Published on August 13th, 2018 | by Lee Davies
Review: The Banner Saga 3 (Switch eShop)
Format reviewed: Switch eShop
Other formats available: PS4, XBox, Steam, iOS, Google Play
Publisher: Versus Evil
Website: Official Website
Banner Saga 3 is the final dramatic chapter in the mature, story driven Viking RPG series which has won over 20 awards and has been nominated for 4 BAFTA awards. As the world continues to crumble around you, who can you trust, how will you protect your allies and what choices will you make as the Darkness draws near?
Witness the Banner Saga as you’ve never seen it before as a dark force takes over and effects everything you’ve come to know in the beautifully hand-painted finale of the trilogy.
Very little that is different from previous installments in this trilogy exist, and it is because of this very fact that the author would direct you to our review of the first Banner Saga game for the full run down on what this series has to offer the player and can be seen here. This review will very briefly skirt around those issues, address what has been brought new to the table, and eventually whether or not the changes are worth another purchase of this well-regarded strategic RPG.
Even with the feeling of complete closure over the trilogy’s story, there is no redeeming the fact that little has changed in any of the gameplay mechanics, and all the frustrations of the first part of the Saga’s story raise their head again in this iteration. It’s unfortunate that a great story and its accompanying visuals are bogged down by unforgivable errors in its execution during the strategic combat side of things.
Before you even start a new game, the option to recap the first two games in about 3 minutes is a welcome inclusion. Starting a new game will allow previous save files from The Banner Saga 2 to be recognised and allow your own personal story to continue forwards. If, like me, you played the first and not the second, then the option to choose between one of the two heroes from the first installment makes evident that not much actually happened in terms of character deaths in the second. Plus, the recap gets you up to speed of everything needed to be cognisant of. Watch Rugga!
The stand-out things of the previous games return. The story is as dark and foreboding as it always has been. This time our heroes find themselves in two separate locations. Aberrang, a once thriving city, now the final haven for humanity, Horselords, Varl and Dredge. The Darkness is slowly creeping in and warping all the inhabitants unwittingly trapped in its purple haze. Survival and keeping the city under a form of marshal law are the order of the day here. The other group venture into the Darkness, with the help of Valka (magicians), to put a stop to whatever was the cause and return peace to the land. It’s a little transparent in places, but serves its function to bring the Trilogy to a conclusion.
The visuals and cutscene animations are once again minimalistically designed with Northern European Scandinavian culture playing a heavy part in the weapons, characters, enemies and lore. However, this time the journey into the Darkness allows the artists to render a far more alien territory, blast worn landscape, that only adds to the foreboding sense of doom creeping toward Aberrang.
The sense of scale in the first title, travelling vast distances between towns and cities, is reeled back into a claustrophobic sense of impending annihilation. And, that fuels the story’s vigour at telling its two camps of differing objectives. Everyone is trapped at Aberrang and waiting for death, the Darkness travellers are trapped in a bubble of light to protect them from the death just outside that shield. The Banner Saga 3 certainly doesn’t pull its punches in its storytelling.
The multiple choice decision making process also returns. Choosing a certain path over another can lead to conflict, death of a follower, main character, and loss of supporters. And never, has this had so much of effect than in The Banner Saga 3. Toward the end of the game, the total number of supplies, Varl, Horselords, Clansmen, and fighters are pooled into a countdown of the days remaining until Aberrang is laid to siege by the impending weight of the Serpent’s will.
There are telegraphed events that you can see coming from a mile away, where the player’s choice of one of 2 – 3 options will have a decided effect on the outcome of the game’s story and conclusion, but these sparsely populate the story, and can’t muster enough enthrallment to make the player want to return to Banner Saga to try out other possible routes through the story. The decisions made this time around feel less weighty, and certain characters who perish, would probably have done so no matter what choice was factored into your playthrough.
The tactical RPG elements all remain the same except for one large shake-up which feels rather an inclusion to bump up the play time rather than an inclusion that makes any meaningful sense to the story or gameplay. The way characters upgrade their skills remains completely the same, occurring after battle and spending your well earned Renown points to promote your class. There still remains no consequence to letting someone fall in battle, other than letting them rest through the next fight, and all the little frustrating niggles of the overly clunky tactical strategy rears up again to frustrate once more. Things that should have been resolved, like; the muddied look of the visuals upon zooming in; a characters health overlay becoming invisible because it hides under something on the screen; the cluster of fighters making it hard to discern placement; everything within the selection of movement, attack, and defence, requires a cycling though options that are not simultaneous; etc.; are not resolved, and become more frustrating because of it. This is the third game, and it plays in exactly the same way as the first, even though there are obvious and glaring issues that need to be addressed.
The developers promise the player, “Deeper strategic combat with the new battle waves system against a myriad of new enemies.” This just means that after completing a battle, you are given a choice of whether or not you want to go yet another round with the enemy. The option to swap out characters from your stock makes things easier, and allows weaker characters to do some necessary levelling up. Doing so, may land you some additional rewards in the form of trinkets that buff your characters’ stats. But, when you’ve gone through two whole rounds of combat, and the choice arises to yet again slog through another fight in the same location, it’s a little soul destroying and tediously time consuming when you don’t know if this is going to be the last round, or another waits alluringly unseen after this very one. It just feels like a way for the developers to fill the game, at the expense of player’s time, by adding these unnecessary and repetitive tasks.
Off TV play is always a nice addition, and it’s present here and as good as it always was. The addition of touch screen controls for menus and combat lend themselves well to this type of game, even if the characters do get a little on the small side during battles.
The last frustration that they failed to fix is the manual save. After playing through the first game, and now the third, the auto-save still remains a mystery. There’s no onscreen icon to warn you when that save is going to take place. And, there were many instances during a series of RPG battles, that no save had occurred between each. At times 40 minutes can pass, and the game hasn’t saved, and there’s no option to manually do it.
Everything that was loved and loathed about the first in the Banner Saga story is present. The good and the bad. If you loved the first, second, or both of the prequels, then little has changed and you’ll be wanting more of the same, there’s no holding you back. However, if you struggled with frustration through any of the others, then it just becomes amplified in this final game, due to the regurgitation of locations, with wave after wave of enemies. And, just when you think it’s over, here comes another wave for good measure.
The Banner Saga 3 (Switch eShop)
Summary: For good or bad, the third episode retains all the positives, story and visuals, and negatives of the first two in the series, but amplifies the negatives with tediously regurgitated wave attacks.