The conclusion of the story-driven tactical trilogy sticks the landing and evolves the combat.
Talking about the conclusion of a trilogy as a standalone game is a challenge. To be frank, Banner Saga 3 by itself might be the weakest entry with regards to the story. However, as a third act, it wraps up the rock-solid foundation laid in the previous two games successfully. The story ends with a bang, peppered with numerous killer moments along the way. As a whole, the Banner Saga Trilogy is a masterclass in game storytelling with some consistently deepening and evolving tactical RPG mechanics.
It’s hard to go into detail with the story without spoiling, but the game picks up right after the events of the second game. Your party is split into two groups - one back at the city of Arberrang and one journeying into the darkness to try to save the pending doom of the world. Control goes back and forth between the two groups as the ones in the city try to keep Arberrang together in the midst of world-ending turmoil and the other tries to navigate the warped enemies littered across their path in the darkness. The groups are distinct and a good split of characters that have been with you since the beginning of the first game as well as newcomers. They also have significantly different makeups and strengths while for the most part facing different challenges and tasks. The city group has a lot more archers while the darkness side has more magical menders. My favorite newcomer is the witch Alfrun, who holds mysteries and a great character design as well as an ability where she can “ride lightning” to attack an enemy from afar and do a lot of damage. She operated so differently from a lot of the melee-heavy bruisers I was accustomed to in the previous games.
Aside from new characters and abilities, the biggest new battle addition is wave battles, which are a smart way to encourage you to use more of your party. In certain circumstances, you can optionally fight another wave of enemies after a battle. In between the skirmishes, you can change out your party members, bringing in fresh faces for the next group of foes. Getting to the end of all the waves usually results in a nice, high-level item reward and while the regular battles weren’t really wanting for more difficulty, this adds a challenging new wrinkle.
The turn-based battling is the best it has been, weirdly making the first game seem far more dated than it felt when I played it two months ago. Hero and enemy variety is great by this point, even if Banner Saga 3 might rely on a few new types of baddies a little too much. With all of the heroes being able to reach higher ranks than ever before, they all feel a lot more distinct with numerous abilities. Seeing the evolution of the battling from game to game makes me very excited for whatever developer Stoic does next.
While the battling is the most interactive portion of Banner Saga, the story is the driving force. Without going into too many details, I’m satisfied by the conclusion and amazed at how varied and non-binary the choices are. I haven’t been able to play through the game multiple times to see if there are more varied concluding paths for the third entry, but something that Banner Saga does very well is subtly build you along character arcs that often result in an outcome you can see coming but based on your past actions, can’t really do anything about. I felt that I often had to deal with the judgement calls of my hero’s past that wound up causing pain in the present. By virtue of being the conclusion, the story does narrow its focus, but the writing and character moments are as strong as ever.
My only knock against the story is that it’s kind of just a straight line. While the other two games are similarly linear, Banner Saga 3 starts with a certain setup and stakes and while it wraps up nicely, it just stays that course to the end. The earlier adventures, by comparison, took some more unexpected routes. All of this is understandable since this is the third act of a larger story, but that’s what I mean when I say the third game might be the weakest regarding the narrative.
Regardless of what entry in the trilogy is best, the Banner Saga as a whole is incredible. This vibrant, gorgeously animated tale feels as alive as the top live-action fantasy worlds, even more so with the knockout Austin Wintory soundtrack. The battle system reaches a rewarding crescendo and the story hits a lot of excellent beats as it hurtles towards its thrilling conclusion. From the opening moments of the first game to the finale of the third, this is a trilogy worth playing and this is a great close to an excellent narrative-driven turn-based tactics game.