It’s difficult to talk about The Banner Saga 3 without mentioning its narrative. That’s a problem because, in this third game in the trilogy, the unravelling of the story is as important, if not more than the gameplay.
Discussing the story, my story, in The Banner Saga 3 would not only ruin key moments for you, it would also, most likely, not align with how your story plays out.
With The Banner Saga, Stoic has managed to create something with truly branching paths. Decisions you made in the first and second games come back time and time again. Little, seemingly insignificant moments return to have enormous ramifications.
The Banner Saga 3 Review
A few times, I had completely forgotten about a choice I’d made until it was laid out in front of me in The Banner Saga 3. These moments are brilliantly handled too. Sometimes, something I’d not given much thought to hit me like a punch in the gut.
Others, delivered strangely positive outcomes, even though I was sure I’d chosen incorrectly. Part of the charm of The Banner Saga 3, is seeing how these choices pay off and realising that for all your best intentions, you can never really be totally in control of your own destiny.
To set the scene, spoilers ahead if you’ve not played the first two games, Arberrang is tearing itself apart as the last safe place in the world of men. Rook/Alette have led people here under their banner and are hoping that Iver, Juno and Eyvind can prevent the end of the world.
Iver, the menders and the Ravens, having defeated Bolverk have travelled into the spreading darkness in order to save the world.
The Banner Saga 3 plays out, like the previous games, with two separate yet connected groups. One remains at Arrberang for the duration, while the other explores deeper into the darkness to finally set the sun in motion again.
All or Nothing
Battles in The Banner Saga 3 are very much in the same, tactical turn-based vein as the previous two games. There are, however, some changes.
Battles can now occur in waves. At the beginning of the fight, a countdown will commence. If you’ve not defeated all the enemies in a certain number of turns, a second wave will arrive. If however, you are able to clear out the enemies, you have the option to stay and fight for a powerful item, or flee and prevent injuries.
These multi-stage battles are some of the toughest fights in the entire trilogy. Losing the second wave won’t cause you to fail but, as with every loss, will come with injuries, less renown and fewer chances to level up.
The second major change to battle in The Banner Saga 3, is the ability to use Eyvind’s staff. Only available to the group in the darkness, instead of refilling a character’s Willpower with the horn, players can instead rain down lightning on enemies.
Each kill grants you one charge of the staff and every bolt will arc diagonally, through friend and foe alike. The more bodies in a row, the more damaging each consecutive hit. It’s tough to get to work properly, but when you do, it’s like a winning streak in checkers.
Trust me, you’re going to need every advantage you can get if you’re hoping to defeat the Warped.
This is going to hurt
The Warped are The Banner Saga 3’s new enemies and they are really, bloody tough. Former men, Varl, Dredge and the like, the Warped have been twisted by the growing darkness. They have similar abilities to those you’ve met before, but they’re also stronger and more dangerous than anything that’s come before.
On death, the Warped explode, leaving a patch of ground that absorbs your Willpower if you walk on it. They can drain you Strength, Armour and Willpower and they make good use of tactics to take your team apart.
I’m not sure if it’s because of choices I made, or lack of levelling up or if it is a deliberate choice, but I did not win a single battle with my group inside the darkness. Every single fight I had against the Warped was a loss.
I like to believe this was a design decision on behalf of Stoic. If it was, it makes a lot of sense to me. The world is dying and the Warped are being made stronger by the growing Darkness. The small group trying to stop it is weak from exhaustion and the long journey they’ve been on.
It also feeds into, what I feel, is the overarching theme and idea behind the surface of The Banner Saga; the War of Attrition.
Losing is Winning
From the very first game in The Banner Saga trilogy, players have been taught to expect losses. It’s part and parcel of these games.
No character ever really feels safe and every decision is fraught with potential disaster. Players are also taught that despite the best intentions of those in the game, this story may very well not have a happy ending.
You can throw as many bodies into this war as you like and you may still find that it’s hopeless. These themes tend to come up most often when in Arrberang as Rook/Alette looks for guidance from those closest. As someone who’s had leadership foisted upon them, Rook/Allette struggle to come to terms with the decisions they need to make.
The same goes for Eyvind. He holds the key to fixing the destruction being done to the world but knows doing so comes at a great cost. Whether or not he’s willing to do so when the time comes remains a focal point for much of the game’s duration.
In the end, The Banner Saga 3 is a bleak look at humanity and its failings, with a hopeful note that the best of us will rise to put things right.
The corrupting influence of power exists in The Banner Saga both as a theme and physically as the Darkness corrupts the entire world. There are very few moments of levity to be found in The Banner Saga 3 and unlike the previous two titles, nobody is smiling or laughing.
It’s to be expected and it’s not a criticism, however, you may need to take a break every so often to get away from the depressing nature of it all.
The soundtrack by Austin Wintory is absolutely world class. Battles are punctuated by music that swells and fades while the sounds of the world are quietly offputting. I often found myself listening to the music instead of playing. Thankfully, this is turn-based so I was never in too much danger.
The Banner Saga 3 is the culmination of years of work and provides an absolutely perfect ending to one of the most brilliant gaming trilogies of all time.
The story, characters, emotional impact and outcomes of choices are flawless and make The Banner Saga feel like a personal journey for the player. It certainly did for me.
Now excuse me, I’m off to start the whole thing all over again.
The Banner Saga 3 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a digital code provided by the developer.
Game Title: The Banner Saga 3
A fitting end to the trilogy - 10/10
Same great gameplay - 10/10
Incredible Writing - 10/10
Gaming at its finest - 10/10