Banishers: Ghosts Of New Eden” Game Review – A New Take on Ghostbusters

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a love story about loss and sacrifice, propelling its choice-driven narrative forward amidst middling combat.

By Richard Wakeling

on February 12, 2024 at 9:00AM PST

It can’t be a coincidence that Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is launching just a day before Valentine’s Day. As its title suggests, the latest game from Life is Strange developer Don’t Nod is brimming with ghost hunting and spooky happenings. Yet, at its core, it’s also a surprisingly tender love story about life, death, and sacrifice. This isn’t the most well-trodden path for an action-RPG, and that’s just one of a few key areas where Banishers is atypical for its genre. Between outbursts of stiff, run-of-the-mill action, it’s the quieter moments where the game comes into its own. Like Vampyr, one of the studio’s previous games, delving into various characters’ lives and making tough choices with far-reaching consequences are what make the game memorable.

Banishers begins with dual protagonists Antea Duarte and Red Mac Raith arriving on the sandy shores of the fictional island of New Eden, Massachusetts. It’s 1695, and the pair of eponymous banishers are hired spirit hunters entrusted with dispelling the ghosts and specters that still linger in our plane of existence, trapped between the living and the afterlife. New Eden, you see, has been afflicted with a malevolent curse. Hauntings are frequent, the weather is perpetually cold and dreary, crops are dying, livestock has perished, and the island’s settlers are in desperate need of help. With so many lingering effects, this is no simple curse, and while attempting to banish a particularly powerful spirit, Antea is tragically killed as Red is plunged into the freezing depths of the ocean and left for dead.

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Upon waking up on the opposite side of the island, the aggrieved Red finds himself reconnected with his fallen love, Antea, now a spectral figure herself. The irony is not lost on her; she is the ghost she used to hunt, and this leads her into a battle with her newfound reality. As the narrative progresses, your perspective shifts between both characters. This manipulation not only deepens your connection with the characters but also thrusts you into various dilemmas of consequence, like swearing crucial oaths that challenge your very essence. One such choice is accepting Antea’s fate and allowing her soul to move on or to sacrifice the lives of others for her restoration. Initially being in favour of Antea’s departure, the morality of the decisions seemed quite straightforward, that is, until you delve deeper into the lives of the New Eden’s inhabitants.

The pursuit of your goals leads you back to New Eden Town, where you’re tasked with lifting the curse and retrieving Antea’s body. Along this path, the living are found haunted by spirits unable to move on due to a variety of reasons. Understanding the cause becomes vital, and this understanding is often derived from conversations with the haunted ones and a bit of exploration for clues that might help explain the phenomenon. The spirits are unable to depart most times because of unresolved issues, and it’s up to you to separate the victims from the villains in both tangible and spectral forms. Once that determination is made, a tremendous decision awaits; to sacrifice the living to revive Antea, help the spirits find peace and cross over, or to cast the spirits into eternal torment.

Breaking down the depth of the details to arrive at a conclusion doesn’t turn out to be as complex as expected. Antea’s otherworldly abilities enable you to peer into history and discover paths to pursue, yet there’s no element of insight or questioning involved. Indeed, it’s not possible to proceed without uncovering all the flagged hints, making the process of collecting evidence less engaging gameplay-wise. You are fundamentally realizing the outcome rather than revealing and connecting the pieces independently. Though the unfolding narratives may captivate you despite the limited player control, it’s unfortunate that these instances are reduced to merely locating every illuminated interactive object in a specific setting.

The ghostly encounters tackle a range of different topics, spanning from envy and the aftermath of conflict to servitude and forbidden romance. Likewise, each narrative is usually well-crafted, often grappling with a moral ambiguity that complicates the arrival at a simple resolution. Granted, this isn’t always the norm, and certain encounters pose what should be an uncomplicated alternative, such as when encountering racially biased homicide and other grave offenses. Nevertheless, the primary clash over Antea’s destiny still inspires contemplation. With five potential concluding scenarios to the story of Banishers, even if each ghostly encounter suggests a dichotomous selection, every choice collectively alters the narrative’s progression. Even with clear culpability, preserving the guilty parties for the sake of your departed companion could be an option. This introduces a fascinating dimension to each decision-making situation, as you confront a variety of moral dilemmas.

Antea and Red’s relationship’s complexity and authenticity significantly contribute to this effectiveness. Despite projecting an exterior of a standard gruff action protagonist, Red expresses a gentler aspect during tranquil moments shared with Antea. Although he’s a war veteran, he showcases co-dependency traits and often lets his feelings sway him. Being the more seasoned of the two ghost dispellers, Antea rarely allows emotions to interfere with her duties, making their contrasting styles quite captivating. Brief instances of humor between the couple further humanize their relationship, offering a glimpse into their shared past and heightening their bond. The narrative occasionally delves into profound themes such as Antea’s Cuban heritage and Red’s regretful history, which lend more depth to their interactions. It’s safe to say that Banishers makes you empathize with Antea and Red’s predicament, rendering every decision more intellectually engaging.

The other facet of the game circles around combat and exploration. It’s constricted third-person viewpoint echoes the most recent God of War games, and the action resembles them as well, offering a conventional fusion of light and heavy strikes, evasions, and guards, the latter functioning as a counter if timed accurately. In addition to melee, Red can handle a rifle for ranged assaults, dealing a powerful shot and a fittingly slow reload time that hinders rapid repetitive firing. Melee combat takes the forefront as you attack enemies with Red’s reliable cutlass. Red fares efficiently against the irate spirits, whereas Antea is adept at handling more physical threats—some specters inhabit the decayed remains of humans and wolves. Antea’s fighting style doesn’t stray far from Red’s, although she favorably uses her hands instead of a weapon. Yet, she possesses a collection of supernatural powers, including a gap-closing dash strike and an area affect detonation. These skills are also useful for exploration, enabling leaps across gaps and the removal of obstructions once these abilities are unlocked.

Combat is decent but never propels itself to be amongst the genre’s best. There’s a slight rigidity when transitioning between animations that prevents your movements during combat from flowing smoothly–contributing to a sense of inelegance–and you can usually succeed in most encounters by button-mashing your way to victory, sapping away any strategic element to combat. You do have access to a modest skill tree that lets you enhance existing abilities with various buffs, but combat doesn’t evolve enough to stave off repetition in the game’s latter half. By the 15-hour mark, I could’ve done with significantly fewer skirmishes, especially once the well of enemy types dried up.

Exploration fares slightly better, with a semi-open world that’s neither too large nor too diminutive. The whole place permeates an uneasy tone with various biomes consisting of verdant forests, barren farmland, murky swamps, and cavernous mines carved into the sides of mountains. Crafting materials are often found off the beaten path, which can then be used to upgrade your equipment, and there are numerous side activities dotted across the map, including combat arenas and optional quests that typically revolve around killing or collecting something. These activities pad out the playtime but never feel necessary and are easily skipped.

Banishers’ strengths lie in its storytelling and characters. These aspects–along with its combat–can’t quite match the caliber of its genre-defining contemporaries, but Don’t Nod differentiates Banishers from the pack by implementing the studio’s signature brand of choice and consequence. It’s easy to become enraptured by Antea and Red’s story; shaping their relationship and who they are as a couple makes for a compelling experience. That still doesn’t mean I can wholly recommend Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, but those looking for a dark, story-driven tale of love and sacrifice won’t be disappointed.

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