Out now as a multiplatform release, The Banner Saga 3 concludes a trilogy of games by Stoic. Celebrated and critically acclaimed since the first title, does the third part keep the momentum going? You can find out on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4 and PC/Mac – we played the PS4 and PC versions.
For me personally, it wasn’t until much later that I started playing The Banner Saga, as I was holding out for the Playstation Vita version. It wasn’t to be, as that version was eventually canceled when Stoic wasn’t able to get it running as well as they wanted to on the handheld. On the plus side, embarking on my The Banner Saga journey a little later did have a nice bonus – I didn’t have to wait as long in between sequels. Or rather parts, as all three Banner Saga titles feel like an organic whole rather than straight up sequels.
This is nowhere more clear than in the fact that your existing saved games still carry over to Banner Saga 3, as long as you continue playing on the same platform. As with Banner Saga 2, this is optional, and you can craft a different “what happened before” path before you start playing as well. This could be because you regret a choice you made earlier, or simply because you’re jumping in with part 3. I wouldn’t recommend the latter option though – things make more sense and are more impactful if you bring previous experience to the table. It would be like starting The Lord of the Rings with The Return of the King. Still excellent, but not quite the same.
The biggest part of that, at least for me, is the narrative that spans this trilogy – along with the characters that carry it. A tale of loss and despair, The Banner Saga is emotionally impactful and full of tough choices you have to make – and that you’ll face the consequences for. A path you traveled in the first game can now come back to haunt you, which is of course extremely rare in videogames where sequels are mostly just standalone titles loosely connected to the previous one. Choices you make here matter, and therein lies the strength of The Banner Saga.
Of course there is also the tactical turn-based combat and strong audiovisual style that makes The Banner Saga more than worthwhile. Part three has some subtle changes (including new “end of times” style warped enemies and heroic titles that give you more party flexibility), but the actual gameplay hasn’t changed much since the first two games. Encounters start feeling familiar after a while, especially if you’ve recently played the previous titles, almost to the point of becoming repetitive. Luckily, the strong narrative aspect of the game makes sure this never happens.
Although the gameplay formula is similar to what we saw before, the overall tone of the game is different – as is the way events play out. You’re no longer traveling large stretches of a world map, but rather find your protagonists tied to smaller environments as they await what they feel is certain doom. It feels like a more compact approach that allows Stoic to more efficiently reach a conclusion to their trilogy, yet you never feel like you’re playing something linear – something that speaks to the strength of Stoic’s formula in The Banner Saga.
The Banner Saga 3 is an excellent and fitting end to the trilogy – yet hard to recommend on its own. It’s a game best enjoyed alongside its two prequels, which combine to make one of this generation’s best turn-based RPG franchises. Can’t wait to see what Stoic does next.