The final chapter of the Norse-inspired journey comes to a close, with the decision-making - as always - up to you, the player. As told in the previous games, a series of events have built up to the current collapse of the world. The sun has stopped revolving, the gods are dead, the ancient stone-armored Dredge have reappeared, and a world-devouring serpent has appeared out of nowhere as the darkness fills the skies. A caravan party uniting men and Varl flee to the capital of Arberrang, while spell weavers who claim to have a solution to the darkness try to prevent the approaching threat. Add in upheaval within, and outside, the walls of the city, and this sets the scene for the climactic third entry in the saga.
As immediate as the first two games were to establish the scene, The Banner Saga 3 manages to further streamline the experience. It achieves this by making the assumption that the player has played the existing two games and once again offers a recap to jog any ailing memories. With both the battle and dialogue being somewhat refined in the second entry, the tutorial has now been reduced to a single option in the main menu of the game with no more handholding in sight. This is a smart move by developer Stoic, rather than attempting to shoehorn it into the main game, reducing the immersive nature of the storyline. As a result, the journey kicks off right away with multiple battles in succession. Once again, you start out selecting Rook or his daughter Alette, and have the option to import your save file, assuming you’ve played the previous games.
What sets the third game apart from the existing two is the conclusiveness of the story. You’re here to decide the world and characters’ fate, and the themes from the beginning of the third chapter continually remind you of the hopeless odds your caravan party and the general remaining populous of the world are up against. The bleak reality of the situation has hit humanity and all other species like never before, and this is very much reflected by the turmoil that unfolds within this entry. Every decision and battle is tied to themes of hopelessness, where characters’ mental and physical strength will be tested.
These worldly pressures are once again delivered via verbal exchanges and tactical combat. The text-based conversations will challenge you, with solutions not always possible and dire outcomes unavoidable. This aligns perfectly with the finality of the third entry, and actively illustrates how the fate of the caravan and the surrounding world has perhaps already been decided. The pacing only adds to this, with the amount of decision-making required making you feel uneasy as you move one step closer towards the end.
This flow is maintained by tackling one problem after the next in hope it will pay off, and the story is arguably more consumable as it doesn't feel the need to establish each character again - even to the point of removing certain interactive features. Saying this, it's still sustained by plenty of engaging conversation during text scenes, cut scenes and battle dialogue. As always, the verbal exchanges can be hostile - don’t expect the story to just fall into place. Standard replies may not always lead to your desired outcome; like the existing games, it can lead to a battle that may have been preventable.
The tactical turn-based battles in the game, like conversations, have much more weight this time around with the clock ticking. For the most part, each one has a greater sense of importance, with the story convincing you that the consequences are higher than ever before. The battles still could be considered the weaker aspect of the game, though. With no real apparent refinement to the tactical fights, if you didn’t necessarily enjoy this aspect of the title in the previous editions, or felt battles lacked depth somewhat despite the second game’s enhancements, don’t expect the core idea to change in your favour.
While there are more gripping moments and enemies to take down - with a nice sense of reward when you do defeat or out-strategise a tough foe - some fights overstay their welcome due to wave-based objectives (fortunately you can eventually flee), and the A.I. itself can still be a bit too predictable from time to time. At the very least, there are some new enemies posing unique threats in battle and even unexpected allies. Due to the scale of the situation in the final game, additional characters can be called upon in battle - encouraging you to experiment with team chemistry rather than stick with a fixed party.
If it's all too much, the ability to adjust the difficulty is still present, with the consequences being how quickly characters take to recover after hostile encounters. Again, though, there’s added assistance in the form of items and the usual ways to enhance your party by earning 'renown' to promote characters, upgrade abilities and create the ideal team to handle all forms of threats on the battlefield. Compared to the existing outings, however, character development might not feel as rewarding for some due to this game being the finale. If you’ve played the first two games, you should know what to expect. Naturally, your investment in each character in this entry is a do-or-die approach, as fate is in your hands.
Visually speaking, nothing in The Banner Saga 3 has noticeably changed; for a game based on the world’s demise, it still couldn’t look any more beautiful. The stunning landscapes and hand-drawn characters return. The character animations during dialogue exchanges remain subtle but somehow add so much life to each scene. The cut scenes are wonderfully done, and when voice acting can be heard it only enriches the storytelling. The battle animations are still not quite as gripping or smooth, but this doesn't detract too much from the package. The soundtrack is also on par with the visual spectacle - with the same atmospheric noises that were featured in the first two games - and Austin Wintory returning for a final full-length score which has been recorded by a live orchestra. Collectively, all of this adds up for a great conclusion to the saga.
From the beginning, this series has very much been about the journey to the destination in both a literal and figurative sense, and now we’ve arrived at the end, it's clear that this was the strongest point all along. The development of characters and the gradual progression of the story naturally have less emphasis this time around, as this is the end of the saga, but what you do get is multiple endings with fitting outcomes. Now all that's left is for you to decide whether or not this game and series are for you, much like the many choices present within the games themselves.