Banner Saga is one of those titles that you either thoroughly enjoy or genuinely dislike–there’s no real in-between. It’s a demanding sort of game where getting into the complex, winding story is half the battle–where you’ll be learning a lot of names and locations and will have to pay careful attention for things to click into place.
It’s a game that requires a certain type of gamer and, while that’s not a bad thing, it does make this a difficult one to recommend, but I’ll try my best.
This third and final installment wraps up the saga and features some of the characters you’ve come to love as well as some new ones fighting beneath your warbanner. It takes place directly after the events of the first two games and you have the option of loading your saved file from Banner Saga 2, which is nice to have if you’ve worked hard on maintaining and growing your caravan. Even if you have no existing data for one reason or another, the game starts the characters on a level appropriate to a warrior who’s fought through two Sagas.
Banner Saga 3 is a strategy RPG that has some supply management aspects. Battle takes a back seat to heavy doses of story, during which you’re able to make decisions which will affect your non-combat troop count, renown, and standing with your combat troops. There’s three main phases to gameplay:
The majority of your game time will be spent watching your caravan march across detailed and colourful environments. The characters in your caravan will chat and NPCs and objects in the background will move around, making these moments nice to look at, though they aren’t preferable to actually taking control yourself. Time passes as you do so, subtracting from your amount of rations based on how many units are in your war band.
Random events will crop up while you travel, including merchants where you can purchase more supplies and combat items for Renown, the game’s currency. Sometimes you’ll encounter characters and are able to choose how you respond to them. It’s not always obvious what dialogue option is the “correct” one to select, but your choices have consequences regardless–both good and bad.
Decisions made along the way will affect how the caravan is traveling, while the speed of travel is dictated by the caravan’s endurance, morale, size, and supplies are managed. Endurance drains naturally as you travel while making certain decisions can increase or decrease the size of your following. Note that having a larger following will bring down your mobility, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on your population.
I’m exploration mode, you’re able to directly interact with members of your caravan and, should you have chosen to stop at a point of interest, choose how you proceed with your journey. You also have the option to rest, which replenishes endurance, but also passes time.
The story is told through a mix of dialogue exchanges and short voice-acted cutscenes. The majority of it will have to be read, during which you’ll make dialogue choices. I can’t say much without spoiling what is a story-heavy game, but I will say that the writing is great.
For those who like story as a bonus rather than the focus, Banner Saga is not the series for you. You’ll have a lot of names and places and titles thrown at you and it’s akin to reading a hefty lore book where every detail is painstakingly fleshed out. If you’re a newcomer like myself or it’s been some time since you’ve completed the first two games, there’s actually a recap function in the main menu that sums up their events. Having that function served as a bit of a comparison point as to how the exchanges in-game could have been truncated, at least for those who didn’t like to read, and made me wish for something similar for the current events as I waded through text box after text box.
Combat is turn based, on a grid. Before you strategy fans cheer and run off to buy the attractively packaged trilogy, be warned: battles can take quite some time to complete. This is due, in part, to the way the game handles health bars. Every unit has a health and shield bar, the latter of which must be depleted in order to strike a significant blow. If your unit’s strength is less than your target’s shield, the game will show you a percentage based on how much deflection this will cause.
Battlefields are interesting to look at, some having large amounts of characters drawn right into the scene to simulate a vast army and others with elaborate backdrops. There are also hazards and obstacles that can be used to your advantage–or the enemy’s. Dangling at the top and middle of the screen is a thematically strong battle horn. It gains charges for enemies slain and, if you use it on a unit’s turn, it empowers them, allowing them to extend their range and hit harder. The horn can be used as many times as you wish, but keep in mind that each unit has a Willpower limit that cannot be exceeded. The horn also has a charge limit–a maximum of five, meaning you should use its charge before killing a sixth enemy or that charge will go to waste.
In lieu of experience points, your warriors’ combat rating is based on the number of units they’ve slain in combat. After racking up a specific number of kills, you’re able to spend Renown to promote your unit. Promotions not only strengthen your unit, but after their tenth rank, you’re able to select a title which offers specific stat bonuses. You can only choose one title per unit, so choose wisely. Banner Saga 3 adds additional titles not existing in the other two games, allowing for greater unit tailoring.
If I had to give a breakdown of the action, I’d say the game was 60/15/25 in terms of story/travel/battle. This is much slower paced than the RPGs to which I am accustomed and as such I often found myself hurrying through text to get to the good stuff. Even then, combat can take quite a while to complete and with their not being an undo option, I had to be absolutely certain of my next move as there was no room for trial and error.
- Gorgeous presentation.
- Combat is highly strategic.
- The ability to import your save data from previous titles.
- Two main character selections offers replayability.
- Slower paced
- The story is long-winded.
- Dialogue options not always obvious.
Banner Saga 3 and its predecessors weave a tale of love, loss, and glory that spans the course of three epic sagas. Combat could stand to be faster paced and more accessible, and a greater range of activities to take part of while travelling would also make down time pass by more smoothly, but that’s just my opinion. While the games may not be for everyone, myself included, those with the patience and strength of will to see the tale through to the end are in for a treat.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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