This is it. The saga has come to a conclusion. I wish I had been on since the beginning, but truth be told, if it was not for my enjoyment of last year’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, I may not have ever even given the series any attention. But now I sit here, a newer fan of the turn-based strategy genre, and even more so when they are on Switch. As the summer comes crawling towards its inevitable end, so did my time with Banner Saga. I practically played each entry in the series during each passing month, 1 in June, 2 in July, and needless to say, the third and final entry in our current month of August. As a whole, I was not disappointed. My many days spent keeping those around me alive were as memorable as can be, supplemented by brooding relationships, intense scraps with friend and foe alike, and an impending doom that put a damper on the world around my clan. It was a beautiful, emotionally, and brutal journey that was well worth the investment of time. Even though I do not want it to be, my time with the series has come to end. So how was the final entry? Let’s delve in and have a look.
In many ways, each successive entry in the series is more of the same, but that’s safe to say for many continuities. NOTE: The next couple sentences will carry spoilers as to retread some old ground that leads up to the events of the current game. You have been warned. At this point in our travels, the legendary Varl Iver is accompanying our Valka couple Eyvind and Juno. They are treading through the darkness with The Ravens on a quest to stop the darkness at its source. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, your clan tries to keep Arberrang together as best they can. While darkness looms outside the city, the people within grow restless, and greed, politics, and survival all influence their actions. As Rook or Alette, it is up to you to help weigh the outcome of the city, both for your clan and the general public. Your decisions are more important here than ever, as more lives rest on your shoulders than ever before, and your choices will directly relay how long the city can last.
Though more of the same, the game sprinkles new features here and there to keep things feeling fresh. In the Banner Saga series, the preceding stories continue to embellish the end game, with relationships and troubles continuing to develop even in light of potential ruin. These stories transition quite well from entry to entry in my opinion, with some new characters making their debuts naturally, and others feeling forced. That forced feeling never lasts too long though, with many of the new characters often fitting in pretty quickly. Aside from character development and inclusion, the other new additions relate to the combat.
One of the main additions to combat this time around that intrigued me the most was the noticeable presence of Dredge allies. While I am sure there are ways that you cannot have them in your party (being the friendly and welcoming leader that I am) I took whatever opportunity I could to be inclusive, especially if their skills fit the bill. While doing supportive research and memory refreshers for the review, I found out that the addition of the Dredge as playable characters was by way of a Kickstarter stretch goal for this final entry in the series. I found that to be a bit odd, as I feel that the framework around the Dredge’s “human” side arch would have been inevitable, so the stretch goal kind of threw me off. But that is beside the point. Getting back on track, Dredge teammates could be acquired naturally or by way of a “pre-order” bonus, another tidbit I was unaware of even existing while making my way through the game. In my saga, I was able to acquire 2 of 3 possible Dredge allies, one being on each of the separate teams. On Rook’s side of things, I was joined by Bastion, a shield wielding tank of a Dredge. He was great at breaking down armor and taking hits, all while being a powerful figure on the battlefield. I have much respect for Bastion, because not only is Bastion a badass name, but he was pivotal to my stories outcome. I cannot say why, as to avoid spoilers, but man oh man am I thankful for him (and also for a key decision I made in the first game!) The other dredge, part of Iver’s crew, is the hurler we met back in Banner Saga 2 if I am not mistaken. Its name is Castaway, and they are a huge tactical advantage to have on your side, assuming it survived the events of 2. They are a well-ranged character, and with upgraded abilities and items, can do massive damage to characters. Their explosive ability not only did 3 strength and 3 damage to multiple enemies (or friends) in a 5 tile radius but also caused bleed damage over time. This made hurting multiple foes a breeze. From what I saw, there is also a Stonesinger that could join you, but as to how to gain their allegiance I do not know.
On top of these and other great new characters (Arberrang’s Militia Leader and a “Witch” are other great newcomers), there are a few new points of interest when it comes to engaging in combat. The main new feature here is the occasional pop up of wave-based battles. While most of these occur within the darkness, it does happen in Arberrang from time to time. In these fights, you have a limited amount of rounds before the opposing team gains reinforcements. If you do not defeat them within that time frame, more foes will appear on the map. If you do best them, however, you have the option to flee or continue fighting. If you continue fighting, you may change up your team with any healthy character from your selection pool. Finishing off the remaining “waves” not only earns you renown, but it also gets you some pretty rare items. If you are confident enough to push forward, I highly recommend it, as shops are rare in the world’s current state, so these extra items are more precious than ever.
Being more confident is easier than ever thankfully, as at this point in your journey many of your main characters should be high level. If you know them well enough, playing with their skills and others should now be second nature. This is also partly because of the new Legendary titles characters can gain. After reaching level 11, characters can now have a neat title that gives them additional skills and can be upgraded up to five times. This batch of titles is limited, so once one is bestowed upon a character, it cannot be given to another, so choose wisely. I had THE most fun during combat in this epic finale than I did across the whole series, even when it was challenging. It was a damn good feeling to strategize to the best of my abilities and come out on top, nearly every time. Be warned though, being risky may be fun but resting is a seldom had option in this title. If your characters go down in battle, it may be sometime before they are 100% healthy again. Before I segue out of combat talk, there is another small but important change to combat while on Iver’s team. As opposed to spreading out willpower as you please with claimed kills, as has been the series norm, kills now grant uses of Eyvind’s lightning strikes. These can be used by any of your characters, and are a great last-ditch effort or planned chain against the opposition.
As usual, the sound production and visuals are stellar. I don’t want to rehash what I have said in both my prior reviews, but man, can we get a cannon Netflix series in the same visual style. I’d back that in a heartbeat. They can take all the data they ask permission for, compile it, and use those choices to guide an official narrative. Please. Take my idea and run with it. The looks are that good, and my love for the characters and the world around them is that strong.
One issue that plagued me in the prior two entries, specifically on Switch, was leaving a battle in progress and putting the system in sleep mode. From what I can tell, that has been fixed in this entry. However, something that may have been an oversight, was that during segments where the entire clan is traveling, text gets cut off. Usually, a chat bubble appears above characters in the caravan that are talking, and this time around these would get cut off at the edge of the screen. Zooming out did not fix it. Definitely not game-breaking, but it was a distraction.
Banner Saga 3 is a fitting conclusion to a great series. I am not sure how others felt about the outcome, but I would say I was satisfied, at least mostly. I could do for some more closure though, and some might find the ending to feel all too familiar with that of Mass Effect 3, another bold and brilliant trilogy whose ending just could not match the sum of its parts. It is a tough thing to handle, ending something so massive with so many moving pieces, so I cannot be totally dissatisfied with it, in truth. If anything, it’s my lust for more that is edging me this way, as knowing it’s over is partly to blame. But the journey that led me to that end was something special entirely. I loved every turn I took, ever risk I let sink in, hell I loved replaying certain sections just for a different outcome. It was all part of the experience, and I hope that once things settle down again, I will replay it in its entirety. There are new angles to be seen, new relationships to be had, and while your story may not be mine, that is all part of making your own mark in Banner Saga’s history.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8.5/10
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