The Banner Saga is an epic (and we don't use that word lightly) tale of bravery in the face of adversary, where Norse legends are explored in a climactic fantasy scenario that mixes up caravan management, interesting dialogue options, and tactical turn-based combat. There's a lot going on, but as we wrote in our reviews of the first and second games, Stoic did a very good job of pulling together the various strands to create two rich and compelling experiences where cause and effect has a meaningful impact on in-game events.
With that in mind we recently took a trip to London to get a first peek at The Banner Saga 3, and during our time there we talked a bit with producer Zeb West and technical director John Watson about the game and how development is coming along. However, the first thing we discussed was regarding the changes between the first and the second game, and then the second into the third.
"The changes in the second game [involve] a lot of combat improvements, and a lot of refinements," Watson explained. "We took some feedback to heart from Banner Saga, we made sure the battles were not feeling repetitive, so we added a lot of scripting to the battles and made them more dynamic."
"We're continuing that in Banner Saga 3," he continued. "We're adding ways to change the structure of the battlefield during the battle, so there were destructible obstacles in Banner Saga 2, and we're going to have interactable objects that can be used to change the battlefield, maybe raise a barrier, or knock over an urn full of flames and create a hazard - things like that that basically allow you to play with the configuration of the tiles available."
Level progression is also changing too, as Watson said: "Like Banner Saga 2, we've added a new mechanic called talents, [raising] the progression in Banner Saga 3 from 10 to 15, we're adding what we call heroic titles, which allows you to apply heroic titles to your heroes and further refine their roles by adding more passive abilities to them."
"I like the storytelling aspect of this feature too," West added, "because [...] we had this kind of metaphor of the tapestry that's growing as the story is growing, almost like the Bayeux tapestry where it's kind of capturing a saga, where you get a title, like Juno might be Light Bringer or something like that."
The original The Banner Saga was a hit on Kickstarter, with an early and separate version of the tactical combat preceding the launch of the main game, giving players a taste of the turn-based action before getting stuck into the story proper. Before launch there was plenty of buzz surrounding the game, and this helped turn the game into a qualified success. That buzz, however, didn't quite stretch to the second (arguably better) game, and it wasn't met with the same enthusiasm as the first game.
"I think one other important change for Stoic was Saga 1 was Kickstarted," West said, "and it was just an early indie game, an early Kickstarter success, and it carried this big wave of energy and conversation with the community. And then, I wasn't around for this change in Saga 2, but after that the team kind of went dark for Saga 2 and just really put their heads down and went into a room and made a really awesome game and worked their butts off, but they kind of had a little disconnect with the community. So that was why we really intentionally Kickstarted the third one, because we wanted to kind of have that connection again with the community."
"It's super easy for us to just drop in [the forums] and answer some questions, and we get a lot of energy back," West added. "There's also like a lot of these combat mechanics we offer in alpha Battle Board mode, where we can drop a new map, with some new mechanic to it, to the community, let them try it out, collect some feedback, make some changes."
Armed with renewed energy from the community, Stoic will no doubt be hoping that The Banner Saga 3 will conclude the Norse-fantasy trilogy with style when the third chapter releases next year. We'll find out then how (or maybe whether) the heroes will survive the darkness, and what lies ahead for them, as well as seeing all of the aforementioned new features in action. It's an exciting time if you're a fan of the original games, then, and we're certainly looking forward to seeing it all come together next year.