The Banner Saga 3: Beautifully cataclysmic | PAX East 2018 preview

Credit: Stoic, Versus Evil
Credit: Stoic, Versus Evil /

After playing its demo at PAX East 2018, the final entry in The Banner Saga series wraps up the trilogy with an artfully crafted, cataclysmic boom.

Anyone familiar with The Banner Saga series knows that these games are prime examples of video games as art. The series features gorgeous hand-drawn animations, a beautiful soundtrack, tactical, turn-based combat, and a meaningful Norse-inspired narrative that is both engaging and rewarding. After getting our hands on The Banner Saga 3 at PAX East, it came as no surprise that the culmination of this series aims to go out with quite the artistic and tactical explosion.

The Banner Saga 3 is a direct sequel, picking off right where the previous game left off. For new players, it can be hard to fully understand some of the lore and every character’s stories without having played the previous two titles. Imagine jumping into Game of Thrones during season four and trying to figure out every plotline and character. The Banner Saga 3 will include in-game videos to catch new players up on what’s happening at least. If no previous save files are found, it will also populate your party with what is considered the “canonical” party. While players can jump right into the final game, Stoic highly recommends playing through the first two games to get the full experience.

My meeting with Stoic at PAX East 2018 started off with a brief rundown of where the story picks up. Like in previous games, you control two caravans on parallel adventures. This time, one caravan is defending the city of Arberrang against the Dredge while the other is making their way through the Darkness at the edge of the world. The demo ended up revealing a few spoilers from both the second and third game, so I will refrain from discussing those here. However, the conclusion of the game’s narrative is not the only new feature coming to The Banner Saga 3.

The Banner Saga 3
Credit: Stoic, Versus Evil /

As one might expect, there are a number of new characters available for use in your caravans. One notable character we played during the demo was Juno, a magician with the power of healing who turns into a ghost when killed. The healing ability had a long cooldown timer but was still a major game changer in combat. The game features more than forty different heroes now, which is a big improvement since the first title’s initial launch. The Banner Saga 3 also introduces new enemy types, especially for your caravan treading through the Darkness.

In terms of combat, the system is mostly more of the same save for two notable enhancements. The first is the ability to call down a powerful lightning move that charges every time you kill an enemy. This lightening chains across diagonal tiles, including those occupied by your own characters. During our demo, this chain lightning both saved my party and caused the death of at least one of my party members thanks to my quick trigger finger. It’s an interesting addition to the game’s strategies that left me wondering if it wasn’t a bit overpowered.

The Banner Saga 3
Credit: Stoic, Versus Evil /

The second enhancement is the introduction of a new wave combat system. In the Darkness, your caravan must take on waves of enemies that you must defeat within a certain number of moves or else the waves keep on coming. After beating this timer, you can choose to continue to fight one final wave to get more items and experience, or stop and run away. Players can also substitute our party members between waves as well as move characters around on the battlefield, enabling you to set up the best possible strategy before you take on the next group of enemies. I felt like the 50 turn timer in the demo was a bit too easy, but Stoic mentioned that they are still playing around with the difficulty balance of this mode.

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All in all, The Banner Saga 3 is more of the same with some minor but interesting enhancements. The game is visually pleasing, the combat seems just as tactical as its predecessors, and its storytelling is shaping up to end the series in a thrilling and cataclysmic ending. From our brief time with the game at PAX East 2018, it seems like The Banner Saga 3 will be quite an explosive finale that fans of the series have been yearning for.

The Banner Saga 3 is set to release on  PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on July 24th. The Banner Saga 1 and 2 will also release on the Nintendo Switch before then.