Here, At the End of All Things
With an amazing story filled with gut-wrenching drama, a memorable cast of characters, and unforgettable set pieces, I can now honestly say that The Banner Saga trilogy is one of my favorite gaming franchises. Once the credits roll in this third installment, the player will be taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion but concluded with a worthy exit that respects the player’s commitment to the first two games.
Before reading any more, do yourself a favor and play the first two games in order. Jumping into this third and final installment will only create confusion and you will screw yourself of one of the best stories in gaming in the last decade. You also won’t really understand what is happening. One and Two must be played before playing BS3. You have been warned.
In terms of gameplay, there is nothing overly new or different with this third game verses Banner Saga 1(Switch) and Banner Saga 2. Instead of retreading those waters, let’s focus on what is new. Here my review of the Xbox One version of Banner Saga 1 too.
Combat is still a tactical RPG built around the well balanced Renown system. The only big addition here is the introduction of horde mode-like battles. Instead of wiping out your enemies and moving onto the next bit of story, there are battles where the player can take on a few waves of baddies one right after the other. This drastically stacks the odds against the player as characters will take a beating here in Banner Saga 3, especially if you didn’t level characters well in the first two games. In fact, I actually died in a few battles as the new corrupted enemies pack a punch and even use some cheap tactics like stoneslingers sniping all players as they immediately come within distance. However, even if the player dies in combat, the narrative still moves forward and the player is left to face the penalty of having a wounded party that requires precious rest time and resources to heal.
Without giving away too many details and spoilers, there are a couple other additions that put a small spin on gameplay over the predecessors. First, the player can now play as spell weavers with Juno being unique as she cannot die. Upon losing all her health, she becomes a ghost in which we needs to walk over dark essences to recover health to rejoin the battle. There is also a witch that can restore health, a first for the series. I was also able to befriend a Dredge and this ranged fighter wound up being my go-to in every battle.
Even with the gripping combat and RPG mechanics, the heart of the Banner Saga series is the story. Just like the first two games, the player will be faced with tremendously difficult decisions at every turn, most of which have no clear answer let alone right or wrong. In fact, it is probably more accurate to describe the decision making aspect as bad or worse as many choices can negatively affect supplies, character development, and even the overall narrative. A decision, although it might seem small and insignificant, can yield massive changes down the line. This is where the Banner Saga succeeds the most. The story is so well written and so well done, it will hook players from beginning to end and even warrant multiple play-throughs of the entire three-game campaign. This third and final entry in the series not only explains some of the more obscure details of the first two games, it absolutely nails the ending with a conclusion that provides a worthy payoff. My only gripe with the story and ending is that I just want more. Not because it doesn’t tie up loose ends or has poor presentation, I just want more because it is so good. The campaign will be over in about eight hours, and the new wave battles sort of artificially extend this, but the timing is on par with first two games.
The same can be said about the visuals and animation. Like I mentioned in my previous Banner Saga 1 review, the animations look like a Disney film and are so well done, I want more of them. The small amount of voice acting and engrossing soundtrack also tie the entire experience together in a way that feels like a complete package designed with care and detail.
Unfortunately, there are still a couple of instances that make the overall experience stutter a step. The in-battle icons, for example, are still difficult to distinguish which one is selected. Clearly this interface was designed with a mouse in mind so it isn’t as intuitive with a controller. Also, it is easy to accidentally accept or cancel the next wave of combat due to a misleading menu layout. For example, tapping the B button caused me to instantly decline the next wave of enemies when I simply just wanted to remove a member of my party for a new one. A simple “are you sure” confirmation would have been ideal. Further, I encountered a nasty menu navigation bug on more than one occasion in which the game wouldn’t let me select certain character abilities. Luckily, cancelling the menu screen, going back to the map screen, then back to the character menu restarted the selection and everything worked fine but a pain nonetheless; perhaps a future patch can remedy this. Also, during one of the wave battles, the second wave of enemies didn’t appear. I was left to wander the battle screen for about 20 turns before wave 3 hit. Again, perhaps a future patch can fix these issue and cannot say if these problems exists on any other platform other than Xbox One.
While it isn’t flawless, The Banner Saga 3 and the Banner Saga trilogy is an absolute must play. Sure, the combat is fun, engrossing, and well balanced but it is the story, visual style, and attention to narrative detail that creates the memories and an unforgettable gameplay experience. Stoic and Versus Evil have created something special here and players shouldn’t miss it. The Banner Saga is a gift to the world.
Makes Me Want To Replay: all the Tactics Ogre games
Also Try: watching all the Lord of the Rings movies in a row
Wait For It: the season finale of Game of Thrones in 2019