It’s always somewhat disheartening when you’re throwing yourselves into the conclusion of anything that you’ve thoroughly enjoyed. When Stoic released The Banner Saga, they took the world by storm through its vastly interesting story, its gorgeous visuals and its magnificent overall design. The RPG epic unsurprisingly went on to be a critical and commercial success, much like its sequel; The Banner Saga 2. Now, however, here we sit at the trilogy’s climactic end. Does The Banner Saga 3 take the franchise out with a much deserved and expected bang?
We’ve been asked not to dive too deeply into the game’s plot, so to avoid running the risk of dropping spoilers, we’re going to keep this as story-light as possible. What I will say is that much like its predecessor entries, The Banner Saga 3 doesn’t buckle one bit in the story-telling department. It’s a story that bounces to and from a range of different themes, constantly evoking a wide pool of emotions from its players. There’s romance, there’s danger, there’s loss and there’s a continuous sense of tension and suspense that wont leave your side from beginning to end.
Seriously, the story-telling in The Banner Saga 3 is through the roof. Perhaps this is the game’s crowning achievement, but in the face of everything else that The Banner Saga 3 gets right, it’s hard to truly narrow down what stands out the most. Much like The Banner Saga 2, players are able to carry their saved data over to conclude the series with their journey so far. This means that certain actions that you’ve made so far will indeed have some impact on how The Banner Saga 3 plays out. That’s not to say that this entry alienates newcomers, on the contrary in fact.
If you’re keen to jump into The Banner Saga 3 without any former playtime or knowledge of its predecessors, you’re absolutely free to do so. Players do not need to own nor need to have played the previous entries to enjoy this – though it would certainly make a difference. The game will offer a quick recap as to how the story-events have unfolded so far, as well as providing some useful tips to feed you into the experience. First timers will be able to select between playing as either Rook or Alette, both of these characters come with their own deep and emotional back-stories.
Anyway, back on track. If you’ve been with the series so far – and as alluded to above – you’ll be dropped into this third addition, right where you left off. The premise sees the world practically coming to its end as the Darkness draws closer. Despite everything that you’ve witnessed in the story so far, nothing is quite as heavy nor as impacting as what awaits you within. Before long all of those tough choices that you’ve made to lead you to the here and now, will start weighing down on you as the outcomes shine through. It’s a very tense and powerful setup in which the stakes are excessively high.
Rook and Alette are situated in the human capital of Arberrang, facing civilization at its most desperate. Eyvind and Juno, on the other hand, are making their way to the Darkness in a bid to find a way to bring it to its end. What this creates is a narrative that, while indeed bogging certain characters to specific locations, bobs and weaves through some extraordinary themes. Throughout much of the installment the story will jump from one side of the fence to the other, before eventually reaching its fitting and long awaited conclusion; it’s pretty bitter-sweet, I might add.
The gameplay’s loop remains largely the same. Utilizing the hybrid of its tactical RPG design, players will take to a range of different situations that can be resolved in more ways than one. This comes alongside the pressures of handling morale, managing resources and keeping everyone on their toes. Battles are turn-based, with up to six different characters present on the field at any given time, each offering distinct and unique skills and abilities in the process. The grid-based system also returns here, dictating how you can move and make the most of your characters’ traits and weaponry.
Spell-caster Juno can be played this time around and comes with some particularly interesting commands, such as housing the ability resurrect herself. There’s even a slight change to the length of some combat scenarios, too. For instance, you can come across an encounter that has you fighting against a band of enemies, and once overcome, you can opt to leave or fight more. Sticking around will naturally bag you some more renown, which is used for those all important upgrades and equipment. Though, if you manage to make it to the final wave, you’ll bag an exclusive reward.
There’s a few more new additions thrown into the mix in regards to the story elements and the game’s mechanics, but I really don’t want to spoil anything too much here. I’ll gladly add that they’re very well implemented nevertheless. One of my favorite aspects of this series is the character growth and that’s something that’s toyed with in The Banner Saga 3 to an excellent degree. The cast’s personalities and behavioral patterns will waver and fluctuate in a host of interesting ways, which sits well with the game’s darker and more desperate tone and goes on to produce some outstanding dialogue.
There’s some truly tear-jerking goodbyes that will hit (very hard) players who have been invested from the begging. Enemy variations remain as plentiful as ever, with disfigured and twisted versions of classes from the previous games returning once more. My one and only gripe with the game sits with its difficulty curve. Oftentimes did I come up against a fight that was ever so slightly taxing in comparison to the last, only to witness another easy fight up next. Despite the addition of Heroic Titles, which enable you to further build your character’s capabilities, I cant say I appreciated these harsh difficulty spikes.
One thing that The Banner Saga has always stood out for is its visuals, and boy howdy, are they gorgeous. Naturally due to the theme of the game’s plot, The Banner Saga 3 sports a darker design, but there’s no denying it of its beauty. The care and attention to detail here is second to none of its kind, which when grouped with the excellent soundtrack and the game’s magnificent writing, makes for one hell of an ambitious and robust journey. Everything just clicks together so brilliantly. Whether its the game’s pace, its intricate choice system, its balance of cut-scenes and gameplay or anything in between, it all goes hand in hand to produce a conclusion that exceeds expectation.
When all is said and done, those that have been with the series so far will love this entry, irrespective of how emotionally taxing it can become. Newcomers will probably feel like a fish out of water and if that’s you, I highly recommend going back to the beginning and starting from scratch. The bottom line in all of this is that The Banner Saga 3 accomplishes exactly what a trilogy’s end should achieve. It’s captivating from the get-go, bolstered further by everything outlined above. The ending and everything that leads to it is sure to leave a deep scar, but then, isn’t that kind of the point?
The Banner Saga 3 is an outstanding conclusion to an epic trilogy. Stoic has once again showcased their care and attention to detail across a range of the game’s features, visuals and mechanics. It’s compelling, distinct, oftentimes daunting, yet wholly captivating. The end result is one that will stay with you for years to come, and although it’s hard to say goodbye, The Banner Saga goes out with an emotional-toying bang.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.