The Banner Saga 3 (Xbox One) Review

By Nikola Suprak 26.07.2018

Review for The Banner Saga 3 on Xbox One

In a way, The Banner Saga 3 is an odd game to review. It is the third part of a larger narrative, meaning no one is going to be jumping into this blind. People who have played the first two games largely know what to expect, and those that haven't shouldn't be playing this one first as it will completely ruin the story up until now. However, if for some reason you weren't quite sold on The Banner Saga after the first two instalments, this should be the one that finally puts any doubts to rest. While it doesn't do anything substantially different from the first two, those were so good that the series didn't require a major overhaul. It is an almost perfect execution of the concept, though, and this is the sort of title strategy RPG fans have been hungry for.

A reminder for anyone that doesn't quite remember the plot of the first two entries: things aren't going well. The caravan is split, with one party trying desperately to stop the last human city from collapsing in on itself, while the other party is venturing to the depths of darkness itself to try and reverse the cataclysm that has befallen the world. Allies turn to enemies, enemies to allies, and the heroes' task here is to not only save the world but to make sure it is still worth saving when all is said and done. It is almost impossible to give a brief synopsis of everything because of how complex the plot is, but this is an epic tale in every sense of the word.

It cannot be overstated just how good the story is. This was true in parts one and two, and it is perhaps even truer here. This is an incredibly story, and a story that is told incredibly well. The plot itself is great, and so much time went into the lore and backstory that it is so satisfying when things all tie together in the end. The writing is also excellent, and the cast of characters here are interesting and well developed. Something this does well is giving a personality to even the most minor of characters, and even a short little conversation here will give a lot of layers to someone that might be the fifteenth guy off the bench of your party. It is a truly riveting tale, and after all the build-up of the past two games, it is great to see such a remarkable conclusion. It is worth playing these just for the story, and even people who aren't interested in strategy titles but enjoy fantasy stories are absolutely going to want to dive into the tale that is told here.

Screenshot for The Banner Saga 3 on Xbox One

An interesting aspect of the story is the sheer number of decisions the player will make along the way. A lot of the time when a game offers choices in the dialogue, they are really offering "choices" where the decisions don't change much other than a couple of lines of dialogue. Not here. Decisions will impact how many people will join, how many supplies are gained, and the morale of the entire caravan. Oh, and it will kill characters, as well. This game is absolutely brutal with its cast list, lopping off the head of one of your favourite fighters because the wrong line of dialogue was selected. It certainly adds an intensity to the story, because things can go very badly at any moment and it would all be your fault. This is truly a game where decisions matter and a huge chunk of the cast here can either die or leave, depending on what is said and done.

The dialogue options are fantastic, but at the same time it does feel like some were just thrown in as padding. Choices usually mean something, so it is disappointing here when they don't. There are a couple of major scenes, including one where the player must decide whether or not to allow some enemies inside their camp, where every single choice leads to the exact same outcome. For the most part, the dialogue and decision making is a definite strength, but there are certain times where it feels a bit lazy and like a choice was just put in because they felt like it was time for one to pop up.

The highlight here is probably the penultimate chapter, which integrates all of the previous choices almost perfectly. Perspective will alternate between the two caravans, and how long one has to accomplish something depends on the actions of the other. All of those minor choices that have been made along the way actually mean something here, and the size of the caravan and number of supplies can buy more time. It winds up being a great way to tie the game together, and racing against time and trying to optimise movement through decision-making is more intense than it sounds. It feels like the epic conclusion the game deserves, and the gameplay and storytelling are woven together here almost seamlessly. This is the big payoff to everything that has been done so far, and it is immensely satisfying to see the sum of these decisions matter.

Screenshot for The Banner Saga 3 on Xbox One

The Banner Saga 3 isn't just plot, though, as the gameplay here is also excellent. Things aren't much different from either of the first two titles, and this is the same tactical RPG that fans already know and love. Six different units can be sent off into battle to face off against the enemy, which will be a team of between four and nine. Battles take place on a grid, and individual movements can move and then either attack or use a special skill. There is a ton of variety between classes, and there are some huge lumbering units with high armour and high strength, and smaller units that don't have the same strength but are much faster and might have better special attacks.

