skippable, so if your leader or an ally leader dies you will be sent back to that cutscene every time because there are no in level checkpoints either.
Finally, the characters and story are so bland it is boring. You are not given enough information about the characters to care about them, and the story is so generic that you have seen this a thousand times before. Combined with the levels that just do not fit with this game and the dumb AI that will cause you a game over if you don’t baby sit it, the story mode should just be avoided. Multiplayer mode is just as irritating, but in a different aspect.
You can play against the AI in multiplayer, but the skill level of the AI is too easy and gets boring fast. The online mode lets you play in unranked, ranked, or custom matches although there is a problem that makes it almost untouchable as well.
Matchmaking is incredibly difficult. I tried to join any match that I could in any mode and after about five minutes each time I gave up and thought there was a problem with my internet. I tested it with 4 other games and had zero issues playing online so then I checked the steam page forums. Many people complained of the problem and said that you just had to wait a long time to join a game. I went back and searched for an unranked match again and waited patiently. It took sixteen and a half minutes to join a game, then the other player was kicked after six seconds because of his connection and the game said I won.
The multiplayer is also known to be unstable. Players have reported crashes to the forums on steam and I had a crash anytime I tried to activate Nvidia Shadowplay during game instead of before I booted the game up. I would like to say it’s just my computer, but I exceed the recommended settings and I am not alone with this problem. I wish I could give them the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t under these circumstances.
To sum all of this up I was disappointed with Bannermen. I wanted to like it and I took way too long on this review waiting for patches and trying to play it as much as I could just to look for upsides to the game. Single player is lack luster at best or just annoying. Multiplayer is unstable and bogged down by ridiculous wait times that are just unacceptable. In short, the game just feels unfinished. The core mechanics are solid, if a little old fashioned. They make me feel like the game had potential, but they just built the core and cobbled together the rest. To top it all off for this underwhelming experience the game currently costs $29.99 on steam which is not bad compared to AAA titles but is unacceptable for a game that needs so much work.
My final opinion on Bannermen is that if you want to play it wait until they fix the multiplayer wait times if they ever do, and definitely wait until it is on sale. I really hate that I could not give this game a better review, but at the end of the day this is my honest opinion and really had hoped for more out of it. However, your experience could vary and some people may still enjoy it so check it out on steam if you want or CLICK HERE.