Closure is a real rarity in video games.
It’s not very often that you complete a game, especially one that has been part of a series, and feel satisfied. Like what you’ve witnessed is actually the end. Stoic’s The Banner Saga 3 aims to do that though, and from what I’ve played of it already, it’s certainly shaping up to be a riveting finale.
Launching on 26th July, The Banner Saga 3 continues from where the second chapter of the epic Viking adventure left off. If you’ve not yet played the first two games and plan to do so, perhaps skip over the rest this paragraph, as there will be spoilers. Iver has headed north with Juno and Eyvind, determined to deal with the literal darkness that is consuming the land. Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Arberrang, your hero, be it Rook or Alette, is dealing with Rugga.
The situation couldn’t really feel any more disparate for both groups. While your hero is glad to once again feel some sort of normality, despite the constant threat of Dredge attack, up north, things are grim. Tensions are high, and are only raised when yet more survivors join the caravan. There’s also the issue of a new enemy seeped in darkness. You get the impression that everything is hinging on the actions of these brave and unfortunate heroes as they fight for the future of mankind. Their plight feels desperate, and you sense that things will only get worse before they (possibly) get better.
The Banner Saga is all about making difficult decisions, and that tradition is carried on with aplomb in this third and final part. Straight off the bat your morals will be challenged, and important choices have to be made. The morale of your caravan is heavily influenced by your actions, and it really makes you feel like a weary leader. You won’t want to banish a powerful ally from your party, for example, but their actions may mean you don’t have much choice; unless you want to be seen as guilty by association. Every option you’re presented with feels like an opportunity to impress or screw up, resulting in you sitting there, taking time to mull over each selection. Never before has a game series made me agonise so much over the repercussions of my actions, and that’s what makes The Banner Saga so great.
Being a continuation of the story, little has changed in The Banner Saga 3 gameplay-wise. It’s still the same combination of absolutely sumptuous art paired with a scintillating soundtrack by Austin Wintory. You spend your time reading text, selecting options, and managing your team of heroes. Combat remains pretty much unchanged, too. But with more enemy variety in this third outing, it feels more tactical and involved than ever. There are also some surprises too, like new wave-based battles. Whether you choose to flee at the end of the first wave is up to you, but those who stick it out can reap rewards by defeating the boss in the final wave.
If you’ve already made your way through the previous two instalments, you can import your save data and carry on with your hero and their band of warriors. If not, don’t worry, you can still jump into The Banner Saga 3 if you want. There’s a handy recap video to get you up to speed on the main menu, though as the game’s full release is just under a month away, why not pick up its predecessors and make your way through them? You can currently buy the trilogy pack, which includes the first two games, a pre-order for The Banner Saga 3, and the soundtracks for all three for just under £30, which is an absolute bargain.
It’s hard to play The Banner Saga and not draw parallels to Game of Thrones. They’re both gripping tales of bravery, politics and conflict. Unlike Game of Thrones, however, in The Banner Saga it’s you calling the shots. You’re the one making the hard decisions and living with them. But as we move into the final throes of both sagas we’re left with trepidation. There will be shocks, there will be surprises, and there will be deaths. But there’ll also be closure; good or bad. And you know what? I’m looking forward to it.