In comparison to other similar tactical RPGs, there are some unique features to the combat that make things interesting. Regardless of how many members each side has, the turns will always alternate between the two sides, meaning a side with four troops isn't necessarily at a disadvantage against a side with six. Additionally, some stats are used that make things feel genuinely different than other tactical RPGs. An important one is strength, which serves both as a unit's health and how much damage their attacks do. Armour shields the strength stat, and willpower allows attacks or skills to be boosted. It is a great variety of skills here, and this combined with the unique turned-based mechanic leads to some really challenging encounters. There is some great strategy here, because killing an enemy unit isn't always beneficial as it is much easier to face off against a team of six weak foes rather than two or three full strength ones.

On top of this, there is a lot of variety in special skills between the units that can lead to some even more complex strategy. There will be skills that allow for direct attack to strength or may delay an opponent's turn or can repair a unit's armour. Items will boost stats or impart unique skills. A new feature to this third instalment of the series, heroic titles, provide further boosts specific stats, and all of these things combined allow for some really solid strategy. The game is almost deceptively easy, but underneath it are so many different aspects to the gameplay that all meld together almost perfectly. The battles are a great mix of easily accessible but challenging, so strategy here will actually matter. It is just an incredibly well thought out system, and some of the battles here provide a genuine challenge.

Screenshot for The Banner Saga 3 on Xbox One

In particular, wave battles allow for brief breaks between waves of enemies, forcing you to swap out for fresh units and even more strategy. You can leave these fights after the first wave, but sticking around earns extra renown and a special item at the end. Overall, it is an almost perfect execution of the concept and every part of the combat is well thought out and feeds into the larger picture. The only minor complaint is the final battle is a bit anti-climactic, feeling a bit disappointing considering all that came before it and is actually a good deal easier than a lot of the other fights in that chapter. It isn't bad, by any means, but by this point it feels like it should have been something more.

The other main aspect of the gameplay is some light management of the caravan, although this is certainly the weakest (and most ignored) part of the adventure. This used to be a more major portion when there was actually more travelling from place to place, but here it doesn't quite matter as much. Supplies play a key role during the final chapter, but there isn't really a chance to scavenge or hunt for them. They can be bought at the store, and morale still plays a major role as it can boost the entire team's willpower, but overall it feels a bit superfluous this time around. One of the two caravans ignores supplies entirely, and of all the various features this is the one that is probably integrated most clumsily.

Most of the issues here are mostly technical and completely minor. The battlefield can get crowded in some of the fights, making it hard to see which enemy is which without cycling through them. Even cycling through them can be an issue, because they are relatively small and it isn't always clear who is who because most battles will have several enemies that are the same type. It isn't uncommon to accidentally target the wrong foe, which can mess up some well-planned battle tactics. Travel can also be a little boring, and there really isn't much of a reason to actually watch the heroes slowly march their way to the destination, and considering how frequent wave battles are, there doesn't seem to be quite enough renown to go around. The first string heroes will be fine, of course, but those second and third stringers that will definitely see action during the wave fights are going to be mostly ignored just because there aren't enough resources. These all sound like minor issues, and that's because they are. The game is fantastic from top to bottom, and it is quite hard to point out things that it doesn't do well.

Screenshot for The Banner Saga 3 on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The only people that shouldn't play The Banner Saga 3 are those that haven't played the first two instalments yet. However, if you have been waiting until now, this is absolutely the time to get on-board The Banner Saga bandwagon. This is one of the best strategy games in years, with engrossing combat and a fantastic story. The difficulty is almost perfect, making the battles rewarding without being trivial and players may find themselves actively seeking out more fights. It is entertaining from top to bottom, and the only real negative is that the adventure has finally come to an end. This is the conclusion the saga has been waiting for, though, so if the saga had to finish, it could have hoped for no better way to do it.

Developer

Stoic

Publisher

Versus Evil

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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