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Stoic Studio had a strong presence during this year's GDC. Its developers showcased some gameplay from The Banner Saga 3 and participated in a few interviews. And now, after the Stoic team appeared at PAX East and announced the release date for The Banner Saga's finale, we get a bit of delayed GDC coverage from Rock, Paper, Shotgun that combines an early preview of The Banner Saga 3 with an interview featuring Stoic's creative director Arnie Jorgensen. A few snippets:
Your decisions have carried on, and the setting remains a fantasy dark age but one where this dark veil has spread over most of civilisation, alongside corrupted foes. You head behind this veil with a caravan of mercenaries to find “melted villages” and “forests curled like fish hooks”. The enemies, which still accost you on a polite, turn-based grid, are the misshapen victims of this atmosphere. Hunched archers and gnarled Varls. The ruins of Strand, a village from the first game, will also make an appearance.
But the caravan making their way through the darkness is only one side of the story. Another group of characters remains in a city called Arberrang, the only city that hasn’t been overtaken by the Dredge, the stoney, apocalyptic foes you’ve been fighting and fleeing from the whole series. Of course, it’s under siege and overcrowded (“Like a boiling pot,” says Jorgensen). You’ll still move from one area to another in the style of a long entourage. But this time it’s district-by-district, street-by-street. There’s nowhere else to go. As the besieged warriors of Arberrang, you’re trying to buy the caravan passing through the shroud enough time to do their thing – find the source of the darkness and stop it.
“One of the things we’re concentrating on in Banner Saga 3 is that we need to stick the ending of this,” says Jorgensen, who’s taking me through a demo of the battles. “If we don’t stick the ending – and it doesn’t matter what you’ve chosen along the way – you chose A, I chose B – if we don’t stick the ending then we’ve really failed in the whole thing. It’d feel like a disservice to the community, the story, everything.
“We’ve really taken our time to make sure the endings are as satisfying as possible… It’s a very wide range of endings you can have in this game and they come back to decisions you’ve made in Banner Saga 1 and Banner Saga 2 which you thought could have been small decisions.”
Alongside these faces you’ll find the visages of various Kickstarter backers. Character motions, meanwhile, were recorded in Jorgensen’s garden, then sent to be rotoscoped. It’s the same homebrew method they used for the previous games. Jorgensen’s biggest problem, when it comes to managing the animators, is that, if anything, they are too eager to make their characters look outstanding. He’s often telling them, he says, to tone it down.
“I’m constantly pulling them back and saying ‘more subtle, more subtle, more subtle’.”
But now that the Banner Saga is coming to a close, will the studio keep using the animation method that made their name? Will they keep making grid-based battlers? Or are they keen to try something altogether new?
“The only thing we know is that Stoic is going to be a company that’s known for strategy RPGs,” says Jorgensen. “And that doesn’t mean turn-based strategy but we love strategy in our games on some level, and we love RPGs. As far the art itself, we’ll get to that when we start getting deeper into the next game.”
For now, they plan to be “ankle deep” in DLC but admit that this plan is liable to change if the community’s interest in their striking, Viking world dries up. At which point, they’ll move onto the next thing. It doesn’t mean that the Banner Saga’s world will be abandoned, because they like this land of man and beast. But any future instalment would be divorced from the current trilogy.
“If we revisit The Banner Saga in the future,” says Jorgensen, “we’ll probably take a really different look at it.”