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Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden

Written by Jason Dailey on 2/12/2024 for PS5  
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As human beings, I think it is natural to ponder our own mortality and how our death or the death of a loved one would affect us. Death is one of those certainties in life, after all, but the finality of it and the unknown nature of what follows are some of the ties that bind us all together. Before playing Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, I had never experienced a video game that confronted death, its finality, and the sheer weight of it so directly. To that end, Banishers is an emotional journey full of tough choices that had me teary-eyed during the final scenes, marking the second time in the last six months that a Don’t Nod game has produced water works from yours truly – the other being Jusant.

I’m not trying to bring the mood down, or get too existential for a video game review, but Banishers includes heavy themes and a decent amount of emotional baggage, which is what we’ve come to expect from this studio. It’s a tale of two ghost hunters, yes, but it’s also a tale of two people who love each other deeply that must face life’s greatest tragedy. Those people are Red Mac Raith and Antea Duarte, Banishers (ghost hunters) who venture to America in the late 17th century at the request of their friend to help with a ghost problem. They arrive in New Eden to find that the area is affected by a curse which has brought a pestilence and death upon its settlers. Red and Antea travel the world dealing with haunting cases by trade, but the curse that has befallen New Eden and its people is a haunting unlike anything they’ve encountered before. Without spoiling anything that the back of the box description wouldn’t tell you, Antea perishes early in their adventure, returning as a ghost to haunt the love of her life and colleague, Red Mac Raith.

You are faced with a story-defining decision early on – sacrifice the living to resurrect Antea, or banish the dead and help her move on to the afterlife. This decision is the cornerstone of the entire game, and making it almost immediately was a clever design choice. You know how high the stakes are right off the bat, but you have no notion of how morally ambiguous the road to arrive at that destination will be. Red and Antea have sworn a simple oath as Banishers – “Life to the living. Death to the dead.” – and it’s this overarching theme that both guides them and eats away at them across the story’s 30-ish hours.

As you work to lift the curse of New Eden, you will investigate numerous hauntings and disappearances around the game world, uncovering even more haunting cases along the way, which act as side quests. The settlers of New Eden are a deeply troubled bunch; some are haunted by loved ones, others by bitter enemies, and everything else in-between. Banishers shares a lot of similarities to Vampyr, another Don’t Nod RPG, in that it’s a very narrative and dialogue heavy game. You spend most of the time talking to NPCs, asking questions, and investigating environments for clues.  Thankfully, for a game with so much dialogue, I never tired of listening to the downtrodden folks of New Eden, regardless of how depressing their troubles were. The voice performance work in the game is of the utmost quality, which adds the requisite emotion to each character to make you truly care about what happens to them. However, the facial animations were a bit rough; Characters would sometimes yell but their mouth or face would barely move, for example, which was a little off-putting.

Whether you stick to the golden path or get distracted by side content, the narrative work is what you’d expect from Don’t Nod, which is to say it is excellent. Although it takes place in colonial America, when witchcraft was a whole thing, and societal norms were draconic to say the least, the tribulations of New Eden’s settlers felt relatable in a lot of ways. Despite centuries between us, I understood and appreciated their pain, their challenges, and their aspirations. Put simply, the collection of human stories in Banishers is compelling and very well-done. It feels like a game full of Witcher 3 side quests from a narrative standpoint, and I was impressed by how consistently high the bar remained from start to finish in that regard.

Every haunting case, whether main story or side quest, culminates in a major decision – do you take the life of a settler to feed their essence to Antea, contributing to her resurrection, or do you banish the ghost haunting the living, making way for Antea herself to move on? These decisions were truly tough. Every case and decision toes the line of ambiguity so well that I felt like I could go either way when decision time came. You can review the facts of the case before deciding, refreshing your memory on what’s what, and I often found myself sitting and pondering what to do for longer than expected. Not only does your decision affect the people directly involved in that specific moment, but it can and will affect them down the road. Without spoiling anything, on one occasion I chose a new leader for a settlement, only to find out they were a real piece of work. Of course, there is also the whole consideration of how killing a character means they’re gone forever, along with any subsequent work or resources they might have had for you. I also appreciated how the game used haunting cases to unveil Red and Antea’s backstory, as well as an opportunity for them to reflect on their own haunting.

