Rock, Paper, Shotgun has penned a preview for The Banner Saga: Factions, a sort-of-demo for the full title, that takes its combat in a multiplayer environment, and the article's writer Nathan Grayson is clearly quite pleased with it. Here's an excerpt from it:
It was the timer. That goddamn timer. I didn’t even notice the Devil’s Own Timepiece until my 45 seconds had already whizzed by, and my archer was in serious trouble. At this point, many of the aforementioned attacks, abilities, and stats once again caught my eye. With an elbow. Watson’s archer opened fire on mine, opting to bypass armor and leave a bolt quivering in my archer’s strength stat. So here’s the thing about that: Banner Saga actually treats strength and armor as intertwined health stats. Armor, of course, dictates how much damage a character will take, but strength itself is a little more complex. In short, though, losing all of it is fatal, and losing some takes big chunks out of how much damage a character can deal.
So it’s a balancing act, and as long as an enemy’s armor amount is higher than your strength, the most damage you can deal is one. Generally speaking, it’s best to attack armor directly first, then go for the kill. But not always. See, that feeds into Banner Saga’s other completely brilliant tweak to the rusted mechanical innards of this genre: willpower. Basically, every character has a small pool of it (think six or seven points, maximum) and it can be poured into special attacks, moving a couple extra spaces, or giving normal attacks a little extra oomph. Or a lot of extra oomph, actually. Once it runs dry, it’s gone for the duration of the match, but it’s also crucial to victory. In my experience, it’s not a great idea to be stingy with the stuff.
So back to my archer, who at this point was probably cursing whatever bumbling sky deity (hint: me!) led her to this grim fate. Watson proceeded to pump three willpower (the max for any of the classes I saw) into a single attack and take aim for strength. Since willpower bypasses armor, it totaled out to four damage. Four. And since my archer didn’t start out with much strength to begin with, she was effectively crippled for the rest of the match. Watson, meanwhile, was pretty pleased with himself, as a full-strength archer’s “puncture” passive ability – which boosts damage in direct proportion to how much armor their opponent’s lost – becomes a total nightmare late game.
Upping the stakes further, Banner Saga doesn’t actually have healing spells or items. My archer, then, was pretty much doomed to limply toss foil-tipped toothpicks at her heavily armored foes for the rest of the match. It might sound a bit annoying – and at the time, it was – but Banner Saga’s timer and the inability to reverse damage colluded to lend an incredible sense of permanence to each turn. Put simply, every decision absolutely counts, and the clock’s counting down rapidly while you’re making it. One wrong move, and you might have just thrown away your Queen on some pitiful Pawn. It’s a total thrill – which is something I’m not sure I’ve ever said about turn-based strategy RPGs.