Hands On: The end beckons in The Banner Saga 3

Credit: Stoic

Video games have no shortage of bold auteurs who come out with an ambitious pitch for an epic trilogy, only for things to utterly fall apart after a single installment - usually due to poor sales or a mixed critical reception. And yet, in the face of that precedent,Stoic Studio’s The Banner Saga series has proved an unlikely success.

A turn-based tactics RPG set in a richly-conceived and compellingly-realised fantasy world, the first two installments of The Banner Saga trilogy were masterclasses in storytelling, world-building and encounter design. They struck an incredibly impressive balance between building up a setting and characters that you always wanted to know more about and providing gameplay with enough meat on its bones that you never tired of sending your viking warriors into the game’s gauntlet of combat puzzles.

Credit: Stoic

More than that, the first two Banner Saga games understood the power of tone. Across both installments, not a single line of dialogue was wasted. Every little piece of the puzzle contributed its part when it came to imbuing a sense of culture to the world in which these games take place.

The more Stoic invested in building up that tone, the easier it was for you to do the same and the more effective the series became at relentlessly-hammering in the ever-escalating desperation faced by its characters.

Credit: Stoic

Based on our hands-on time with the upcoming The Banner Saga 3, none of those things look to be changing. It's more of the same, but if you're already a fan - that's exactly what you're after.

As with the previous installments, each "chapter" of the game sees you lead a caravan across a gorgeously-rendered map, solving both dialogue and combat encounters along the way.

Credit: Stoic

With The Banner Saga 2, Stoic added more variety and better encounter design into the mix. Based on what we played, The Banner Saga 3 opts for much the same. Already in the handful of chapters we've played, there are new enemies, unique boss fights and even a few new faces being added to the game’s already largess roster.

Credit: Stoic

If anything, the biggest change to the more routine encounters here is the ability to, once you’ve won a fight, play additional rounds of combat in order to better loot. It doesn't seem like anything groundbreaking but it is a nifty evolution on the risk-reward dilemma at the heart of the series’ identity.

There’s also a new layer of meta-strategy in the mix with specialisations and titles. Once they’ve gained enough renown, characters in your party can start accruing “Heroic Titles”, which give buffs to nearby allies, and “Specializations”, which allow for unique proc effects like dealing extra damage or dodging the occasional hit.

Credit: Stoic

The Banner Saga 3 isn't due to release for another month, but we can already tell it's going to be a journey we'll want to see through to the bitter end.

The Banner Saga 3 is due to release on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on July 26th

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Fergus Halliday
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