Developer: Stoic Studio
Release Date: July 26th, 2018
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Review Copy Provided), PC, Mac OSX, PS4 & Xbox One
TL;DR: This is the culmination of every choice you made in the prior two releases and has your caravan arriving at their destination, the last safe city of Arberrang. It is up to you in this third installment to keep the peace while an intrepid group composed of the Ravens, Juno, Eyvind & Iver march into the darkness to fix what was wronged
What Stoic Studio has pulled off is nothing short of great. Finishing off their epic tale of struggle and hope in The Banner Saga 3, the game sent our intrepid cast of heroines and heroes on their own paths to redemption, salvation or loss. Wrapping up a story based on player choice isn’t always the easiest and managing any loose threads or unexplained endings can be a tricky business. First off for the unfamiliar with this series, The Banner Saga Trilogy is a tale that follows several characters, but in particular the paths of Rook and Alette as they flee from the onslaught of the Dredge during a time where the sun stands still in the sky and a terror of the depths awakens. In their flight they take what local folk they can on a caravan to escape the slaughter. Along their flight they run into new faces, both friend and foe, with the player having choice in every matter along the way.
While the third installment holds many of the core values of the prior releases, it’s story pushes us into the grasp of a true terror; darkness. An all consuming force that drives itself into the land, twisting and corrupting all it touches. It is at Arberrang that our tale ends and it is here where hope is strained to the point of madness. Meanwhile a brave group lead by Iver, friend of Rook and Alette push into the heart of this darkness to destroy it at its source, fixing all that was wronged. With the help of two Valka (mages if you will) Juno and Eyvind who seem to know more about this darkness than they let on.
The gameplay mechanics borrow inspiration from the likes of visual novels, tactics based games and branching narrative based games. If you loved the choice that a game like Mass Effect’s Trilogy offered then you are in wonderful company here. The game does feature permadeath for most of its cast, while they won’t necessarily die through direct combat, they could die as a result of player negligence or prior dialogue choice. As far as the tactics portion of gameplay, if you are an avid fan of the Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics series then you will pretty much grasp the games combat portions. You select up to 6 playable characters and you use their strengths to overcome enemies of similar design. While dying in battle doesn’t spell the end, it does leave them injured and with less health should you call upon their strength in another battle. There are of course several classes, each with unique characteristics.
The Valka are mage like ‘healers’ whose job is to act as support, more than a direct assault character. Meanwhile you have the Varl who act as towering brutes of pain and power, but at a cost of mobility. It is a rock versus scissors sort of scenario, but that simplicity shouldn’t be overstated. The game also adds in a nice layer of armor for you to chip away at for an off hand reward of doing more direct HP damage. But be warned! The enemies in this game are relentless and unforgiving, so plan your attacks carefully and make good use of the promotion and item system. Having powerful and diverse characters can make a game so much smoother. The Banner Saga 3 expands on this via wave modes that give you a risk-reward benefit for better items to use. While these sections appear in only select portions of the game, it provides a wonderful addition onto the already layered gameplay.
Also an expanding leveling system with the added benefit of Heroic Titles gives you greater flexibility with how you gear your squad for combat. Bundle this with the items that already improve base stats and you have the recipe for characters that can really pack a punch. This final entry also gives players the chance to play as Dredge, the prior antagonists of the past two games. These characters represent a first for many players to use their devastating abilities in order to turn the tide for some player battles.
Yet the key player experience to the game isn’t the combat, it’s the Oregon Trail like experience that you are taken on. I love the branching choices visual novels can bring and I love player experiences on an open road. Having player choice in what decisions are made in regards to the caravan is quite critical. While it has seemed like a petty system that was just there for fluff, it actually matters heavily near the end of the game. For one to succeed in their mission to end the darkness once and for all, making those seemingly ‘useless’ choices actually benefits the end game greatly. For staving off a seemingly unbeatable darkness requires fighters, clansmen and food. There is little one can do in this third title with the caravan however. While this isn’t a horrible loss, it just puts into perspective everything you’ve managed over the course of the past two games coming to fruition in this third entry.
The wrap up to a branching story is always the hardest task when it comes to gameplay. It can often polarize and isolate fans to the point where they feel like their choices have never mattered. Branching narratives will always have a culminating climax. Be it directly influenced by the players or not and it was something that the Mass Effect Trilogy suffered from. Thankfully The Banner Saga 3 wraps up the journey quite nicely, but it isn’t without issue. Characters like Rugga disappear from the narrative at a random point, leaving you to guess as to what his schemes even meant up to that point. It’s lacking work like this that seems bigger at first glance, but upon a second glance it is but a smaller task. Choices made from the first title and through the second ones do make impacts on the actual story. Some characters may never see the sun move again while others may hold warped views of the new world they inhabit. These choices that have been made from all three titles feel as if they matter and they all lead to one of several endings that the player can achieve from this game.
Seeing the relations that have been built over the course of three games is something of an enjoyable experience. Having the experience of knowing how Alette, Ever, Juno & Eyvind all affected each other is an amazing experience. Watching them struggle with choice, power and love is something anyone can tangibly relate to. And yet this third entry puts it all together. While my story experience wasn’t exactly complete, thanks to playing the first and second entries on PC and the third being on Switch. Still for someone just jumping into the game it starts you off at a pretty nice point and you shouldn’t have too much issue with defeating the enemies that plague you in this final chapter. Unless you play on hard and want a challenge then you may have your work cut out for you in this one.
Still in my experience the gameplay progressed as it should have without freezing or slowing down. What did happen though was nearer towards the end chapters 21-22 my screen would only display segmented lines of color and effects. While it wasn’t a critical bug, it was a bit annoying as it played out during on screen animations involving the overworked sort of view. One thing that I did feel present in this play-through was a rushed feeling. Maybe that was partly due to my own excitement to play the game (and complete in one sitting) or maybe it was always intended to go by a bit quicker. Nevertheless I still enjoyed the game, just wish it had a bit more meat on its bones.
In all if you wish to play all three games continually you can expect to get around 24-30+ hours depending on your mood. With the Trilogy release heading to the Nintendo Switch this September 21st this can be an easy fix to enjoy while on the go or at home in docked mode. Either way you are sure to enjoy your journey anew and through the end of this spectacular gaming series. I will be providing a review of the trilogy release when it drops for the Switch this September via my own funding. Big thanks to Stoic Studio for making such a phenomenal conclusion to a beloved series and to Plan of Attack for providing a review copy!
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