Motherfucking Banner Saga, man. I've been anxiously awaiting this game for the better part of a year, and it's finally arrived. I was up until the wee hours of the morning playing, and I can't wait to finish my other stuff today to get back to it.
Everything you need to know about the combat and the artwork can be found in my original post about Banner Saga: Factions, the free-to-play multiplayer component, and all of it still rings true. The combat is deep and engaging, and the game's art and animation continue to be stunningly gorgeous. In fact, I'd say that the beauty of the game outweights any problems, and there are a couple of small ones.
The core game takes all of that, and adds an RPG campaign to it. You get characters, they live and die, you level them up, you can even get simple items to alter their effectiveness in combat. The story is told mostly through very slightly-animated stills, in old-school fashion, though from time to time you're treated to something more elaborate.
It's pretty linear... think Oregon Trail with vikings. You truck your army along a path towards your destination, and along the way you stop to deal with a variety of issues. Some play out through cutscenes, text, or actual battle. While doing this you also have to manage your supplies (making sure you have enough food to feed your followers) and nurse injuries. There's a lot of reading involved, but the story is decent, and its important for making decisions.
The decisions you make seem to effect the outcome of the game, up to and including losing characters that you've been leveling up. That caught me offguard. A Varl I had been taking to battle was suddenly killed "offscreen" so to speak, due to a poor decision on my part about how to handle a situation. There is no quick load, or easy way to restart. You play through the consequences of the choices you make. Even if you lose a battle, the game churns on, with a different outcome.
If you're not into the story, you could conceivably skip through all of the dialogue stuff and just play the battles... and you'd still have a hell of a fun tactics game. But I feel like you would be cheating yourself out of a more engaging experience. I can't say that the story is the best I've ever seen in a game (so far), and it can be a little lore-heavy at times, but I'm still enjoying it, and getting to know the characters makes a big difference when I take them into battle.
If a character falls in battle, they don't seem to be permanantly dead... it isn't like Ironman in Xcom. Instead, they're out for the match, and remain injured for a period of days, during which they operate at a handicap. As I mentioned earlier though, they can certainly die as a result of story choices, so you have to watch out there.
The voice acting, when it's there, is passable... mostly because it's thickly accented. The music is outstanding though, and adds as much to the battles as the visuals do.
I don't know how long the game lasts yet, but I do think it's good for at least two playthroughs, just to see what variations you can find in the story. Of course, you can also always play Factions if you find yourself wanting more combat. I'm hoping that the few new classes in the single-player campaign will make their way into the multiplayer component in the near future, along with some new maps. Team battles would also be a very welcome addition.
So go check out one or both of the titles, if it sounds like something up your alley!