The Banner Saga 3 Preview: Marching slowly forward

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

The Banner Saga 3 preview reveals its slow march toward the series’ epic conclusion, changing little, but perfecting much.

In the four years since The Banner Saga’s release, not much has changed for the series. While its competitors push for more realistic graphics, Stoic has kept its 2D style and haunting, melancholic soundtrack. The main draw of its third installment isn’t shiny new features, but the conclusion of an epic story, and what a finale it’s shaping up to be.

The Banner Saga 3 opens to a chaotic city under siege by a ruthless man who betrayed you. As lords bicker and the king falls ill, a host of stone-formed ‘Dredge’ pincers you between land and sea. Meanwhile, a band of sorcerers and mercenaries pushes its way through an all-consuming darkness that threatens to cover the land.

It’s an instantly compelling premise that contrasts the slow unfolding of the first game. Gone is any hope for normalcy as you guide your grizzled party through political intrigue and vicious battles. You’re thrown instantly into tough decisions as you fight a seemingly endless threat.

From the few hours I played, it was clear Stoic has crafted its finale with even more love than previous iterations. There’s a noticeable step forward in dialogue quality, characterization, and the feeling of weight behind your actions.

One of the series’ biggest criticisms has been a lack of meaningful repercussions for your choices, and it’s impossible to say if that’s changed without completing the game. What’s clear, though, is that it nails the epic feel of the Saga’s it’s inspired by.

The Banner Saga 3 abberang
Stoic, Versus Evil /

At one point, I found myself fighting through bands of rebels to make it to a gap in the city walls. There, a hulking dredge slung a giant anchor, puncturing holes in the failing defenses. Desperate, a party member concocts a plan, forcing it to hook explosive barrels and rushing into the fray while it’s still weakened. Straight away, it felt like the scale of the battle was bigger than ever, and with that comes some intelligent mechanics.

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One of the few additions in The Banner Saga 3 is the introduction of wave-based combat. At the end of a large fight, players occasionally have the option to switch out their party and fight more enemies. In doing so, they’ll receive greater rewards and better protect their people, but will experience more injuries that could hamper them down the line. It really highlights Stoic’s ability to make tweaks only where they make sense.

Some will see this hands-off approach as a lack of innovation on the studio’s part, but it’s more akin to an episodic series like Life is Strange or The Walking Dead.  The core mechanics stay the same, but there’s plenty of variety between installments. In Stoic’s case, it comes in the form of new playable heroes and enemy types, all serving to make the chess-like turn-based combat more interesting.

Source: Stoic, Versus Evil
Source: Stoic, Versus Evil /

This time around, players can take control of Juno, a powerful mender who can control minds and temporarily stave off the darkness. In combat, she can shift into a ghost form and collect darkness energy to come back to her physical form. There’s also the opportunity to play as Varl historian Ubin for the first time, as well as a Dredge, and a witch known as Alfrun.

The Banner Saga 3 is a chance, finally, to get answers.

The additions put the total number of heroes at 40, and building parties with combinations of each can significantly impact your playstyle. You can build a mobile force of horseborn, for example, or a slow, steady group of Varl. In general, there’s more variety and complexity, and a higher level of difficulty to some of the game’s battles. If you play through the games in order, it’s a natural progression. If you jump straight into the third game, you might struggle, as there’s really no reason to start at the end.

Adding the customization and the epic feel is the addition of heroic titles. Once they pass level 10, you can spend renown for a variety of names that bring passive upgrades such as increased strength, willpower resistance, and more. Once you choose it for one character, it becomes unavailable to others, giving a somewhat unique feel and a sense of accomplishment.

The Banner Saga 3 roster
Source: Stoic, Versus Evil /

Other than that, little has changedIt keeps the beautiful soundtrack, the detailed art, the satisfying turn-based combat, and hones them to near perfection.  We didn’t see a whole lot of mechanics that weren’t at PAX East, but again, that’s not the real pull.

The Banner Saga 3 is a chance, finally, to get answers. Stoic has promised the draw back the curtain on some of the consequences of the series’ decisions, to give an even deeper look at the lore, and ultimately wrap up its critically acclaimed series.

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

The real test will be how the title brings the overarching story into a cohesive whole, and for that, we’ll have to wait a little longer. However, with the story, we’ve seen so far and Stoic’s self-awareness, we have very high hopes.

The Banner Saga 3 will release on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on July 26.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purposes of this preview.