Work on The Banner Saga 3 is now in full swing, and last week, developers Stoic Studio were kind enough to show us a little of what they've got so far. They walked us through what's new, and set the stage for the opening chapters of the game that'll wrap up this epic, Norse-inspired trilogy. Minor spoilers for the early stages of Saga 3 follow.
The Banner Saga games are great, and their omission from our list of the best indie games on PC is an injustice for which one of my colleagues must be shamed.
As technical director John Watson points out, The Banner Saga concerns an "unfolding global catastrophe that’s driving these survivors and refugees ahead of it", so as you'd expect, the stakes are suitably epic in this, the final instalment.
"The stakes you’re playing with here are the highest possible," says Watson. "The world is probably gonna be destroyed, and you have to try and stop that if you can, or alter the course of it in some way." Perhaps more excitingly for lore nerds, many teasing questions about the impending apocalypse, and the characters who may or may not know more about it than they're letting on, will also be answered.
"How is Juno involved in this? What is the Serpent, and how is it related to the Darkness? All of these things are going to be resolved."
At the start of The Banner Saga 3, the survivors of the first two games are sheltering in Arberrang, the de facto capital of the human clans and the safest city on the continent. Meanwhile, the remnants of Bolverk Bloodaxe’s mercenary band, the Ravens, now follow the mysterious Valka Juno, thanks in part to her mind-controlling powers.
As for Bolverk himself, his fight with Iver at the end of the second game has big consequences. If Iver wins, Bolverk is "left behind" (in Watson’s words), and Juno's caravan gets away clean. If Bolverk won, however, he continues to hound you, possessed by the great Dredge, Bellower.
Juno will be a playable character for the first time in The Banner Saga 3, and we're shown a short stretch of gameplay in which she leads her caravan north into the spreading Darkness. Folka, Bolverk’s former second-in-command, is by her side. Caravan resources such as morale, supplies, and so on are still tracked in the UI, but now they refer to the survivors in Arberrang, not to Juno’s caravan; the latter are a small group of warriors, not a train of refugees. They don't even have a banner.
Meanwhile, Rook or Alette will have to deal with the impending Dredge attack on Arberrang, and with the petty infighting that culminates in the poisoning of King Meinolf at the end of Saga 2. There's another change in the formula here as you won't travel overland, but will move around within the city. Stoic intend that displaying Arberrang's dwindling supplies even while playing as Juno will add a sense of urgency: Rook or Alette must hold out as long as they can, while Juno and the Ravens are on a race against time to confront the source of the Darkness.
In doing so, they wrap up the story in a geographic sense: you'll pass some locations from earlier games, such as Strand, the trade city that was the first place you rested in the original Banner Saga. It looks very different now - abandoned, blasted by snow, twisted and purple-tinted by the Darkness. Inside its great hall, you'll rescue a group of survivors from the clutches of a new class of enemy: Darkness-warped monsters. I see Varl and humans, but the Darkness can corrupt seemingly anything, including horseborn and even Dredge, if I'm not mistaking one of the GIFs on this Kickstarter update.
One of the survivors is - or can be - Eirik, whom players could choose to send back to Strand in The Banner Saga. If you did so, he'll be here, one of the city's last living inhabitants along with his man Valgard (also returning from the first game) and a new character, Halfern, a self-taught mender who will serve as "a sort of counterpoint to Juno", and will play a big role in the story.
At a mechanical level, don't expect any major changes - Stoic don't want to alter the Saga's core systems because they "want the games to feel coherent," says Watson. But there are a few additions, notably to progression; "just like when we added talents to Banner Saga 2, now when you go past rank ten there’s a thing called Heroic Titles that allows you to apply newly-designed passive abilities to your character to refine their role."
You can also expect more dynamic battlefields, with changing victory conditions and "more battlefield interactivity - we added destructible obstacles in Saga 2, we’re gonna add interactive objects in Saga 3, so you can interact with something and cause a change to the battlefield, like closing a gate or knocking over a pot of fire to create a hazard."
The Banner Saga 3 doesn't yet have a release date, but it's fully-funded, having earned more than double its target on Kickstarter. Catch up on the story so far with The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2 over on Steam.