The Banner Saga 3 is a fitting end for the light tactical RPG series, and one that feels less like a sequel and more like the third act of a cohesive whole. The combat system used in the series up until this point remains relatively unchanged, and most of the mechanics are carried over as is. This isn't about reinventing the wheel, but about attempting to tie together the various narrative threads left dangling at the conclusion of The Banner Saga 2, and on that front this game resolutely delivers. The wonderful writing, beautiful art, and sparse use of score work together in service of a thoroughly engrossing yarn, and while the conclusion of this often suffocatingly bleak tale may not be to everyone's tastes, the genuinely nerve-wracking final chapters are so well constructed that it's hard to quibble.
The story picks up where The Banner Saga 2 left us, and at the risk of sounding redundant, we wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't tell you that you really need to play the previous games before tackling this one. Sure, there's a recap to remind you of what's going down, but part of the joy of this game is in experiencing the stories of the many characters you'll meet on your journey, and without that prior knowledge many of the interactions here will lack the heft they carry for returning players. Your save file from The Banner Saga 2 can be transferred over, meaning the decisions you've made are remembered, as well as who's alive and who's dead.
There are two concurrent storylines in play and while these are largely independent for much of the game, they do connect in an interesting way towards the end of the tale. Iver is a varl - a giant, hulking, horned brute - and he's leading a party attempting to put an end to the ever-encroaching apocalyptic evil that has been threatening to collapse the world throughout the series. His small band of allies is comprised of many combustible personalities that have little time for each other for various reasons, and getting them to their destination before they implode may be easier said than done.
Meanwhile, the human survivors, the rest of the varl, and some horseborn - centaur-like warriors - are making their last stand in the city of Arberrang. An army of dredge - seemingly ruthless stone people - is outside the gates looking for a fight, and the political situation inside the city is so perilous that wading out into the field of battle to face overwhelming numbers might not seem so bad after all. Arberrang is full of different factions who all have their own ideas about how best to survive, and it's up to you to unite the people as best you can to give them their greatest hope of living to see another day.
While you can solve many disputes with a kind word or two, sometimes combat is inevitable. As mentioned, the battle system here is barely changed from previous entries. Your various party members take their places on a grid, and you and the enemy take turns to move and attack. Your two main stats to worry about are armour and strength: the former tells you how well you can absorb incoming damage while the latter dictates how much damage you do while in offence. Attacking an enemy reduces their strength and if it drops to zero they die, but if you damage their armour instead then on your next attack you'll be able to do more damage to their health. Wasting too many turns on eradicating enemy armour can leave you open to danger, however, and so the strategy of what attacks to use in which situations makes each battle one that requires thought.
There's also a system in which some battles take place against waves of enemies, and you're given the option to stick around and fight the next wave if you wish, or turn tail and flee while you have the chance. It's an interesting mechanic, since finishing off another wave yields rewards like special accessories that enhance your characters in battle, but the next wave of baddies are fresh and your party will likely be war weary and hurt, so it's not always advisable to risk another ruckus. That said, the combat here does feel more forgiving than the previous games in the series, and we didn't once find ourselves looking at a game over screen during our ten or so hours finishing the campaign.
Decision-making is a huge part of The Banner Saga 3, and as with the previous games, you're never really sure whether trying to rescue the kids from the burning house is a good idea until you're either celebrating with a horn of mead, or burying the charred remains of a trusted friend. There are no black and white choices here, and while many games champion that their decisions matter, it's rare to see a game that handles it all as deftly as this. Of particular note is how the various choices you've made throughout the series are all tied together towards the end of the game in a thoroughly engrossing way that we won't spoil, but we will say it helps to give the game a nail-biting finale that frequently shocks and delights.
The Banner Saga 3 is a fantastic tactical role-playing game that confidently concludes the overarching storyline of the series in a manner entirely befitting with what has come before. Little has changed on the combat front - although this game does perhaps feel a mite easier than first two Banner Saga titles - but it's the storytelling where the release truly excels. The stakes are high, and after two and a half games spent getting to know dozens of wildly different characters, watching their fates unfold during the superb finale can be both exhilarating and soul-destroying.