PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S
February 13, 2024
If you were faced with an impossible choice, how would you respond? If you were allowed to turn back time and bring back the love of your life from the dead, how far would you go to make that happen? Would it be worth sacrificing your beliefs, and everything that makes you who you are? What about sacrificing others? What if they deserve it? That’s the core premise that sits at the heart of Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden from the talented team over at DON’T NOD. Here, they’ve brought us another powerful and memorable narrative, that despite some open-world shortcomings, manages to stick the spiritual landing.
You play Red mac Raith, alongside your partner, mentor, and lover, Antea Duarte. As Banishers, they have a sworn oath to protect the living from the hauntings of evil spirits. “Life to the living. Death to the Dead”. Things take a dark turn very early on, as Antea’s life is taken during a mission, becoming a spirit herself. All is not lost, however… at least not yet. Antea’s spirit lingers with Red, travelling together through New Eden to solve haunting cases, fight supernatural creatures, and ultimately resolve Antea’s fate.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden presents a tough choice at the beginning of the experience, and it’s just the first of many tough choices you’ll be presented with. After witnessing the unfair death of Antea, you’ll need to choose whether to focus on her ascension, so she can be at peace, or her resurrection, bringing her back from the dead. From there, all of the decisions you make throughout the lengthy 25-30 hour campaign will have consequences directly related to that initial crossroads.
The task at hand is presented with a gravitas that gives it some real weight, making for an emotionally punchy narrative. Antea, being by your side even after death, still has a stake in what her fate will inevitably be, and she proves to be a vital sounding board for Red, who is intensely conflicted about what to do. Red and Antea have a deep love for one another, and this is shown through deep and meaningful fireside chats, playful flirtatious banter during exploration, and heartfelt discussions about the fate of themselves and others you come across. The writing in Banishers is strong, allowing for complexity within its cast that shines through, particularly for the dual protagonists. A lot of the subject matter is extremely heavy, with themes including cannibalism, slavery, stolen identity, and intense grief, and it’s all handled rather delicately, not letting the supernatural premise take away from the inherently human tales of melancholy.
“…the choices I had to make were actually difficult, which is a testament to the character work and the writing…”
Aside from the main path, “Haunting Cases” will take up the majority of your time in New Eden, as you journey through the vast land encountering mysteries of its inhabitants. It’s here that Banishers continues to shine, offering compelling tales of love, betrayal, revenge, and sadness. In each scenario, you’ll ultimately have to choose to Ascend the spirit, freeing them of their sorrow, Banish them, dooming them to suffer in the void, or Sacrifice the living person, holding them responsible for their actions. I was impressed with how frequently the choices I had to make were actually difficult, which is a testament to the character work, the writing, and how each case is presented. Not everything is as it seems, and no case is black and white.
The extra layer to all of this is that not only will your choice impact those inhabitants of New Eden, but it will also cause ripple effects in your own story with Red and Antea. If you want Antea to ascend, you’ll want to Ascend or Banish the spirits. If you want to resurrect her, you’ll need to punish the living as a priority… which goes against your oath as a Banisher. There were times when I sat on the decision screen for a solid couple of minutes, considering every angle. The human involved is inherently bad, but the spirit forgives them and deserves ascension… but what does that mean for my love, Antea? A game rarely makes me pause in this way, with decisions usually feeling mostly binary, but Banishers forced me to second-guess myself several times, which is a credit to its high-quality storytelling.
It’s a bit of a shame that solving the cases themselves doesn’t require a huge amount of detective work. Banishers doesn’t often remove the guardrails to truly allow you to figure things out for yourself, instead simply pointing you in the direction of key items to interact with, like a trail of spooky breadcrumbs. You’ll find readable letters and other objects that will inevitably lead Red and Antea down a path of discovery. Once you’ve collected all the missing pieces of the puzzle, you’ll then confront and make your decision. The simplicity of piecing together each Haunting Case is made up for by its clever writing, but it would have been nice to have more freedom in figuring out your own solutions.
Each story is intriguing enough to explore, with tantalising threads dangling that I couldn’t help but follow. One spirit I encountered was crying for her lost love, desperate for help in reaching him once more. Another was a Blacksmith in town who had recently stumbled in his work ethic, confusing the townspeople. The main ones you’ll tick off through the main questline have a foreboding shadow over them; in this world, if you’re aggressive or acting strangely, something dark and evil is afoot, and unravelling each scenario is still satisfying, even with the hand-holding.
