As the player progresses through the narrative, he or she will have to take into consideration the logistics of leading a caravan along a route through a landscape peppered with both hostile and friendly factions, all of whom also interact with each other.
The travel across the land will happen in two ways: shifting between a world map and side-scrolling travel with an emphasis on the caravan. All the while, the game will instill the sense of urgency and hardship that would naturally come with leading a caravan of thousands of people on a march across a huge landscape. Time will also play an integral factor, meaning that traveling will seriously impact player decisions.
The primary route to be taken by the caravan will be planned on the world map. Both the course toward the goal and high-level decisions will be made there. This will include deciding which towns and territories to pass though and how direct or circuitous that route will be. A balance between the shorter, but potentially dangerous routes and the safer, more roundabout options will have to be struck. These choices will also directly affect the events that occur along the way. The player's caravan will be carrying news that others along the route have not heard, and what the player does with that information will impact the story. In addition, the world is not an unoccupied land mass peppered with friendly villages. There are contested territories and different factions who have different opinions of each other. Negotiating these problems will be an integral part of travel and the narrative that unfolds.
The progress of the caravan will be shown on the world map. However, at key points along the path, events with far-reaching implications will occur that are out of the player's control. How the player reacts and the decisions they make will dictate how the story unfolds. When these events take place, the world map will transition to a side-scrolling mode known as exploration.
In exploration mode, the player will be able to interact with his or her caravan members. They will be able to see the size the caravan and gauge their overall mood. They will also be able to view the world around them.
In this mode, the player will be able to interact directly with their camp (if they are stopped along their chosen route) or the various settlements along the way (if they enter them). They will be able to interact directly with members of their caravan, enter buildings within cities, rest for specific amounts of time and adjust how their method of travel.
The decisions made along the way will affect how the caravan is traveling, while the speed of travel will be dictated by the manner in which the caravan's endurance, morale, size and supplies are managed.
- Endurance will inevitably decrease the longer the caravan is on the road. The only way to restore endurance is to rest, but that costs time.
- Morale comes and goes based on player actions, how successful they are in combat, and how much the caravan agrees with their leader's actions.
- The size of the caravan will directly affect its mobility - the fewer people are traveling in the caravan, the faster it can go. However, smaller caravan may mean fewer survivor after negative events.
- Supplies amplify all of the other factors. Going too long without finding food or medicine will mean that everything else deteriorates more quickly.
As the caravan progresses in their journey, the game AI will be tracking each of the travel statistics. If they player's caravan is within a certain threshold, an event may be triggered. These events will typically arise without warning, and will come as a direct result of what is happening around the caravan. The player will have to make decisions for the good of everyone travelling with them. If supplies are too low, the caravan could try to revolt. If morale is too high, the player may be forced to deal with a camp full of rowdy drunken revelers. Events can be either negative or positive and will have varying impacts on the health and happiness of the caravan.
Some events may also cause other events to arise later on. Just because a problem has been resolved for the time being does not mean that it cannot come back to haunt the caravan later on down the road. Events can be related to the area the caravan happens to be traveling through, the decisions made in the past, the state of the caravan or pre-determined events along the way, and can affect everything from the entire caravan to the fates of individual members of the party.
The main focus of the game is a deep and personal story. The things that are happening in the world may be out of the player's control, but there are always choices to be made in how to react to them, and these choices are made through dialogue. Both travelling and events feed back into conversation. During key events and while camped, the player will be able to speak with members of their party in a more personal manner. Instead of describing what has happened in narration like an event, conversations will be closer and more personal. The Banner Saga will primarily be a dialogue-driven story.
Not every single line of dialogue will be chosen by the player. Instead, a choice of what to say will be provided when there is an important decision to be made. These key decisions will have wide-reaching implications throughout every other part of the game. Conversation will provide the main mechanism for decision making and these decisions will affect caravan morale, size and supplies, and permit the player to form a personal connection to the characters traveling in their party.
The horn will be a major feature of the combat system. Each kill made by the player will add a star to the horn. These stars can then be spent to blow the horn, creating the effect of restoring willpower to party characters during combat. Different main characters will each carry different horns, and their effects will be unique to them and compliment their personalities. In this way each character will not only have their own stories and motivations, but the overall feeling of fighting with their team will change along with them.
Just as with other systems in the game, the player's actions in combat will have a broader reach than just the immediate result. Characters in battle will not heal immediately after combat, but will instead need time to recover during travel. Seriously wounded characters won't be able to jump right back into combat, and will instead need to be replaced by other fighters on the player's team who may not be as experienced. Choices made in conversation and travel might also affect how difficult combat is, and performance in combat will, in turn, influence the caravan's morale and endurance.
The prominence of combat in the game will rest with the player and how they choose to play the game. During combat, the caravan will continue to move. While destroying enemies will surely ensure victory, players will have the option to hold them off long enough for the caravan to escape and be able to retreat. This will give the player the choice of playing aggressively, defensively or cautiously to minimize the damage taken and their ability to fight another day.