The banner is raised high, but morale is thin on the ground. Your clansmen have been walking for days on low supplies and have hit many a hitch in the road. Every decision you have made on this journey has brought you closer to your goal, but at what cost? Your supplies are depleted because you foolishly trusted a thief and your best warriors are either injured or dead due to the deceit of others. In the distance the Dredge stir, but there is no turning back now. The Banner Saga has always been about decisions and the third instalment continues this type of storytelling while carrying your choices over from the previous titles.
The Banner Saga 3, from developers Stoic, is the last chapter in a series of Viking inspired tactical RPGs. You don’t have to have played the first two to jump into this adventure however, you may get a bit lost and the recap offers a very vague telling of the previous tales. It’s all on purpose though, The Banner Saga is a trilogy that is best enjoyed as a trilogy. Your decisions carry through each game so to get the full experience it is recommended that you pull your convoy through all three harrowing journeys. Start off with this one and you will get a chance to fill in any gaps through dialogue, but some of it may not make much sense.
If you’ve played previous titles you can expect much of the same with a few tweaks. Primarily, the game is a tactical RPG and a damn good one at that! There is an abundance of characters and classes all with different abilities that bring extra considerations during battle. Before you fight, you must form your team from a roster of warriors. A well-balanced team can make the difference when facing down the dredge and this is an area in which a lot of thought and careful design has been implemented. Place your archers in the right place, push your giants into the fray and deliberately lead your enemies into a bottleneck to pick them off easily and you’re onto a winner. Make a mistake, however, and the results can be brutal and unforgiving as even on easy The Banner Saga can be unrelenting.
Battles are in-depth scenarios and allow a lot of scope for being strategic and creative. Characters have will points that can add some extra damage or allow them to move extra squares across the battlefield. They are also used to perform each of the characters unique abilities. This adds an extra layer of strategy as you will want to save these for when the time is right. Use them up too soon and you may have a hard time later whittling down an enemies armour or attempting to turn the tide of battle.
Battles can also be frustrating as the fixed angle of the bouts can make things quite hard to see if your character is being concealed by enemies or certain parts of the environment. The game tries its best with the UI to overcome this, however, a lot of the time you’ll be squinting to see who or what it is you’re hitting. Look past this and the battles can be extremely satisfying to crack.
If you’ve developed a certain affinity for a character be prepared to have your heart broken as permadeath is very real, not through battle but through your decisions. But as heart-wrenching as it is, death is as much a part of the story as anything else. It brings you right into the journey and makes you feel along with your fellow crew. There is no save feature except for autosave, meaning that your blunders in battle and the tough decisions you make along the way are permanent.
Most of your choices are made between battles as you watch your convoy walk across a beautiful hand-drawn Scandinavian landscape. You are presented with choices as you walk along the road that can lead to gaining or losing supplies, raising or lowering morale, being initiated into battle or just generally deciding which way the story will unfold. It is a unique storytelling device that keeps you hooked across the journey, patiently waiting to see what will crop up next, as bleak as it may be.
The Banner Saga 3 is best enjoyed with its predecessors. The allure of playing three stories that are intertwined and influenced by each other is much stronger than playing this as a standalone game, but of course, this was always the intention. Give or take a few clumsy design choices within the battles themselves, this game stands tall above many other tactical RPGs in terms of look, feel and gameplay. This is a world that you’ll want to venture through despite how bleak it may become, and it’s a story you’ll want to experience more than once.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*