Coming up with words for Banner Saga 3 is hard. After enduring difficult choices and betrayals from the first two games, it feels like we’ve seen it all. Character deaths feel like the norm now, and assassination attempts feel as obvious as a sore thumb. We’re used to being hungry and never having morale. The darkness is about to eat us anyway, so what’s the point?
As it turns out, there’s a lot of reasons why we should bother with Banner Saga 3. The game brings forth a host of changes that not only feel better but also necessary. In the grand scheme of things, the changes aren’t Earth-shatteringly different. The fundamentals are still there, but Stoic changed enough to make the game feel new and refreshed.
Take the waves system, for example. It’s an enhancement on the battle system that lets you fight more than one wave of enemies. Of course, you’re not obligated to do so unless you take longer than the turn limit, in which case the next wave will arrive regardless. But you do have the choice between risking everything for extra renown and loot or going back to your camp to lick your wounds. And if you do fight the next wave by choice, you can even replace your injured fighters with fresh ones.
We also don’t really care anymore about resource management. For all intents and purposes, Rook/Alette’s caravan made it to their ultimate destination: Arberrang. Nobody’s selling food anymore so it’s up to your crafty self to procure more supplies. Not that it matters much because morale is down regardless, but it’s strange not having to worry about feeding people. It’s as if they’re ready to give up and succumb to the darkness, hunger be damned.
Juno’s entourage isn’t doing very well either. Hungry and barely surviving, she’s surrounded with a group of angry Ravens and a one-armed skeptical Varl. On their heels are more Dredge and the angry Bolverk, while in front are strange abominations of what used to be something. They’re drowning in distrust but can’t really do anything about it, because whatever’s outside is worse than their current discomfort. And somehow the world’s fate rests on these people?
Thankfully when they’re not busy trying to fend off hordes of enemies, their fireside chats reveal more of the characters and the overall story to us. It’s heartwarming to witness Sparr bequeath an item of immense personal value to someone he barely knows. It’s intriguing to see Iver open up and share some of his deepest thoughts. Those fleeting moments, in between all the fighting and screaming, make the characters just a wee bit more relatable.
Another thing you might notice when travelling with Juno is that the days tick closer to zero without a hint of actually reaching your destination. This is where things get a bit alarming. If you dawdled around in Arberrang then you better brace yourself: your choices as Rook/Alette will eventually tally up as the number of days for Juno’s group to use. When her caravan runs out of days, everything comes to a screeching halt and you get to deal with the mess in Arberrang. The more you have to do this, the closer humanity gets to going extinct.
When you do finally get to near the end of Juno’s journey, you get an eleventh hour exposition dump. It’s a rather tragic tale really, if you believe them. Sadly the effect is lessened with how rushed everything feels; you barely have any time to digest these revelations before you have to make more groundbreaking decisions. It’s almost as if these last minute truths are supposed to answer everything that took two games to intricately establish…
But that’s only if you believe Juno and Eyvind’s story. Depending on your choices (and whether you’re exploring alternative results by restarting from a nearby autosave), you’ll learn that you can’t take everything at face value. Everyone has a motive that twists the narrative to serve them. They have secrets for a reason. Banner Saga 3 plants that seed of distrust in your head, while playing very well to the belief that what you don’t know won’t hurt you.
And just like that, you start to not trust what you’ve learned. You start to doubt everything everyone ever told you. You start thinking back to the previous two games, combing through what you’ve learned and gleaning the tiniest bit of lie from all of the information. Really, Banner Saga 3’s main beauty lies not in the culmination of your efforts, but in the way it asks you to recall everything. By asking you to doubt, the game effectively takes all of your experiences from the entire trilogy and turns them on their heads. It asks you to reconsider what you know and decide whether you believe them or not. Just with a few key conversations, Banner Saga 3 managed to remind people of the trilogy as a whole instead of individually. Banner Saga 3 is not only beautiful, but it’s also cunning. What a fitting way to end the saga.
Note: Versus Evil provided a copy for review.