The Banner Saga began as a promising Kickstarter pitch back in March of 2012. A trio of Bioware veterans promised to deliver a challenging, strategic RPG in a dark, viking-inspired world of myth and mystery. The team at Stoic delivered on their promise, creating a unique and beautiful game filled with gorgeous art and tough battles. Now, a bit over six years after the launch of their first Kickstarter, Stoic are ready to bring the trilogy of the Banner Saga to a close with Banner Saga 3 on 26th July – a slight two day delay from the previously announced date.
Much like trying to start The Lord of the Rings with the final book, it might be a little daunting for new players to jump into Banner Saga with this latest release. Stoic treat this trilogy as one continuous narrative, even going so far as to call the first chapter of Banner Saga 3 as Chapter 16. While there is a brief Recap video to watch on the main menu, it merely catches you up on the final events of the previous game, and will still leave fresh players a little lost as to the finer details of the world and it’s characters.
Still, for established fans and lore aficionados, Banner Saga 3 is a treat. While Alette (or Rook) and the caravan continue their expedition, Juno has traveled directly into the heart of the Darkness to try and bring a permanent end to it. The story sees you switching between these parties, and the first few chapters of the game alone delivered plenty of tough choices and surprising character appearances for both groups. The last two games were mainly focused on traversing the surviving, snowy settlements of the world with Alette. Getting to see the warped and destroyed villages trapped within the Darkness is a horrifically beautiful sight.
There isn’t just a contrast between the two groups in how their environments differ, though. Gameplay mechanics are also switched up depending on which party you’re playing as. The main caravan operates as usual, but Juno’s group swap out the Willpower-boosting Horn for the Valka Spear. Each kill charges the spear for a maximum of three charges, and any character can use a charge from the spear on their turn to hit an enemy with a roaring lightning attack that chains into any other foe (or friend) in diagonal spaces.
There are also a couple of interesting party members accompanying Juno in the Darkness. One of them is Alfrun, a powerful witch who could be classed as a proper healer, which is rare in Banner Saga. There was also a Stonesinger Dredge, a friendly darkness-fuelled creature with unique abilities that specifically target any enemy dredges. These two promise a lot of interesting new strategies, and hopefully aren’t the only new oddball character types in the game.
No matter which group you control, though, there are also an interesting new upgrade system that allow you to further customize and enhance your best units. At level 11 you can give a unit a Heroic Title, which is a selectable nickname from a wide variety of choices and bestows a wide variety of new buffs or abilities on them. For example, Juno the Mountain has +1 Strength, but Juno the Swift gets +1 Move speed. You can upgrade Heroic Titles to increase the scale of the bonuses as well. It’s a neat system that gives you a little more choice in how your favorite units perform.
Banner Saga 3 isn’t reinventing itself in any way, shape or form, but introduces some smart new ideas into the saga. The combat is just as challenging, the art is just as beautiful, and the story is just as dark and and haunting as the last two games. Stoic have set out to cap off a winding narrative six years in the making, and give fans closure to a story they’ve been helping shape since the beginning. From what I’ve seen so far, if you loved the previous parts of the Banner Saga, you’re in for a treat with Banner Saga 3.