The world is dying. A premise that we have been hearing since the first game finally comes to life. And it’s terrifying. Everyone is escaping from the end, struggling to stay on their feet while people is still being arrogant, selfish and, in some cases, doing anything they can for a matter of survival. All our past decisions come to a closure, but there’s still a chance to make things right. Even if that means letting go of the things and the people you care about.
The Banner Saga 3 is an epic fantasy story. I don’t think there’s another way to describe it. Stoic Studio’s take on Norse Mythology started to become more intense and unique over time, and it can be easily witnessed in this final episode, embracing the so-called darkness that has been being teased since the first title. Players control two different parties, set aside by thousands of miles away, both looking for the same purpose, to see the sun moving once more, but not specifically through equal means. The game picks up right after the sequel, and once more, you have the option to either start from scratch or import your save file to maintain ranks, items and, most importantly, your choices.
The main group is still struggling to enter Arberrang, the last capital in the whole continent that remains untouched by the darkness. But, as you have probably guessed already, they are not the only clan to showcase their banner at the front door. The king is doing everything at his disposal to refuse the people’s arrival, hundreds of families and warriors steal supplies and murder each other. But even in the midst of chaos, these people recognize us, for better or worse.
The Sundr killer leading a caravan that gathers humans, varls and horseborn under the same banner is now stepping in with nothing but bad news: an army of endless dredge, stone-structured creatures that have been the nemesis of the main characters since the first game, a cloud of darkness that can turn anything it touches into ruin and despicable creatures, and a giant serpent that wants to swallow the whole world are on their way. Remember the times when the dredge were enough trouble?
Simultaneously, the other main party carries only a bit over a dozen people along with Juno and Eyvind, two of the handful of remaining menders and Valka in the world. Trained in magical arts since their very beginning of existence, and being part of a small group who can see through the world, their journey takes them through within the darkness itself, protecting themselves with a light spell and not much more.
They’re all tired of running, and the fact that some questions are still unanswered even when the party is rapidly approaching the goal makes for some very tense moments that can lead to arguments, fights and even a character’s demise. There aren’t second chances in The Banner Saga 3 (unless you reload the game before it manages to save, but why would you?) and a never-ending feeling of unease and grief is perceived in every character. The game doesn’t stop presenting you with major decisions, most of which you can’t really predict their ending. I managed to preserve most of the main characters alive, but some deaths seemed bound to happen since the first time I booted up the game, regardless of my actions.
Gameplay has went through more significant changes here than in comparison between the sequel and its predecessor. The core remains the same, mind, but there are some key differences: morale isn’t as important as before, and at least in my walk-through, I had no way to uplift either of the parties’ humor. Resting a full day is now a waste of time, and to make things worse, every day matters. The entirety of your caravan, the number of supplies and how some events turn out will all be summed up in a specific number of days left to attempt saving the world.
As for the combat, not being able to increase your morale gets rid of the possibility of gaining willpower bonuses, but there’s something interesting about the unlucky party approaching to the center of the world. The characters that are traversing through the darkness can make use of a spell that has three charges, each of which replenish with kill counts. They don’t do much damage, but can be used in any of your turns without affecting them, so it leads to a small but significant tactic advantage.
The other interesting system introduces optional enemy waves to specific battles. In these, players will see a number of remaining turns until the second wave begins, with the reward of not only a significant larger amount of renown to spend on upgrading characters, but a unique item waiting down the line. I wasn’t very interested in the premise, but it’s well implemented: going on a second wave is entirely optional, and you can also replace hurt party members with inactive characters from your roster.
Other than these new additions, and the cool possibility of recruiting dredges for your parties, The Banner Saga 3’s core didn’t go under any major changes. And that’s what impress me the most of the series. Stoic Studio delivered an epic tale that withstood the pass of time in such a meaningful and unique way, connecting stories and unveiling the past of key characters to showcase their true intentions, and how far they were willing to go to fulfill those desires.
Every decision I had to make in this final episode left a scar on me, and the ending felt… different from what I was expecting. This doesn’t mean I hated it, but it manages to finally strike you with the realization that you’re facing the conclusion of a three game long story that, from the way it was designed, feels just like a unique game divided in major episodes. As I always talking with a friend earlier, the best word to describe it is bittersweet. While I won’t enter spoiler grounds, it’s good to know there are multiple endings depending on the last decisions you make.
I loved the Banner Saga when it first came out, I lived with some of the decisions I made and started to see the true calamity ahead of me in the sequel, and the third and last episode was more than I could have expected. The characters I met will always have a special place in my heart, and the outstanding soundtrack will always remind me of the times in this adventure for years to come.
A copy of The Banner Saga 3 for Switch was provided by Plan of Attack on behalf of the studio. Make sure to visit the official site for more information.