GDC 2018: The Banner Saga 3 Overview

With its fantastic art direction, deep and accessible mechanics, and gripping narrative, The Banner Saga series has been captivating audiences for over four years. The Banner Saga 3 is the forthcoming finale and the culmination of the three games’ narrative. ConFreaks & Geeks spoke with Arnie Jorgensen and Zeb West of Stoic Studio as they demonstrated The Banner Saga 3, and we got to take a look at the game’s combat, progression, and additions to the series.

The Banner Saga 3 takes place in a world inspired by Norse mythology, but the stakes have been considerably raised this time around. The Darkness is an ever-expanding zone that twists and corrupts living beings, and it has visibly consumed much of the world in this game. The narrative’s two focal points are the daring caravan of adventurers and the enduring city of Arberrang. However, we saw that the Darkness threatens to consume Arberrang as well. With an emphasis on multiple narrative paths and endings, it is up to the player to make the right decisions to keep both the city and their characters safe.

We had a few questions about the game’s influences and audiovisual direction. The game’s cutscenes and character designs have a stark distinct feel, and we asked about whether any animated films informed the game’s look. Studio Ghibli films and Sleeping Beauty were notable examples, and the team remembered being blown away by the visuals of Sleeping Beauty. When they started the company, they looked at Sleeping Beauty and checked out some shots. Naturally, Norse mythology influenced the game’s direction, but the “Valkyr having spears and horses and the Norns’ weaving the tapestry of life” were notable examples. They heard that “players that are really into Norse mythology feel like they are soaking in Norse mythology” even if the adaptations are not exactly the same. We were also excited to hear that the voiceover is done by Icelandic talent and that the music has been recorded in London.

We witnessed some of the game’s tweaks to the series’ established combat. As with the prior games, The Banner Saga 3 features turn-based role-playing combat. Players move their characters on a grid and give orders to attack enemies. However, the game adds a few new systems to the mix. The Battle Wave system adds a sense of immediacy to battles. Our example gave the players forty turns to defeat the enemy party, and doing so would give players a chance to recover. The game then lets players either flee the battle or continue to fight, and continuing to fight can result in receiving more Renown and items. However, not defeating the enemies in forty turns can result in added opposition, which becomes tricky as the team has no chance to regroup and resupply. We also learned about the Valka Spear system, which builds up charges as players defeat enemies. Any unit on the board can activate it and cast a chain lightning-like attack that attacks diagonally placed foes. The series has already highly emphasized placement and movement, and this system adds another layer of strategy.

We learned about some of the new characters, and we learned about the game’s customization opportunities. With over forty heroes with unique abilities, passive skills, and stats, the game provides plenty of opportunities for players to create their dream team. We learned about Juno, who was present in earlier games but has never been playable until now. With her mind-manipulation abilities and fascinating new passive skill, she can turn the tide of battle in new ways. When knocked unconscious, she enters an ethereal state in which she can pick up pieces of darkness throughout the map. By doing so, her stats will increase once she re-enters her body. Naturally, players will want to pick up as many as possible, but they will want to bring her back to help her teammates. The game also features a playable Dredge unit for the first time, and this character is a powerful magic wielder who feels “just as powerful as the Stonesingers you’ve been fighting.” Players can choose a stat-boosting title for their characters, but they must pick carefully as each title can only be used once. As with earlier games in the series, the game’s progression can drastically change depending on who survives. However, we learned that the developers “did not want players to feel like they won or lost the game at the end.”

Given that the game is a direct continuation of the first two games, we asked about what players may experience if they start with The Banner Saga 3. Players will naturally form a greater degree of emotional attachment to the characters and narrative after playing the first and second games. For newcomers, however, the game will actually provide selectable pre-built sets of decisions. These sets embody what the developers think will be fun for players. Furthermore, the game provides an optional tutorial. “If new players are getting into the story,” the team also announced The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2 for the Nintendo Switch. The games looked quite vibrant in handheld mode, and the “user interface was designed for a touch screen” so that the team did not have to make adjustments to account for the Switch.

We believe that The Banner Saga 3 will be a fulfilling conclusion to the series, and it looks incredibly entertaining for any fan of turn-based roleplaying games. The Banner Saga 3 will come out on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on July 24th with mobile releases to follow later in the year.