I didn’t quite realise how hard it was going to be to say goodbye to The Banner Saga 3 until the credits finally rolled.
It’s been four and a half years since the first episode launched and The Banner Saga 3 shows, in that time, Stoic have become significantly better storytellers.
In Episode One, I found some of the dialogue convoluted and clumsy. But in Episode Two, characters were starting to come out of the shadows, really molding an identity for themselves as the world descended into chaos and high stakes became clear.
The Banner Saga 3 just takes everything to the next level. Each character is given their moment in the spotlight, the pacing is perfect, there’s a grandiose, epic scale polish added to everything, and a real sense that anything can, and probably will, happen.
I always knew that I was going to enjoy The Banner Saga 3. I did not expect to love it.
This review will contain spoilers for The Banner Saga 1 & 2 from here on. Skip to the score if you want to avoid them.
If you’re not already caught up on The Banner Saga, what on Earth are you reading this for? Get and play them. Go, go!
If you have, then you’ll know that the second game ended on a bit of a cliffhanger with the party splitting up and all manner of trouble set to befall them.
For starters, Rook (or Alette) and the caravan reached the human capital, Arberrang, after months of travelling only to be faced with conflict from Rugga and apprehension from the King. With their old rivalry coming to the boil, The Banner Saga 3 starts off with a bang as you might expect.
Meanwhile, Juno and Eyvind set off with Ivan to try and turn back the darkness by visiting the Valka Libraries, but end up moving through the darkness after fighting Bolvark, thus confronting the horrors within.
Chapters alternate in TBS 3, meaning you’ll always be switching between the darkness and Arberrang as the saga draws to its conclusion. And the experiences end up feeling quite different throughout due to some changes in the way the game plays.
Time is slowed right down in TBS 3 with the events of the game only taking place over a period of 30 – 40 days. This is a big change from previous games where days seemed to go by like they were nothing and it does make a difference. Now the adventure feels more full and well-rounded, with better focus on developed individuals as opposed to characters you never get the chance to meet.
Combat is still the same in that it’s turn-based and you earn renown for each kill by using a combination of melee and ranged fighters. Renown can then be spent to upgrade your characters attributes as well as purchase supplies for your caravan and bonus items to boost the performance of characters, like brooches and ornaments.
The first tweak comes in the form of wave-based combat. Some fights will see you defeat an initial wave of enemies before being asked if you want to ‘Fight or Flee’. Here you can switch up your party with ‘Reinforcements’ and then fight another wave with your new group. The purpose of fighting more and more waves is to earn special items which can be worn by your party members to improve their stats. These are always rare and cannot be purchased at a market vendor.
There are also environmental perils to avoid, like spreading wildfire which gradually takes over spaces on the battlefield and can cause you to lose health if you walk through. There’s also holes in the ground which can reduce your willpower. This means you’ll need to carefully consider the steps you take as sometimes bumping into one of these hazards can cause you to skip your turn entirely.
After being promoted past Level 10, characters can also claim heroic titles which adds buffs to their base stats. A title can only be used by one character across both parties, so you’ll need to think carefully about how you use them.
Each title also has five ranks, so for instance, the ‘Bloodletter’ Heroic Title adds 1 point of Str DOT on hit and lasts 1 round. Whereas the fifth rank increases that exponentially. These are also purchased and upgraded using renown and will appear below the character’s name and rank on the menu screen once acquired.
Perhaps the most interesting change of all is the removal of the Willpower horn during battles in the darkness. In its place is the Valka Spear which can be used to cast Chain Lightning on an enemy. As before, you only need to defeat an enemy to use it, and it can be stacked and used up to three times in one go, but it comes with a caveat.
That chain lightning can also bounce onto and attack allies, so you’ll need to be very cautious about how you use it. Caravan morale also impacts its effectiveness as with the Willpower horn.
For the most part, it all plays masterfully. Though I did encounter a very unusual bug whenever Juno was in my party. Whenever the game explains why she’s different from the rest of the characters, it then bugs out and won’t let me move around or attack anyone. I couldn’t even skip my go, which basically crashed the entire battle. This sort of seemed to resolve itself when I took out my mouse and plugged in a joypad, but the rest of the battle felt a bit ropey as a result.
There’s also a few battles where it feels like you’re set up to fail. No matter how well you do, the odds can become quite overwhelming, though the story will still progress no matter if you do fail. Battle repetition does also become a bit of a factor in TBS 3, though this is off-set a little bit by many being designed around a character whenever you have a narrative exchange. It gives the battles a bit of purpose and narrative direction instead of you mindlessly tapping buttons.
There are also other changes to the way the game plays, but I feel like those should be left as surprises, especially since they come towards the end of the saga. Suffice it to say, the mechanics really play into the dramatic tension that is prevalent through The Banner Saga 3, supplementing it perfectly.
And for me, that’s what’s most admirable about TBS 3. The game feels fresh all over again, and it shows the maturity of a team who have fully gelled together, who understand the strengths and limitations of their game and worked hard to create a ‘Best Of’ while also evolving everything you’ve come to know and love about the saga.
The cut-scenes are sharper, better animated and really enrich the adventure in new, exciting ways. There’s more voice acting to bring life to the characters you’ve been journeying with all this time. Even Austin Wintory’s score is at peak brilliance with such diverse composition. He truly captures a unique magic and horror with the darkness, while also building up to the conflict and tragedy of the battle of Arberrang.
The Banner Saga 3 has everything. There was even a moment where I audibly gasped because I couldn’t quite believe what just happened. TBS 3 is the first game this year to truly surprise me.
TBS 3 is a truly special game and the perfect send off for this epic saga. The evolution of Stoic as a studio is apparent with a work that is truly timeless. No doubt about it, The Banner Saga is full of many great gaming moments, many of which are in this concluding episode, and they will stay with me for years to come.
+ An unforgettable musical score
+ Gorgeous animations and cut-scenes
+ Gripping story full of surprises
+ Smart evolutions on existing mechanics to add appropriate tension
+ More character focus than ever which leads to unique battle scenarios
– Some battles feel like they can’t be won.
– Unusual Juno glitch detracted from experience a bit
The Banner Saga 3
9 out of 10
Tested on PC
Code provided by the publisher