The Banner Saga 3 in the test - final spurt to the end
Rugga gives us the kind of insidious grin that is normally reserved only for "Game of Thrones" villains and explains that he represents our only chance to survive, because as a strong leader he can unite the besieged city of Aberrang. Okay, Rugga is a pretty uncomfortable guy who likes to cheat other people. But outside the city walls, an army of madmen - eerie stone soldiers - is waiting for us, while people around us are beating each other's heads. Do we really have a choice?
The Banner Saga 3 is to lead the trilogy to its epic finale, in which we now literally have to save the whole world. In the test, the tactical round game convinced us above all with its incredibly dense atmosphere, but we would have liked more courage from the makers - playfully and narrative.
Nobody is safe
At the beginning you choose between three levels of difficulty and Rook or Alette as the starting character. Since both archers have similar skills, it doesn't make much difference in play, but simply determines which path of the story we follow. Optionally, you can also import a saved game. Our caravan from the predecessors has to assert itself in part 3 in Aberrang, which is already surrounded by anger at the beginning of the game. The scenes change depending on the story, so that we accompany the magicians Juno and Eyvind in parallel. They're trying to stop the darkness (an evil force that devours the land) in the underworld.
We make numerous decisions that are even harder than in the previous parts. Because we feel like we're starting the final battle directly and the first big boss fight beckons after a few hours, there is no grace period: For example, we have to persuade our companion Nid to stay after her son was killed in the battle. If we fail, it leaves us. Important characters cannot die in combat, but they can die through our decisions - for example, if we take a wrong turn and are ambushed.
Or we ask a character (whom we do not want to name by name for spoiler reasons) to accompany us to a conversation with the enemy. The situation escalates and the person throws himself protectively in front of us what he pays with his life . If we hadn't taken him with us or acted otherwise, he would still be alive, but the situation might have been different.
However, it is usually not clear what consequences decisions will have. This can create frustration when a character dies just because we told them to run left. Without a clue, we often just have to guess.
The beauty of a dying world
Nevertheless, such uncompromising decisions contribute immensely to the atmosphere , which is the heart of The Banner Saga 3 anyway - here the finale even surpasses its already grandiose predecessors in this regard. We see how aberration crumbles around us, while city dwellers and refugees attack each other for fear of ruin. We have to decide whether to help the angry people or destroy them out of self-protection - although they themselves only fled from the darkness.
Or accompany Juno and her companions on a regular suicide command: Almost every wrong decision here leads to a quick character death, especially since we are not only confronted with anger obsessed with darkness, but are also chased by the mad Varl Bolverk while in front of us a huge monster snake is waiting for us. The end of the world jumps towards us optically over the beautifully drawn backgrounds, not only in the burning city of Aberrang. The underworld welcomes us with gloomy, almost surreal surroundings that provide significantly more variety than the green meadows of its predecessors.
The feeling of melancholy and despair is perfectly underlined by the atmospheric soundscape : Even if there is again little soundtrack and cutscenes are rare, background noises such as chants or hissing as well as the Nordic soundtrack create a good atmosphere. In addition, the dialogues are fantastic again, which is why we enjoy every quiet moment with the characters before the next storm approaches.
Our days are numbered
In terms of play, it becomes more dramatic in the third part: We have to find supplies again to keep our caravan alive. Later in the game, however, the food shortage turns into a merciless countdown that counts down the days for which we still have enough supplies. The amount of food in our possession is converted directly into days, which show us how much time remains to save the world.
If we have previously bought too few resources from dealers or have been too generous with them, we are running out of time. That sounds exciting, but it turns out to be toothless: Even if the counter drops to zero, the game is not over. In the worst case, characters die, but we can make up days through decisions and battles.
Hero titles and opponents
The tactical round battles have remained almost the same: If we have put together our party from different classes, we have one action per turn. We can attack the enemy with armor or health, as well as use skills that cost willpower. For example, magicians are allowed to shoot lightning across the field, which strikes several fields. Archers attack at a long range, but get through armor poorly, which is why a melee like the beefy Varl should deduct armor points beforehand.
With the enemy waves, the Valka spear and the hero titles, there are also three new features. With the waves, after a fight, we have to decide whether to continue fighting and finally face a boss. At each stage (mostly two or three) we are allowed to exchange injured fighters. If we defeat the final boss, there is a rare item as a reward. This optional challenge is ideal for anyone who wants even more challenging combat .
The Valka spear sends electrical discharges across the field in a similar way to the lightning ability, but can be operated by any hero and charges itself through enemy deaths. Due to its low damage effect, we mostly ignored it on the normal difficulty level. It is similar with the hero titles: If you select them when leveling up, they bring bonuses such as increased attack damage for the respective character. But we hardly notice any difference in battle.
The world ends in variety
Instead, the battles are more varied than in their predecessors, because story goals are often built into the battles: for example, we have to protect a wounded figure or not let the opponents come too close to a bell. If it rings, reinforcements will come! A clever approach is worthwhile because the fights are extremely demanding even without special goals.
With the angry, the deformed obsessed by the dark, as well as humans, varl and other races like the horse natives, we also face different types of opponents , each of which requires its own tactics. For example, some enemies are heavily armored, which is why you should attack their armor first to increase your own damage. Others can poison our characters, so you have to kill them first.
Especially if we are already fighting against an overwhelming number of enemies and reinforcements are still coming, this can quickly cause frustration. If you are confronted with ten new opponents while your own party has already shrunk to three out of six members, you hardly have a chance. The developers could have taken a bit of hardship out of this and instead let lost battles have greater effects . Injured characters start the next battle with a penalty on strength and armor, but there are reputation points even for defeat. We can invest them in supplies or character levels. In addition, the story just goes on, no matter how well you fight: If you always lose, but can still achieve a satisfactory ending, it breaks a bit with the tough atmosphere.
Nevertheless, The Banner Saga 3 delivers a worthy finale. Because it not only ends a great narrative in a masterly way, but has also created a world that - if we have our way - is still good for many stories and thus games.