Thankfully the world of New Eden is a pretty one to explore, even when the direction is clear. As you climb cliff faces and explore dense forestry, gloomy towns are visible in the distance with lamps vaguely glowing. Waves crash against a dark shoreline, with the sun glistening off of the water and sand with silhouettes of shipwrecks as a creepy backdrop. It’s never a world that is outright terrifying, so it shouldn’t be classed as a horror game, but it is dark and twisted, made all the more aggressive when spirits emerge from the dirt to ruin your day.
When you’re not solving ghostly mysteries, you’ll be smashing them to pieces, which makes up the other half of your playtime in New Eden. They’ll appear in combat arenas, forcing you to halt your progress and battle them, until you can banish them to oblivion. Battling the spirits of the dead starts simply enough; Red has a quick attack, a strong attack, a dodge and a parry, complete with the always-appreciated slow-motion reaction when you perfectly parry an attack. If you build up a meter, you’re able to Banish a spirit, which is essentially an ultra-powerful finishing blow that one-hits grunts and takes large chunks off of bosses. This feels equivalent to staking a vampire in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It rocks.
The real wrinkle to combat is the fact that you can inhabit Antea, who takes over with spiritual fisticuffs; the key to this dance of changing between the two characters is the strengths and weaknesses of the enemies they face. Antea is particularly strong against spirits, while Red is who you want to be in control of if the spirit has embodied a corpse for a more physical presence. Antea takes some time to charge up, so you can’t just use her all the time, and that creates an interesting tension in fights, especially when there are multiple different enemy types in the mix, and spirits will routinely run to a corpse to take over if you don’t stop them fast enough.
“This feels equivalent to staking a vampire in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.”
A skill tree continues to grow out into new branches as you uncover more abilities; Red gets a shotgun, which is effective as it’s his only real ranged attack and doesn’t require ammo, but takes a while to reload between each shot. Antea gains the ability to stick enemies to the ground, keeping them in place, along with a burst AOE attack that can take down multiple foes if you charge it up properly. What starts as a simple hack ‘n’ slash adds enough new elements throughout to keep things interesting, but the lack of enemy variety and the repetition of battles taking place does hold Banishers back a bit.
Beyond your basic grunt spirits, there are ones that shoot from a distance, wolf-like creatures, and big boys (who sometimes hide in smaller spirits until they’re knocked out of ’em). While battles are initially fun, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden’s runtime is extended somewhat by the regular appearances of these baddies, to the point where it can become frustrating. Some of the large-scale boss battles remedy this, with unique mechanics that are thrilling to figure out and take down, but they’re few and far between when most of the time you’ll be playing whack-a-mole with the same ghouls.
While the world is relatively large, there also isn’t a whole lot to do outside of the Haunting Cases, apart from some additional combat challenges. Nests provide groups of enemies or an Elite baddie, rewarding you with attribute boosts should you complete them. You can also enter into Voids, which serve as large otherworldly combat dungeons which can be quite difficult with your limited amount of healing. It’s just missing a bit of variety, and if combat isn’t your jam, you may be left a little wanting.
The extra opportunities for battle just aren’t as interesting as the rich storytelling seen elsewhere in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, and it’s these, along with some other tacked-on systems, that I wished I could have skipped. You’re able to get different gear and level it up to be stronger using resources you pick up all over the place, but doing so never felt particularly gratifying. I’d just get into a habit of picking up everything I ran over and would hope that by the time I sat down at a campfire for upgrades, the game would tell me that I had enough.
There is scope for secrets aplenty with Antea as her spiritual powers evolve. Not just for combat purposes, Antea’s abilities allow you to enter once inaccessible areas across the map, Metroidvania style. However, they often didn’t have more than a bit of loot or some more resources hiding behind them or perhaps shortcuts back to other locations, so they usually didn’t seem worth the trip. There are glimpses of interesting puzzles, like when you have to combine her flying traversal ability to change your perspective on the environment to find a solution, but I wanted more of this and less generic open-world systems that I’ve seen before.
- Compelling, emotional story-telling with strong protagonists
- Haunting Cases are a thrill to solve, with interesting characters
- Combat has a decent amount of variety
- Choices feel like they really matter
- Too much emphasis on combat overall
- Some hand-holding takes away some of the detective work
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden heavily leans into the premise of challenging decisions with dramatic consequences, and manages to pull off an emotional and haunting love story where those choices do feel like they truly matter. Red and Antea feel like fully-fleshed out, interesting characters, forever linked to one another but struggling to let go. New Eden is full of communities plagued by supernatural creatures and dark secrets that make each of them intriguing to explore. An over-reliance on combat and a little too much hand-holding when it comes to solving cases is disappointing, but Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden can still be chalked up as yet another storytelling triumph for DON’T NOD. Life to the living. Death to the dead.