by Sean Martin
reviewed on PC
A TIPPING POINT
Coming to the game series when I did, I never had an opportunity to review Banner Saga 1 and 2, so when 3 rolled around, I decided I wanted to write something about it. But the prospect made me really nervous; what could I possibly say that was worthy of this incredible game series, which has brought me such joy over the past two years? Banner Saga’s patented combo of turn-based strategy combat, narrative decision making, beautiful art style and Norse setting has consistently blown me away. Now we are entering the final instalment in the trilogy, where all of the player’s cumulative decisions, all of their characters and all of their clan will come to a tipping point. The darkness has arrived.
At the end of Banner Saga 2, we saw Rook (or Alette) conclude their apocalyptic road trip arriving in the human capitol of Arberrang. There they found (as they have at every other city) a struggle between the crazy number of refugees fleeing the encroaching darkness and the city’s rulers. When we start Banner Saga 3, our initial fights and decisions are concerned with this struggle. Departing from the travelling gameplay of the previous two games, much of Rook’s (or Alette’s) story is concerned with this last bastion of humanity and trying to ensure the city’s survival. There is nowhere else to go after all, Arberrang being a coastal city and the darkness growing ever closer. Iver, Juno, Eyvind and the Ravens on the other hand, in a drastic turn of events, have entered the darkness, seeking a mysterious solution which might stop the apocalypse in its tracks.
INTO THE DARK
As with the previous two games; most of the gameplay follows a similar structure. The only difference with combat, is that now you have a new waves system, allowing you to either flee combat post-battle, or hold out for longer with the potential reward of a special item. This balances the risk and reward aspect which has always been present in the series. There is also the valka’s spear, allowing you to strike enemies with lightning, causing minor damage, to give you that added edge. There are new enemies as well, so you end up fighting a variety of Dredge, Humans and Corrupted. Though the sections where I was travelling in the dark, where you fight only Corrupted, I found somewhat grindy, as a fair number of them are re-skinned Varl or Humans, which have the same attacks. But what I did find is that the game gave me a lot more renown than previous titles, so it was easier to level up and buy items. I could also add ‘heroic titles’ to my heroes, further differentiating their use on the battlefield.
A few mechanics from previous games are barely relevant now. For example, number of supplies isn’t really important anymore, as in Rook’s (Or Alette’s) story, there is only one point in the whole game where you can buy supplies and Iver’s party doesn’t use them. The narrative decisions are still very much on point though, and I would say that the outcomes of your decisions are even harder to predict than they were in the previous games. Later on, there is also a great interplay mechanic between both stories, effectively combining the stories into one.
THE END HAS COME
All in all, Banner Saga 3 is a pretty similar game to the other two in the series, but adds just enough change to keep the player on their toes. The narrative decision making is as good as ever and the art style is indescribably gorgeous; the sections spent wandering through the darkness and happening upon locations from the first game, now twisted out of shape, is a brilliant touch. The game also offers explanation for much that has gone unsaid throughout the series; the origins of the Dredge and the serpent for example. Usually I find explanations can never live up to the initial sense of mystery they conjure, but Banner Saga 3 is one of the few occasions I have seen a consistency between mystery and its exposition.
I will miss this series; but this final instalment brings it to a worthy conclusion. I also imagine that, as with the Mass Effect trilogy, I will replay it many more times throughout my life, revelling in the worlds that my cumulative decision making will create. The Banner Saga has made some moments that will stay with me a long time. I remember at the conclusion of the first, when Alette, finally deciding she no longer wants to be afraid, defeats Bellower. This young, small-village girl defeats a Sundr, who is effectively a god of his people, and though she dies in the process, she becomes a hero. A whole city stands in mourning to her, as she passes from one world to the next. I couldn’t help feeling emotional, thinking it was better that she die fighting, die unafraid, than live to see the world become ever more twisted and desperate. Goodbye Banner Saga, thanks for the memories.
Great narrative decision making, beautiful art style, good strategic combat.
Some reskins with the Corrupted enemies, less travel gameplay.