One of the most engrossing things about real-time strategy games is the depth and overall complexity of the game mechanics that govern how the player progresses. Looking at previous RTS games like Age of Empires and even Starcraft II, it’s easy to see how players become so engrossed in the ever-evolving worlds and battles. With Bannermen, Pathos Interactive has borrowed a lot from other RTS games out there. Unfortunately, while doing so, they’ve also failed to really find the game’s own identity, which leads to a brief and unexceptional experience. While Bannermen tries to be the game that RTS fans want, it falls short by a mile.
A tale as old as time
The story here isn’t anything special. The basic premise is simple. Lord Berrian—the main character—suffers a terrible defeat at the Battle of Beckron. Defeated by Lord Karthor and his forces, the kingdom of Valtoria soon falls into ruin as the other lords of the land bow their knees to Karthor and his overwhelming power. This puts Berrian in a very unique position as the lone hero that the kingdom needs.
Healed of his wounds, players must take control of Berrian as he rebuilds his forces across twenty-odd levels of the main campaign. The diversity here is nice, with some missions requiring you to cleanse the area of enemies, while others are simple defend missions against enemy forces like soldiers or even wild animals. There’s a nice change of pace, but after the fourth or fifth defend mission, things start to grow quite stale.
There’s only one faction available in Bannermen. On one hand, this is nice because it means you won’t have any kind of weird units coming out of nowhere that you have to learn how to deal with. On the other hand, though, it means that you’re always facing off against the same enemy types. The fact that there aren’t any Veteran units or anything like that also helps to add to the stagnation, and after defeating the fourth wave of archers and swordsmen, I couldn’t help but wish that something bigger would come along—something unexpected. Unfortunately, that never happened, and I just continued to face off against the same types of units throughout the entire campaign.
While story is never the big focus of an RTS—most players dive into these games for the multiplayer modes—it was disappointing to find a lot of rough writing and voice acting throughout the campaign. On top of this, the developers offer no way for you to skip the cutscenes and dialogue, which means you’re just kind of stuck there listening to them drone on and on about things until they finally set you free and let you take control again.
Master the elements…or don’t
One of the more unique mechanics in Bannermen is the ability to take control of the natural elements. These include things like lightning, sandstorms and other natural occurrences. It’s a nice little addition, but the presentation itself leaves a bit to be desired. Instead of blending into the world, the natural elements are portrayed by a massive slab on the ground that looks perfectly like a foundation. It draws from the entire look and feel of the game and makes it far too easy to tell where the element control points are.
The overall importance of controlling these elements—at least in the campaign itself—is almost nonexistent. There’s no real reason to go out of your way to take them over, as most of them don’t even offer that much of an advantage aside from the sandstorm power, which can sometimes mask your approach. These powers play a much larger role in the multiplayer, though, where you’ll find players utilizing them as much as they possible can. In multiplayer matches, though, the complete opposite is true. Owning the elements seems to be key to victory, as things like the lightning storm can absolutely obliterate an army if given the chance. This means you’ll spend more time fighting over these points than you will engaging the enemy at their base or other key places on the map.
While it’s probably the most unique feature of the game, it really feels like the core mechanics would feel better without this system entirely.
One faction to rule them all
If you’ve ever put any amount of time into an RTS, then you know that having different factions can play a large part in the longevity of the title. Not only does it help to make fights more interesting as different units make their way onto the battlefield, but it also gives players something to work on mastering as they continue to sink time into the game. Unfortunately, you’ll only find one faction in Bannermen, and none of the units here are really all that interesting. Sure, you have the hero unit itself, but aside from bringing a few powers to the battlefield, there’s no real different between the hero units and the normal units you make in the Training Camp.
The fact that the game only includes one faction is fine for those who want a more RTS-light experience, but that means that players are eventually going to grow bored and tired of fighting the same waves of enemies over and over again. The fighting itself started to grow stale around five missions into the campaign, and after playing through the story, I was already tired of facing off against the same unit types in multiplayer after a few matches. If you don’t mind fighting the same groups over and over again, then this probably won’t be a big deal to you. However, the lack of any additional factions makes for an experience that grows stale very quickly.
Overall, Bannermen could use some additional units, new factions, and faction specific units to help spice up the battlefield and make it feel more unique.
All about perspective
There are a few other glaring issues that I have with Bannermen. For one, the UI is clunky and really detracts from the entire experience. There’s no option to repeat build queues, which means I have to constantly jump between my units and my buildings to make sure my build queues are always set to keep popping units out, especially in more intense moments.
Resources are also rather boring in Bannermen. There are only two that you need to worry about—gold and wood—and it’s never really something you have to fight over as there are plenty of nodes situated around the maps. I’d love to see some of the nodes cut down. I feel this would lead to more interaction between armies, which I think would help to keep the matches from growing as stale as quickly. This would also add some more struggle to the experience, which the game is desperately in need of.
Altogether, I wanted to like what Bannermen had to offer. The graphics and the overall unit design is nice. Unfortunately, the clunky UI and the lack of any real identity makes for an altogether boring and shallow RTS experience. I’d love to see what Pathos Interactive can change in future updates, but right now Bannermen feels like it was released way too early. Hopefully some new updates will release in the future that will make revisiting this little title worth it. For now, I’d steer clear of it—unless you don’t mind a shallower RTS experience. But, if you’re going into Bannermen expecting the next Starcraft, Age of Empires, or Warcraft 3… well, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. Bannermen is available now on Steam.
- Overall unit design and environmental graphics are nice
- Mission diversity makes the campaign fun for the first several missions
- Lack of additional factions leads to boring gameplay
- Bad writing and voice acting
- Unskippable, overly long cutscenes
- Overabundance of resources
- Missions get stale quickly
- Clunky UI and lack of basic RTS features