I remember browsing through my Steam queue last year when I came across The Banner Saga. The cover featured a man in his forties with a young girl, who seemed to be his daughter sitting next to him. They were holding a large red cloth and the girl was sewing it.
It certainly didn’t come off as a happy occasion. Both their expressions were grim and they looked weary. In the background you could see a horned giant leading a procession. This artwork immediately caught my attention. That’s cos I people, am a sucker for tragic tales where player choice plays a major role, and the Banner Saga along with its sequels at it’s core is just that.
I got my review code for Banner Saga 3 a bit late (my fault completely). I was chewing through Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire and then its DLC, Beast of Winter came out. And since the base game itself wasn’t enough to sate my Watcher’s thirst, I just couldn’t wait. And now finally after exploring every nook and cranny of the Deadfire Archipelago, I returned to complete Rook’s tale (for some of you it’ll be Alette’s). The setting was quite different, but the tone not so much.
Both the worlds are on the verge of collapse at the hands of a seemingly noble character, and once again as I said earlier player choice is a major factor.
Banner Saga 3 Review: Plot and Characters
Banner Saga 3 picks up directly from where the second game ended. Rook/Alette and his clansman have hunkered down in the last remaining human city of Arberrang, while Iver along with Juno and Eyvind have gone off to some remote location hoping to avert the crisis. The Ravens are accompanying them, and after their leader got corrupted by the darkness, he’s on their tail now. To keep the Ravens from deserting, Juno has taken over the mind of their second-in-command, Folka.
Just as expected, that turns out to be a bad idea and the Ravens start getting all aggressive leaving it up to Iver to step in and make them work together before calamity hits. On the other hand in Arberrang, things start getting out of hand. The masses start rioting, Rugga’s loyalists start attacking the king’s guards, and at the same time, the dredge creep up to the city. The tension reaches it’s boiling point.
Amongst all this chaos, people will die no matter what you do. In the end though, your actions will either minimize or maximize the casualties, and even your own fate will be decided by past actions. I would like to highlight here that your decisions in the first two games carry weight, and unlike most games where saves can be imported, they make a very noticeable impact. The kind of impact that could kill or save Rook. Same goes for Iver.
Too many negative decisions in the first two games can lead to disaster and an extremely disappointing ending, where pretty much no one survives. To make matters worse, you can’t simulate a save for past decisions at the beginning of Banner Saga 3, so you’ve got no option but to restart the saga in case you screw up.
The Banner Saga 3 like it’s predecessors features a turn based combat system and it’s largely unchanged. Unlike most games, you don’t actually die in-game. If you loose a battle, your characters sustain injuries but get up afterwards. The game doesn’t get over as such.
One change The Banner Saga 3 does bring along with it in the combat department is that many battles are now composed of waves, wherein you have the option of fighting multiple waves of enemies or fall back after one or two of them.
This I believe, is an unneeded addition. As long as you focus on grinding and leveling up your primary characters, you’re good to go, but if you are just interested in the story and don’t beat a handful of waves every now and then, the difficulty curve starts getting too steep.
The second game also had an uneven difficulty, but unlike its sequel it didn’t have round based or wave based combat. This just seems like a lousy attempt to fix the difficulty curve instead of actually revamping it.
Art and Soundtrack
Once again, the developers over at Stoic have proved that hand painted visuals have a charm of their own. Say what you will, the realistic graphics of AAA games can’t keep up with the artsyle of indie games.
The soundtrack too is also quite unique just like the other Banner Saga games. A blend of modern music and traditional Viking tunes is an absolutely enthralling experience.
The Banner Saga started off as a heart-warming story but towards the end started getting really dark by killing off characters and incorporating more mature themes. The Banner Saga 3 is the culmination of that Viking inspired story where the fate of the world and your characters depends on your choices alone.