The Banner Saga 3 Preview: Act 3 of a Long, Heroic Journey
There’s no doubt The Banner Saga is one of the most well-received indie RPGs in recent memory. It's a fantastic franchise that uses great gameplay to support a deep story.
There's also no doubt that series fans are eagerly awaiting the series' third installment, The Banner Saga 3. Allegedly the final act to indie turn-based strategy series, there's a lot riding on the shoulders of The Banner Saga 3 -- especially for series loyalists.
Building upon the intriguing mythological Norse narrative of the first two games, this entry puts players back into a rich, embattled world full of nefarious dark forces bent on its destruction. Whether the final product wraps the story together in neat bundle remains to be seen, but thanks to developer Stoic, we were able to get a glimpse of the game's first three chapters.
Here's what we saw.
*Some minor spoilers follow, so read on at your own risk.
Starting Out on Our New, Yet Familiar Journey
Much like The Banner Saga 2 brought over your progress from the first game, the series' latest installment will carry over your choices from the previous two games if they’re on your system or PC.
If you haven’t played the first two entries (or don't have the save data on your system of PC), you'll start by making BS2’s big ending choice. If you've yet to finish BS2, I won't spoil the ending for you here, but you won't have to worry about starting completely fresh whether you're a newcomer or not.
The game includes a tutorial for those who haven’t played before or need a refresher. It does a good job of not only teaching you how to move and attack, but it gives you tips to help formulate strategies later on. It’s a short but effective tutorial, although I do wish it had included a little bit more information about different classes and weapons.
Right from the start, the game is just as gorgeous as it's ever been, with hair and capes moving elegantly in the wind and vibrant colors striking a deep contrast to the game's more subdued environmental palettes. And rounding out the artistic feel of this entry, the sound effects in The Banner Saga 3 are also great: they rise, fall, and change according to dialogue and the game's soundtrack, making the game feel very cohesive.
Making Choices and Doing Battle
A short cinematic introduces the first chapter of our preview, and right off the bat, your choices matter. You can choose to be coy or ask difficult questions of yourself and the game's characters, but in the series' ultimate chapter, the decisions you make carry even more weight than before.
Like previous games in the franchise, there’s no telling what impacts your choices could have on future events, but if you've ever played a Banner Saga game before, you know it's always wise to choose carefully as the answers you give have the potential to alter major events in the game.
It would be nice if the game had a command to toggle all enemies’ available move areas -- much like Fire Emblem does.
And the same can be said of choosing your layout for each battle and encounter. After choosing your units, the game allows you to arrange them prior to the start of the battle. It’s nice that the game asks you for confirmation when moving, acting, and ending a turn -- especially if you’re guilty of making hasty or accidental decisions in strategy games, so this helps to prevent you from making an error.
It would be nice if the game had a command to toggle all enemies’ available move areas -- much like Fire Emblem does. It would help lure enemies toward you so you receive a movement advantage, but as far as we can tell, that is currently not in the game.
On top of that, some battles follow the formula explored in The Banner Saga 2: environmental hazards. In our demo, fire was the hobgoblin waylaying our warriors on the battlefield. This specific hazard forces your units to move out of the way or risk strength damage. Growing every few turns, the hazard adds a strategic layer to battles -- making it feel as if the map itself was after our party.
Unit promotion is back as well, and I used it to give one of my party members a new title: “Twice-Born.” Promotions allow access to new active and passive skills; this one allows the affected party member to revive with one STR/WIL after dying. They’re useful wrinkles that you’ll be pretty familiar with at this point -- not ones you should ignore by any means.
Finally, a new kind of combat called "waves combat" is introduced in our demo. The idea here is that you last as long as you can against waves of enemies, and if you defeat the final boss, you earn a powerful item. It’s similar in some ways to survival mode in The Banner Saga 2. You can choose to flee between waves with no penalty. After the first round of this battle, we decided to flee, as only two of our units were still standing.
Assembling the Clans
In our demo, there wasn’t a whole lot “new” to the tried and true Banner Saga formula. If you liked the first two games, there’s a good chance you’re going to like The Banner Saga 3 as well. You’ll find some difficult strategic decisions here, both on the character management and resource management fronts.
We really enjoyed the strategic combat that the series is known for, and the art and animation are as beautiful as ever. On the downside, the music seems to be a little more generic than that of past entries, and we had a little difficulty with unit control on the battlefield (sometimes units will get hidden behind others, making it difficult to accurately command them). There are also some distracting grammatical errors in the game’s dialogue, but hopefully, those will be fixed before launch.
On the whole, we’re looking forward to finishing the game and seeing what the ending brings. With all the twists and turns that the first three chapters alone have had, we’re sure that the ending will be a treat to experience.
The Banner Saga 3 will come out on July 26 for PC/Mac, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, with a mobile version coming at a later date.
[Note: The developer provided the copy of The Banner Saga 3 used in this preview.]