The Banner Saga 3 Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Stoic
Release Date:2018-07-24
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Strategy
Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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Of course, Stoic Studio added a couple of new wrinkles to the combat engine for The Banner Saga 3.  This mostly occurs for your characters who are traveling through the darkness.  The battles there are against "warped" versions of other creatures, which is fun in itself, but warped creatures get lots of new abilities, like being able to use their Willpower to absorb damage.  This adds extra complexity to the battles, because you have to decide if you want to attack a creature and only damage its Willpower -- which might leave it at full strength but prevent it from using skills -- or go after an enemy where you can reduce its Strength or Armor.  Also, while in regular combat killing an enemy gives you a point of Willpower that you can assign to any of your characters, in darkness battles you get charges of a chain lightning spell that you can use against enemies without costing you a turn.  So the darkness battles, which are about half of the game, play differently than regular battles, which keeps the game feeling fresh and new.

Lots of battles also proceed in waves.  Unlike the first two games, where one battle sometimes followed another, and you had to use the same characters both times -- and they'd start the second battle in whatever shape they ended the first -- in The Banner Saga 3 there are waved battles, where a timer starts at the beginning of each wave.  If you defeat the enemies in that wave quickly enough, then you're allowed to flee or call in reinforcements.  Reinforcements can be any characters in your arsenal, and you can use them to replace characters who got knocked out, or who used up all of their Willpower, or who you just don't want to use in the next wave.  Reinforcements make waved battles easier than the continuation battles from before, but they're also fairer, and they reward you for having numerous characters ready to fight.

Sort of strangely though, while The Banner Saga 2 introduced Survival Mode (a combat-only mode where you have to survive 40 consecutive battles) and trainer challenges (where you have to use combat abilities in a certain way with specific characters), neither of these additions made it into the base version of The Banner Saga 3.  However, Stoic Studio plans to add replacements in the future, and apparently for free.  It's just a surprise that Survival Mode didn't make it in right away given that they already had a template to work from.  But in any case, future versions of The Banner Saga 3 will give you more options for fighting enemies and putting your battle prowess to the test.

Finally, we come to the story events.  These include things like having conversations with your party members, dealing with obstacles that turn up in your path, and rescuing people who are in need of help -- or not, and leaving them to their fate.  The outcomes of these events are completely arbitrary, which can be frustrating at times, but it's probably a good thing since it means that no one way of playing will see you through the game unscathed.  For example, you might want to play as a good guy and help as many people as possible, but while this can earn you some nice rewards sometimes, at other times it leads to needless battles or allows thieves easy access to your supplies.

As an example of a story event, at one point one of your groups of characters discovers a dredge being harassed by some humans.  Dredge were your primary enemy during the first two games, so do you help the humans kill the dredge and accept their reward, or do you come to the aid of the dredge and hope that your clan will be able to work with it -- and that it won't end up sabotaging you in some way?  Most answers aren't obvious, so you have to play the game a couple of times to work out the "right" ways to respond.

As for the story itself, I was a little disappointed.  Just about everything that happens in the campaign was heavily telegraphed in The Banner Saga 2, and without any surprises or unexpected detours, I found the trip to the ending to be a little bit boring.  Luckily, the characters are well-written, and they're properly motivated, so you don't get anybody being a bad guy (or a good guy) just because the game needs somebody in that role.  Characters act in a way that makes sense given their situation, and you might find that you have a rooting interest in who survives or dies.

Conclusion

Overall, The Banner Saga 3 -- and the trilogy as a whole -- gives a nice playing experience.  The storyline is a little bleak, as the world is in a bad place and there aren't any easy answers for survival, but the game offers an intriguing blend of role-playing elements and turn-based combat, and its 15-hour campaign can be played multiple times to see everything and try out different combat parties and strategies.  So if you enjoy story-driven games and turn-based strategy, The Banner Saga 3 is definitely a title you should consider.