Monday, 06 August 2018 09:00

The Banner Saga 3 Review

Written by

Indie studio Stoic’s The Banner Saga 3 is a staggeringly artistic strategy-based RPG that sucks you into its vortex of heavy, apocalyptic storytelling and grips you fearlessly until you’re facing the bittersweet end. It’s the final installment in a Viking trilogy of doom and despair, and it proffers all of the glorious storytelling and unbelievably striking art that The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2 were known for. Cursed with semi-laborious tactical combat but blessed with a neck-breaking pace and delectable hand-drawn style, The Banner Saga 3 is overall a fine achievement and a noteworthy end to a saga that began four years ago.

A Trilogy, Truly

When starting The Banner Saga 3, you have the option to port your original save data from the previous entries. For those that didn’t play the first two installments, you get to start fresh, choosing either Alette or Rook as your playable character (which may also be your preference if you were dissatisfied with your choices in the previous entries and want to begin anew). You’re thrust immediately into the war-torn city of Arberrang, where your caravan has been given sanctuary at the cost of helping repel the dredge from the walls.

The Banner Saga 3 is a direct continuation of The Banner Saga 2, as can be imagined, and follows the split-story of both the caravan at Arberrang and the small party led by Juno, Iver, and Eyvind — a party determined to quell the onslaught of darkness and restore the land to its proper order. Your time is spent bouncing between each storyline, separate but complementary, supporting both sets of characters with your strategic prowess and sometimes-questionable decision-making. Each plot shift happens at just the right time, hooking you into the previous story and making you desperate to return to the company that you’ve left; a clever strategy that contributes to The Banner Saga 3’s heart-pounding pace.

Familiar Tactical Gameplay

Fans of the previous The Banner Saga entries will find the resource management and combat gameplay of this entry overwhelmingly familiar. The primary difference is the addition of waves of enemies when you encounter dredge — you have the option to play through the first wave and then flee to safety, or you can attempt to stymie the flow and beat all the waves and the boss at the end. If you succeed, you earn a powerful item you can use to enhance the viability of your team strategy.

Combat is turn-based and focuses on individual character development. You have a roster of characters you can choose from, each with its own class designation and assignment of abilities. You earn Renown from each battle you win, and successful characters will have the opportunity to be promoted. Spend Renown to promote your units and make them more powerful in a variety of ways. You also have a range of intriguing items to make use of, all with their own benefits and occasional trade-offs.

Willpower is Everything

In The Banner Saga 3, Willpower is really what drives your gameplay. While not the same as an action-point system, Willpower does enhance your units’ capacity to move, strike, and perform certain abilities. Correct utilization of Willpower can make or break your strategy, especially in more difficult circumstances. Some abilities require Willpower to use, and others simply become tremendously powerful when supplied with Willpower.

However, Willpower does not replenish on its own. It’s a finite resource, and learning the correct handling method for Willpower for each of your characters can be a challenge. Fortunately, The Banner Saga 3 is lavishly forgiving. If one of your units is defeated in combat, they’re removed from that particular arena, but they don’t disappear forever. They’ll return to your roster with a varying degree of “injury” that negatively affects how well they’ll perform if asked to fight again before the required amount of days are up.

Resource Management and Decision-Making

Because, indeed, The Banner Saga 3 tracks days, and even requires you to perform some minor resource management regarding your caravan and party. Each day costs supplies, and supplies cost Renown to purchase. To make sure your characters retain good morale, you must keep them satisfied and fed, and that puts pressure on your ability to utilize time well and make successful decisions.

Decisions are everything. The Banner Saga 3 constantly asks you to make heart-rending choices that very seriously affect gameplay. As with the previous entries, you’ll often be required to make decisions that will linger with you long after you’ve quit the game and attempted to do something else with your time. Some of those decisions will make you smile in triumph. Some of those decisions will haunt you.

Compelling, But Prickly

The Banner Saga 3 provides a handy recap for new players to watch and lets you create a new character from scratch, but from thereon out you’re on your own. The uninitiated are left to themselves to piece together fragments of the story they’re learning on the fly and the myriad of characters and abilities they’ve suddenly found themselves in control of. The Banner Saga 3 is playable on its own, but it makes no qualms about catering itself to players of the previous entries. And why shouldn’t it? It’s a conclusion to an epic saga that doesn’t need to bend itself to suit the newcomer.

That being said, for both new players and old, the turn-based combat leaves something to be desired. While the settings for combat are striking and memorable, the actual battles themselves tend to be repetitive and uninspired. The wave-combat function serves up more of the same dish, and likely won’t satisfy the tried-and-tested The Banner Saga enthusiast. Furthermore, the saving system isn’t nearly as streamlined as it might be. You may end up watching the same chunk of dialogue and side-scrolling landscape more often than you’d care to admit, simply because you quit out before you actually started a battle, or needed to restart on a battle you were displeased with.

Lavishly Beautiful and Deeply Profound

Ultimately, The Banner Saga 3 does exactly what it set out to do. It wraps its saga up in a stunning package replete with fine storytelling and fascinating characters. It provides turn-based combat true to the original, and it forces you to make soul-twisting decisions that affect your storyline in manifold ways. And, more than anything, it gives us more of that spellbinding side-scrolling art that set it apart from everything else in the genre, continues to set it apart, and will set it apart for years to come. The biggest question now is — what’s next for studio Stoic?


The Verdict: Excellent

The Banner Saga 3 is the compelling conclusion to a saga that first captured hearts in 2014 with its masterful hand-drawn art, gut-wrenching decision-making, and satisfying turn-based combat. The final installment is everything it was expected to be and more, and while it may not be particularly welcoming to newcomers, it’s a fine reason for everyone to dive back into the Viking saga once again.

Read 3229 times
Taryn Ziegler

Taryn is a digital content strategist with an avid appetite for literature and gaming. She graduated from the University of Washington Bothell with a degree in Culture, Literature, and the Arts, and since then has been engaged in copywriting for businesses from AutoNation to DirtFish Rally School. While she'll happily play most games set in front of her, Taryn heartily prefers a good ol' turn-based strategy RPG, such as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and Divinity: Original Sin.


Image Gallery