Misery is coming
Summer is rolling in. It’s tops off and beers out, as the fiery ball of death in the sky slowly cooks us all. It’s beer gardens, park picnics, loud music, and bright, beautiful colours.
What better time to take a look at the forthcoming slice of misery that is The Banner Saga 3?
Because things get dark in The Banner Saga 3. Really dark.
“It will definitely be the darkest, most intense, and have the highest stakes,” says Stoic’s co-founder and Technical Director John Watson. “The destruction of the entire world is at hand. Your heroes and refugees are fighting to survive for a few more days, while Juno, Iver, and Eyvind rush into the darkness in a race against time to save the world. The tone is dark, and the consequences final.”
WHAT’S THE STORY, MORNING GLORY EVENING MISERY?
The Banner Saga 3 is shrouded in bleak misery, despair, and characters who cling to the faintest glimmers of hope in a dark world. But that’s because it’s the final game in the trilogy that Stoic first cooked up in 2014. It’s pretty impressive to see a gaming trilogy arrive so confidently and assuredly at the final destination that was planned when the developers started putting the original game together.
“We originally envisioned the Saga as a pretty epic mythological story,” explains Watson. “We quickly realized that the 3 of us would have a very hard time telling the whole story all at once. Fortunately, the story had a natural 3-act structure, so we decided to segment it like that and tackle one piece at a time. We had high hopes that the first game would meet enough success to continue the trilogy. This turned out to be the case, and we are honored to be able to finish the entire story!”
The Banner Saga followed the story of the humans and giant-like creatures Varls, who are stuck in twilight when the sun stops moving. The Dredge, ancient enemies of the Varl believed to be extinct, have started to appear and no-one knows why. The Dredge are hostile to all intelligent life.
The trilogy follows the developing conflict between the two sides and in The Banner Saga 3, the Dredge will now appear in playable form. We get to see a Dredge Stonesinger in one of the parties that Stoic shows us. This keys in to the dark, desperate tone of the storyline as the humans, Varls, and the Dredge are forced to work together as a larger threat looms.
Surprisingly, this isn’t a twist or kink that Stoic added in at the last minute.
“The grand arc of the story, and the mythology behind it is largely the same,” Watson tells us. “What has changed are many of the details along the way. Some of the characters increased in importance quite a bit, and others changed their roles. For instance, the role of Rugga, the governor of Boersgard, was not originally thought out in great detail. It turns out that his scheming ways played a major role in Banner Saga 2 and surely will be a major player in the final chapter.
Even during the development of the first game, we initially had Bolverk playing a larger role in the game, but instead shifted his development more firmly into the second part, where we could focus on him more strongly.”
It’s not just playable Dredge who are new for The Banner Saga 3, but there are new characters, too, such as Alfrun. We ask John to tell us a bit about Alfrun.
“Alfrun is a Hedge-Witch, a wild mender who learned her powers on her own and outside the structure of the mender council. Her perspective on the catastrophic events and their potential solutions are in conflict with Juno’s. Alfrun will create a great deal of tension between Juno’s goals and the player’s decisions.”
YOUR CHOICES MATTER
The story has been one of the strengths of The Banner Saga series. The team has BioWare veterans on it, who have learnt their trade through the multiple-choice gameplay that dictated the direction of the plot in Knights of the Old Republic.
“It’s always a challenge to balance producing enough content with making content that only a few people will see, due to story reasons,” Watson tells us.
“Banner Saga has always striven to make your choices really matter, and your characters very mortal. We actively look for ways to prevent characters from having ‘plot immunity’, which would mean a lesser impact since threats to those characters would be less credible. When taken as a whole trilogy, nobody has plot immunity in Banner Saga.”
It’s not just about the story though. The Banner Saga is a turn-based strategy RPG, and the story is anchored around challenging combat. One of the criticisms of the original outing was that the combat became quite repetitive – there wasn’t quite enough variety in the scenarios or with the enemies to stretch across a full game. That was fixed with The Banner Saga 2 and the variety will be pushed even further with this third outing, as the ways you can interact with the environments has increased.
“The battle boards will feature quite a bit more interactable objects,” Watson explains.
“Things that the player and AI can trigger can cause a variety of effects on the battlefield. For instance, you activate a switch and a gate slams shut, or a chasm opens up. Or maybe you kick over an urn of fire, causing a new hazard on the battlefield. The AI in general is getting much more clever, and the battlefield enemy spawning is getting more refined.”
We’ll see lots of new enemies, including quite a few Warped units, as well as some new allies like Alfrun, playable dredge, Juno, and Ubin, all of whom will have interesting new abilities. Furthermore, the Heroic Title system will allow players to customize their high-ranking heroes, giving them special powers such as additional passives, in addition a story-based place in the saga.”
Finally, this brings us to the ending. Part of the reason The Banner Saga has been a series that fans have become so invested in is that you make decisions which change the game. Your decisions change plot points, which characters live and die, and yes, the overall ending.
Wrapping up the trilogy is where Mass Effect famously fluffed its line at the end of its third outing and with ex-BioWare staff on its payroll, Stoic will have paid close attention to that debacle to ensure The Banner Saga doesn’t make the same mistakes.
Best of all, decisions from all three games will feed into the ending you get – even minor ones.
“We are pulling forward as many decisions as possible from all three games. Even some seemingly inconsequential ones will come back to haunt you. For example, as Juno’s group enters Strand, you find Alfrun and a few survivors. Based on a decision you made early on in the first game, you may have sent Eirik back to Strand or taken him with you. That means he may still be in strand for Juno to attempt to rescue, or with heroes in Arberrang, if he survived that far, with a pet attack-bear in tow — two dramatically different outcomes for that character’s story.”