The Banner Saga 3 - XB1 Review

The Banner Saga is a series that has seen an incredible journey. Started off by Stoic Studio and published by Versus Evil back in 2014, this "hardcore" Strategy RPG has had me in tears a few times because of hard to make decisions that could inadvertently have people you care for die on you. Simulating life's hard choices in a Norse-like Fantasy RPG, you can't go back once you've taken that step forward and you have to live with the consequences for bad or worse.

With the trilogy having now come to completion, there was only one way to dive into the third and final chapter. Taking it back from the top, settle in for a story as here is our complete review of the Banner Saga trilogy finally settling in on the third with the end finally here. For better or for worse, the long journeys, the sacrifices and the hard choices have all come to the end of the line for either Rook or his daughter Alette.

The Banner Saga 3

Having gone through from the beginning with Rook, I've seen him lose his daughter, try to die on the battlefield, fight against a pompous ass who doesn't lift a finger to help and finally when he starts to have his heart healed, ends of fighting on the walls of the human capital against the other houses that the King of the Humans would not let in. Your people are now safe, but for how long? Constantly under siege and the Darkness incoming? You hope that wherever Iver has gone to with the Valka (More powerful Menders that are essentially wizards), that he makes it there fast because The Darkness waits for no one.

In almost a go big or go home, Stoic have gone big giving us the best visually enticing experience yet. Cinematics are no longer a very rare treat but they are numerous and they are pretty speeding things up by being visually descriptive which is exactly how something is shown to you later down the line.

Another neat detail is that the world map that shows you where a certain protagonist is has also received an upgrade. Now instead of a flat panning map there's details and smooth transitions in a more 3D manner that works very well with the gorgeous black and purple hues that they've chosen to represent The Darkness.

If nothing else, The Banner Saga 3 wraps up the trilogy brilliantly. All your choices for either good or bad will come back to you and it's up to those choices as to whether or not they'll haunt you. There will be no more secrets, there will be no more lies, everything becomes laid bare and the reasons for everything are finally given to you.

*Super Spoilers*
The Gods are dead but that you knew. What we find out though is that they killed each other off because of one getting jealous of another and then it spiraled out of control. Left to their own devices, the races below did as they saw fit including having wars with one another. The Humans fought the Varl before coming to an understanding. The Horseborn slaughtered horses before leaving in their shame and their own horror. The Dredge thought to be defeated by the Valka were actually allowed to live in peace and learn but in a world apart from this one, an inner world as it exists in its own plane, until the love for one woman destroyed the world.

You meet Eyvind and Juno in the first. What you don't know at the time is that they are the cause of all of it. Juno, an apprentice of Eyvind and not the other way around, learnt the forbidden ways of the mind in order to cure Eyvind of his madness. Learning of this, the council of Valka sentence Juno to death and if she goes willingly, they'll spare Eyvind. Learning that they killed his lover, Eyvind goes off the deep end and harnesses the power of a Dark Sun from that inner world. The sun, was really an egg for a serpent that would eventually devour the world, released early, it doesn't have the power that it needs but it lets loose the darkness that twists everything in its path. This is why the Dredge attacked, because they thought it was an attack on them and a betrayal of their truce.

Setting on a journey to make it right, Iver, Juno and Eyvind head to put the power keeping Juno alive back in its place even if it means her death. As long as Eyvind is guided properly as he, and his madness, have other ideas.
*End of Super Spoilers*

*Kind of Spoilers*
Finally knowing the reasons behind it all make so many factors fall into place. At the same time though, had anyone just talked to one another, it may not have been so bad. In this, Stoic have honestly made a social commentary as to how bad we, as a race, can really be. The worst of the bunch are the humans. Even near the end, with the darkness on their door and the Dredge re-beat as the Sundr Ruin tried to annihilate you one last time, they will murder each other. They still try to steal from one another. The apocalypse is at their door and they do nothing allowing for other people to die while they can reap the benefits. Suing for peace, the world that Rook in knows I tried, I cried as humans killed Oddleif as she and Rook guided the Dredge inside of the walls to keep them safe that much longer from the Darkness.

All your choices come back to you. This woman, this amazingly strong woman, Alette's teacher, the former wife of the old chief and now your lover, followed you even after you said it would be better for her to lead. Why? Because "men would never listen to a woman". She was better than the rest. She wasn't just my best archer, she was the best part of the caravan and I made sure she was an equal voice when the times came. Back in the second I wish I had let The Governor fall because it was his people that kept this mess flowing. It was his people that killed Oddleif. And it was his people that took over the lower parts of the city.

