Published on August 16th, 2018 | by Jamie Kirk
The Banner Saga 3 Nintendo Switch Review
Summary: The Banner Saga 3 on the Switch is not without its problems but it's still an enjoying journey for fans of this series!
The Banner Saga has finally reached its end and it is not a barrel of laughs. Doom and gloom has been the main feature of these strongly told narratives and The Banner Saga 3 ratchets up the tension by focusing on the pure desperation of these people trying to stave off their world collapsing in on itself. Desperation leads to rasher decisions, more tense conflicts and of course, more character deaths. It’s certainly not an accessible entry point for the franchise, but fans of the previous instalments will be pleased with the tweaks to the gameplay and the twists and turns the story makes as it barrels towards its conclusions (Yes, there are multiple endings).
It cannot be stressed enough that The Banner Saga 3 is absolutely not worth playing if you haven’t experienced the first 2. Sure the game offers a recap movie at the start that even allows you to make a major decision from the first game, but at this stage the lore is too dense and the character relationships too multi-faceted for it to really mean anything. Diving in to The Banner Saga 3 with no previous experience would be like reading the last chapter of a book and then feeling let down that it didn’t do enough to make you care. Thankfully both The Banner Saga and the Banner Saga 2 are relatively short games, around 8-10 hours and well worth your time. If you haven’t played them, go check them out as it will make the conclusion all the more rewarding.
Due to the fact that the games are so closely tied to each other this review practically writes itself. Did you enjoy the story and tactical combat of the first two games? Then you’re going to find a lot to like about the third game. If you didn’t connect with the story or found the combat boring, then this game will do nothing to improve your opinion of it. The Banner Saga 3 is of a piece with the first two games, so most reviews are just preaching to the converted. Don’t worry, it’s still worth your time. If by any chance you’re coming in blind and think this game sounds interesting, for god’s sake go and play the first two. I know I’ve already mentioned it but a first timer will have a seriously diluted experience playing this game first.
So what’s new? There are quite a few tweaks to the gameplay that won’t radically revolutionise your experience, but enough to make you feel like you aren’t just playing a game release several years ago. The biggest change occurs in the caravan management system. Once again you have two parties of diverse characters but this time you aren’t just slogging ahead to seek refuge. One group has already found refuge in the city of Arbberang and are there to conduct their last stand. The other group forges headfirst in to the darkness to try and stop it. As your group heads in to the darkness, the clock counts down until doomsday. Your group in Arberrang can buy extra time but if the Darkness encroaches too far then it’s game over. It’s a neat little twist on the same mechanic that echoes the narrative’s turn towards desperation and hopelessness.
The big new thing in combat is waves. Basically the game gives you a set condition to defeat enemies in a certain time, but if you fail then more enemies will flood the battlefield and severely cut your odds. If you win you are given the chance to fight onwards or flee. Fighting onwards obviously escalates the difficulty but also promises some of the games most overpowered items. It is another tweak that matches the overall turn the story takes, as you face a relentless onslaught of enemies that seem to never end. It is a fun addition and adds an extra tactical component as you can sub out fighters between battles, and determine just how far you are willing to go. Apart from that combat is much the same save for a few new enemy types and a few new abilities. Your opinion of the combat system is not going to change from the previous games. It also suffers the same problem as the previous games a little. At the start it seems fresh and exciting, but as you progress further into the game, the battles can feel like a slog. If you carry over a save from the first two games there will also be a high chance you will be over-powered and will not find the game much of a challenge.
The story is as grim as ever, and once again main characters can be killed off brutally in a couple of lines of text due to a snap decision you made. It is made all the more compelling by its presentation. The haunting score and art style go a long way to making sure that the story stays with you after it’s all said and done. The Banner Saga 3 is a fitting and triumphant conclusion to the franchise. It’s not without its small problems, but the overall experience is polished and deeply rewarding. It may be completely inaccessible to newer players, but people who have stuck with it will not be disappointed.