The Banner Saga 3 Developers Discuss Completing an “Impossible Amount of Work,” Deep Narrative, Gameplay Additions, and More

The Banner Saga 3 is close to release so we had a chat with Lead Designer Matt Rhoades and lead Writer, Designer, Artists and Stoic Founder, Alex Thomas. Both devs shared some very interesting details about the woven narrative, cinematic experience, and much more.

SegmentNext: The upgrade of graphics and cinematics from the first to the second title is huge. Had the graphics evolved in Banner Saga 3 too, with more cinematics and more detailed scenery?

ALEX: We recently compiled all our cutscenes and videos when looking to make our launch trailer and noticed that the amount of content we’ve produced has doubled between the first and second saga, and doubled again for the third. There’s a lot of investment we put into creating unique art for the major events in the final game, and there’s a lot of major events. Where before we’d have to be satisfied with just describing something in text, for Saga 3 we had the luxury of more budgeting for additional art and more in-house artists working on content. In particular, the amount of detail crammed into the environments in the darkness sometimes just feels like an impossible amount of work.

Segmentnext: We already know that apart from the War Horn mechanic in Banner Saga 3 and there’s now a new one called the Valka Spear. Can you tell us how that works? Will we be seeing more changes on the battlefield when the the game launches?

ALEX: Matt probably has more on this topic, but having multiple war horns (one for each different caravan) was something we always wanted to do but didn’t have the resources until now. Even just removing something like a constant source of willpower makes a huge difference to the team composition and tactics that get employed.

MATT: Mechanically, the Valka Spear earns charges the same way the war horn does: by killing enemies. When the player clicks the Valka Spear, instead of gaining a point of Willpower (the war horn ability), the currently active character casts Arc Lightning — a damaging attack that chains to multiple units. As Alex said, that change makes a significant difference in the feel of battles in the darkness.

Another big change is the addition of Wave Battles that have a turn timer and allow players to swap in fresh characters from their rosters over the course of a multi-part battle. It’s a change that lets players experiment with a lot more of the characters and I think it’s a really fun addition.

We also added more scripting to battles and other little changes that — I think — will make battles feel more like they extend and enhance the storytelling of the game and integrate more closely into the narrative.

Segmentnext: Some decisions you made in Banner Saga 1 had great impact in Banner Saga 2. Is it happening in its third installment too? Should we be worried about our decisions in the previous games?

ALEX: Oh yes, you should be very worried! Haha! In all honesty, creating choices that matter was something that we make a pillar of our gameplay. Not only do your choices from Saga 2 matter, but we went out of our way to make sure that thing you did in both games directly affect your personal outcome in major, major ways. Obviously, not everyone imports their saves between games, so we worked hard to make sure that starting a new game gave the player fair choices to make even if they don’t have any history imported, but Saga 3 really does shine most when you’ve played all three as a single experience.

Segmentnext: In terms of story, Banner Saga has kept us on edge, to the point that we don’t even know if we’re getting a “good ending” with Banner Saga 3. Was the conclusion of the Saga planned beforehand or it happened naturally after the development of the previous two games?

ALEX: We developed the framework for the story in Banner Saga before we even launched the kickstarter, and I’m really proud that we’ve pretty much stuck with it the entire way. We have the advantage of knowing where the story is supposed to end, like a mini-series instead of a tv show that might try to stretch their seasons as far as they’ll go. That said, a lot of things have changed over the course of six years, and we worked really hard to work those into every facet of the story. We’ve always said that as long as the ending feels like it was based on what you did, was satisfying and brought closure we’d be happy with the outcome. I think we achieved that, and then some. Hopefully our players agree!

Segmentnext: Banner Saga 2 brought the Horseborn race along with new classes and promotions into the battlefield. Can we expect some new additions coming with Banner Saga 3 too?

ALEX: We decided on Saga 3 to focus on going deep instead of wide. We already have over thirty unique characters and new ones get added for the finale, but we didn’t want to dilute the story by introducing a whole new group of characters to worry about. Instead, we’ve added more personal interactions with nearly everyone in the game and really focused on the resolution between the survivors and the dredge.

MATT: As Alex said, we didn’t feel like we needed to add a lot more characters. The game is already so full of interesting personalities. But we did obviously take the opportunity to pull some fan favorites into the “playable” ranks — Ubin (aka “Scrivener”) is playable thanks to a community-driven stretch goal from our Kickstarter. And, of course, the mysterious valka Juno will be joining battles in the darkness instead of merely manipulating events from the background. Juno has an entirely new suite of abilities and two of Ubin’s three abilities are unique as well.

And then we have the playable dredge. Dredge have been antagonists in the Banner Saga since the beginning, and their role has shifted and become increasingly complex over time. Alex mentioned that Banner Saga 3 focuses a lot on the resolution of that conflict, and obviously one possible outcome of that involves playing as the dredge in battles. All the playable dredge have modified “player” versions of the dredge abilities associated with the particular dredge we used, so I hope it will be a lot of fun for our fans to play with the abilities that have been used against them for all this time.

Segmentnext: Even though Banner Saga is a “quiet trilogy” in terms of voice acting, its soundtrack is powerful. How did the soundtrack of the series evolved up until its climax in Banner Saga 3? Will there be appropriate music cover for The Darkness?

ALEX: Austin Wintory has been incredibly dedicated and insightful in his approach toward the trilogy, frequently discussing with us the importance of different themes and what we’re trying to get across in each game. We’ve spent whole days reviewing the game in different states just so that he always knows what’s happening and how it should feel. Austin has never been the kind of composer to disappear for six weeks and then drop a bunch of new tracks on us and hope they’re good. With the dramatic tone shift between traveling through the darkness itself and the climactic endings, we knew exactly what kind of strong finish we wanted to end on.

The Banner Saga 3 is releasing on PS4, Xbox One, and PC later this month. Pre-orders for the game are live on PlayStation Store, Xbox Marketplace, Steam, and Nintendo eShop.