If I could have let the lower parts of the city disappear? I would have. Instead, that was not a choice let to me, the player, to make in order to come back and haunt me.
*End of Kind of Spoilers*

Mechanically, one thing that was immediately noticeable after having re-gone through the first and the second Banner Sagas is that the user interface feels huge and takes up a lot more screen real estate when planning out your moves. It's not a bad thing but the shift feels a tad odd when the first two were identical with straight lines for the actions while this third entry wraps around the character's avatar a little bit. It's a nice touch on Stoic's part as it mean they didn't just leave everything as is for the final part of the trilogy and instead continued to put effort into this amazing trilogy as you can more easily select your actions simply by tilting your thumbstick instead of clicking left or right.

Combat itself looks as smooth as it's ever been but in some of the larger battles near the beginning, if you've chosen to ally Rook with the King at least, are a bit laggy due to the amount of details on the screen. Mathematics still rule the day with Armor needing to often be targeted first in order to deplete a unit's Strength that acts as both their attack and their hit points. How things play out however have remain unchanged making the entire Saga one almost seamless experience.

Like The Banner Saga 2 however, just when you thought it was safe and you knew what to expect? The Banner Saga 3 takes a set of beings out of the darkness and throws them at you. Having originally had but a single taste of them in the second, these darkness warped beings are back and holy hell, they are possibly the toughest things to take down yet and the Horseborne and Dredge hordes weren't a picnic either.

Speaking of Dredge, you can now have them in your party as even they will ally themselves with you against the warped being of The Darkness. These warped beings also showcase exactly why you should have been investing in the boosts within each stat as believe me they did. Often your warped enemies will be absorbing damage if you try to hit them directly so you really do have to go for their armor first. Because of how many there are you'll really be wanting to make sure that you start investing on chances to dodge or chances to ignore portions of their attacks because you're going to need it. In either case, the addition of these foes in the form of Humans, Varl, Horseborn, Dredge and Wildlife (Bears) makes for some pretty scary combinations coming at you from across the field.

In another bit of a twist, battles are no longer, or can no longer be, over once the last foe has been slain. Waves can now play part allowing for you party to keep on attacking if you think they can make it. Now while this isn't "new" per say as it played a bit of a part in the second, there are rewards attached to sticking around this time. If you decide to stick around there could be an item in it for you that will help bolster your chances especially when Iver, Juno and Eyvind have headed off into The Darkness and there are no more shops. The other difference factor is that if you decide to stick around, you can rotate out your party for fresh faces instead of the worn out ones. The longer you stay, the more renown you can get and you'll need it to level up your party.

For leveling up, now after hitting level ten, heroic titles become available in which instead of relying on points from leveling up, you can level these skills with the renown that you've amassed. These new skills are incredible and it honestly makes sense as to why you can only have one because in some cases they are game changers. Adding in on a standard attack the ability to drain strength for many turns ahead is just as amazing as having someone standing in a group and increasing their base armor and strength. Getting units to level 11 is easier than it was before as renown isn't as scarce this time around but you still need to be careful about how you do things, this is The Banner Saga after all.

My investment in the first and second were a little higher this time around because I had an idea of what was coming and in certain cases I wanted to know more about the other choices and the unknown. My investment in the third? Let’s just say that I sat down to it and finished it ten hours later. Not straight mind you as I had to leave the house for something, but in the same day. I needed to know how it ended. No, that’s not quite right, I needed to know how it ended for my Rook and Iver. I needed to know how they, or if they, would make it out. It was the end of my tale, of my decisions, and some of them will haunt me as I wonder if I couldn’t have done better. Others? There are a lot of decisions that I’m good with and that I would do all over again.

The Banner Saga, The Banner Saga 2 and The Banner Saga 3 make for one very fulfilling experience. From the very start to the very end, the quality of the writing, the animations, the visuals, the music and choices you make mesh to create an experience that others would be hard pressed to match. Would I do it all over again? Not tomorrow but yes. There are still loads of choices that I would like to know the outcomes to and I would like to see the adventure through Alette’s eyes.

Finally, Stoic Studio? The Banner Saga 3 is definitely on my Game of the Year list.

Game Information

Microsoft Xbox One
Versus Evil
Turned Based Strategy
Single Player
Other Platform(s):
Sony PlayStation 4

Provided by Publisher

Article by Pierre-Yves


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