In between ghost hunts, you explore the semi-open world of New Eden and engage in third person combat with various supernatural entities. The world itself is similar to the modern Tomb Raider games, where you can travel between linear and somewhat open areas on the map, with campfires that act as fast travel points littered across New Eden. I loved the late 17th century American setting, which isn’t a place we visit often in video games. Colonial New England looks great, particularly in the quality graphical mode, which runs at a locked 30 frames per second. I dabbled in performance mode as well, but experienced frame drops that drove me back to quality.

There are plenty of secrets and optional challenges to uncover as you explore, though you will have to return later in the game after unlocking new abilities to be able to reach every corner of the map. In my estimation, there is enough side content to keep you playing for an additional 15-20 hours after completing the main story – there’s a lot of game here. As a PSA, please note that Banishers does include a “point of no return” in the story, and it truly is a point of no return. Be sure you have a save file before venturing beyond this point if you want to go back and clean up the side content. There is no reversion to the previous world state once you complete the story, which is going to catch some players by surprise.

Fighting the ghosts of New Eden again reminded me of Don’t Nod’s other action RPG Vampyr. The bones of that combat system are here but expanded upon, though something about it didn’t quit click for me. It’s perfectly fine for what Banishers is, but I can’t see anyone thinking it is in the upper echelon of action RPG combat systems. It starts out rather basic but evolves over time as you unlock new abilities for Antea and various buffs in the skill tree. Eventually you can combo enemies by swapping on the fly between Red and Antea, using Red’s saber and rifle to damage corporeal enemies, and Antea’s supernatural abilities on the more ethereal lot.

You’ll utilize light attacks, heavy attacks, dodges, blocks, and parries – you know, the usual. You can also banish enemies once a meter has filled, which can kill some enemies in one hit. Red’s flintlock rifle is handy as well, especially when dealing with ranged foes. Unlocking abilities is paced well over the course of the game, but the combat still fell flat for me at times. Truthfully, I grew tired of it, and eventually tried to avoid as much combat as possible. Again, it’s not bad, it’s just not great. With that said, Banishers has several boss battles over the course of the main story that are challenging and fun, and certainly the highlight of the combat system.

There are some light build-crafting elements which allow you to choose skills and buffs that fit your playstyle. Your equipment can also be upgraded with resources you gather in the world, and each piece of equipment has different stats and bonuses, which also cater to your preferences. For instance, I wasn’t the best at remembering to switch between characters in the heat of combat, so I focused on skills and equipment that gave me direct stat buffs, such as 30% increased charged heavy attack damage. I appreciated the RPG elements, but it wasn’t enough to change my mind about the eventual monotony of the combat.

At the end of the day, I sincerely doubt that you’re coming into a Don’t Nod experience for the combat – that’s not their forte. You’re coming for their emotional gut-punch stories with heavy themes, you know, the type of stories that might make you cry by the end. They’re special in that regard, and Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden does not disappoint. Red and Antea’s tragic love story is one that had me questioning my own mortality, sitting, and staring, internally pondering all of life’s “what ifs”. They are two people that care deeply for each other, and their empathetic nature spills over to the folks of New Eden, uncovering deeply human stories at every turn of their journey. Which is to say that the folks at Don’t Nod are some of the best storytellers in all of video games, and Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is yet another example of them flexing their narrative muscles. Come for the story, stay for the story, and perhaps cry over the story.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a deeply emotional collection of human stories, of both the protagonists, but also the settlers of New Eden. The combat is nothing great, but the stories within certainly are. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can empathize with late 17th century colonials, which is the magic of developer Don’t Nod.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @TheDualSensePod, or check out my YouTube channel.

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