The Banner Saga 3 is still a month away, but I had the opportunity to check out the first few chapters. With the first two games in the series establishing a high expectation of excellence, nothing I've seen so far threatens that reputation. What's new fits in seamlessly, and the mainstays, from the art to the writing, are just as good. My brief glimpse has me excited to see how the saga ends.
The first thing I noticed was the difficulty has been ramped up some for Banner Saga 3. Even at the beginning, fighting familiar foes, the game was slightly more challenging. A simple increase of health and armor for enemies made me shift my tactics significantly. The discrepancy between my heroes and the enemies was made much smaller, meaning they won't be killed quite so quickly. That seems a small change, but adding several more turns of enemies attacking you is a lot to account for.
Luckily, there are some things to mitigate that. One of the great things about Banner Saga is the saves carrying over, which includes each of your heroes and how you've chosen to level them up so far. In Banner Saga 3, you have a few more choices to make to improve your heroes just a bit more. 3 is more generous in the Renown it gives you, so you can just keep adding to stats and talents ranks if you wish. However, at level 11 you have the opportunity to give characters titles.
There are 14 titles to choose from, each of which can only be used once on one hero. They offer a wide variety, from inspiring your allies around you, like above, to increasing your damage and critical chance if there are no allies nearby. Each plays into a specific playstyle, and you'll find the perfect fit for each of your heroes.
You'll need to spread the love too, as Banner Saga 3 will force you to use all of your heroes. If you've cleared the battlefield, or failed to do so quickly enough, another wave of enemies will come your way in certain battles. It's up to you whether you want to keep on fighting or not. If you do keep fighting, you'll have the chance to steal away a high level, high quality item from the enemy, and of course reap more Renown.
Between waves you'll be able to swap out the heroes and redeploy them on the battlefield as well. That means that if any fell in that first wave, you can replace them with another. Of course, the more injured characters, too far gone to be of much use, can be swapped out for someone fresh.
I think this is a fantastic idea. Not only does it offer more challenge to those that want it, more characters will see the battlefield than before. With the first two games fresh in my mind, it was far too easy to settle on the same set of characters. Prolonging battles will force you to use more characters than before and likely some you never have before. You'll be able to tinker with more abilties and have the chance of running across a character you may like a lot.
Led by Juno and Iver, the other half of The Banner Saga 3 ventures into darkness. With the consequences at the end of Banner Saga 2, this team has a slight change in tactics as well. Gone is the horn you can blow in battle to gain some willpower. In its stead is Eyvind's Valka Spear. His staff, or spear, underwent a change at the end of 2, and now any character on the battlefield can use it to call down chain lightning. You gain charges like the horn by killing enemies, and the ability works just like Eyvind's, albeit weaker. The chain starts at one damage on the first enemy, but gains one damage with each subsequent enemy it hits.
In terms of gameplay and combat, those are the big changes. There are of course new enemies, abilities, and battlefield hazards to account for, but those surprises I'll leave for you. None of them are groundbreaking, but all of them add to the growing complexity of The Banner Saga as it reaches its end.
Mirroring that build-up in gameplay is the mounting pressure felt in the story. The darkness has almost consumed the world, and its final few residents are in the human capital of Aberrang. From the horseborn to the varl, none of the races trust the other. It's only worse among the different human clans all vying for power, watching each other fail.
Aberrang is a city of chaos. The king is slowly dying, and he's the last knot holding the whole thing together. If he goes, the different tenuously woven strands of humanity will break apart and seek their individual ends and desires. Within its walls, Aberrang is on the brink of war.
Outside its walls, Aberrang is also on the brink of war. The slow march of the dredge puts a heavy weight behind each decision you make for your clan. That itself is its own dilemma: do you make decisions that are for the best of all people in Aberrang or do you only worry about the people you protect? The choice seems like an easy one, but with no help coming from anyone else inside the city, protecting what you have becomes all the more important.
Of course, there's the other tale being told at the same time. Juno and Iver's expedition into the darkness will likely have the biggest ramifications on the world in Banner Saga 3. Can they stop the darkness is the biggest question, which there are no hints of yet one way or the other. If they can't stop the darkness, all of the fighting above is meaningless. The darkness will swallow those that survive Aberrang's inner and outer conflicts anyway. They won't die, but like the world, they will be forever changed.
The Banner Saga 3 has shot up to be one of my most anticipated titles. The excellently crafted epic fantasy is currently in its crescendo, and I can't wait to see it at its peak. I can't say whether the story will end in a satisfying way, but the journey so far has been a joy to soak in. Combat has some good additions, and the density of meaningful decisions I've made in such a short time is much higher than at any point in the first two games. Everything's on track for this to be an incredible end to an amazing series.
The Banner Saga 3 was previewed on PC with a code provided from the developer. It will be released on July 26th on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It will be coming to mobile at a later date.