Banishers title screen

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden Review – A Postmortem Love Story

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a third-person action-adventure game from acclaimed developers DON’T NOD. The game has some RPG elements and focuses on a choice-driven narrative. Banishers does well to stay within its scope to realize its potential but doesn’t excel beyond that.

Developer & Publisher // DON’T NOD, Focus Entertainment

Platforms // PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S

MSRP & Release Date // $59.99, Feb 13, 2024 

Reviewed On // Xbox Series X

A Pre-Revolutionary Haunting

Banishers takes place in the late 17th century and follows Antea Duarte and Red mac Raith. The couple are well banishers, spirit hunters who fight off evil spirits and send them to the afterlife. Antea is sent a letter from an old friend, requesting her to travel to the New England town of New Eden. The town is under the control of a menacing curse that has brought pestilence, disease, starvation, and death to the townsfolk.

After arriving at New Eden, Antea is killed by a nightmare specter and is transported to the spirit world. Besides losing his lover, Red is put in a conundrum. He can either lay her soul to rest by ascending her soul or bring her back to the world of the living, no matter the cost. This choice is the oath Red swears to Antea and influences how the story plays out.

The premise and setting definitely piqued my interest. The 1600s colonial America isn’t common in games. Add to that a very eerie supernatural element to the fold makes for a unique setting. However, I felt that making the oath early on in the game when you didn’t know the characters that well was offputting. Luckily, as I progressed in the game I quickly learned that your subsequent choices are what truly drive the narrative.

Decisions Matter

 

A massive part of Banishers revolves around player choice. Throughout the game, players will have two decisions that both impact the narrative and the world around them. The first major decision choice is Red’s oath to Antea. I opted to return Antea to the living world, but to do so would require multiple human sacrifices. I was surprised to see that Antea just goes with it and doesn’t show any objections. This was confusing since this made Antea’s character a vessel of your choices rather than a fully-fledged character that reacts to your choices. Even with every human sacrifice, she just ups and accepts it for the sake of returning to Red, without the slightest hint of remorse. I guess love truly conquers all.

In true DON’T NOD fashion, a lot of the lore is fleshed out in journals you find along the way. A lot of the game’s world and context is provided in this environmental storytelling feature. Journals and notes would light up brightly in the game world, making them easy to spot, which slightly hits the immersion factor. But it’s common practice in video games. However, one particular journal stood out from the rest. The journal mistakenly had dates from 1936 despite the game taking place in the 1600s. No doubt this caused a chuckle.

Overall, the story was simple and easy to follow. The narrative is truly yours to change, but I felt the consequences were not as impactful as I imagined. It just steered the narrative in one direction or another. Banishers does have 5 different endings so there are reasons to jump back in if you like. But for me, the outcomes from my first playthrough were satisfying enough. Perhaps if the characters were more interesting, it would make another playthrough enticing.

Bland Characters

Antea and Red, while serviceable as characters, aren’t really interesting. Even the more romantic moments between the couple aren’t too convincing. They do open up about their past and life to each other. They always stare at each other intently at Shelter points. But in the end, it simply falls flat. There’s no sense of a true connection between them, which is strange because a lot of the marketing material focuses on their love beyond the planes of life and death.

The same lack of interest goes for other support characters as well. Luckily, there weren’t too many characters to focus on and stop the plot from progressing. Most of the supporting cast members are one-dimensional and quite forgettable. One of the forest town leaders, Kate, always lived in the shadow of her tougher older sister, Thickskin (yes, that’s her name). So, Kate always tries to appear strong and independent in front of her whenever she can. Even at the expense of Kate’s secret female lover.

Zones Are the Way

Banishers Ghosts of New Eden features multiple zones instead of a sprawling open world. Most of the biomes involve dense forests, villages, and decrepit mines and forts. Players can fast travel between different points via Shelters. Certain barriers will be initially locked, but once new skills are acquired, it can open these new areas up, ala Metroidvania style.

Although the game is linear, there are side activities like haunting cases or specter nests that players can pursue. These side content are fun and provide a mini-break from the main storyline. Best of all these side activities always provide valuable rewards like upgrade points or gear, which makes them worth pursuing.

However, I do feel some parts of the game were padded to extend game time. Especially, during some instances where you had to complete haunting cases to progress. All in all, the game took a little under 30 hours to complete while completing some additional quests. By the end, I did feel the game overstayed its welcome.

Solid Combat in Banishers Ghosts of New Eden

Banishers clearly takes inspiration from soulslike games for its combat but with its own twist. The game features light/ heavy melee attacks, ranged attacks from muskets, block/parry, and dodging. However, combat doesn’t include any form of stamina management. The game also features decoction potions, which function exactly like Estus Flasks. Red does all of the fighting in the real world, while Antea dishes out the hurt in the spirit world.

When in control of Red, every successful attack fills up 2 meters: the banish meter, and the spirit meter. The former is an ultimate move that does considerable damage. While the spirit meter allows players to switch to Antea during fights. While in the spirit world, Antea can punch and pull off her unique special moves like Spirit Dash. Some enemies are more vulnerable to spirit attacks, so switching between planes is essential. Once the spirit meter depletes, control reverts back to Red.

Basic enemies are the ghost-like specters and they can possess wolves and bodies to fight you. Possessed enemies can even shoot you from afar, so it’s good to see ghosts have completed their musket training. There are even alpha enemies that are more spongy compared to their normal counterparts. Overall, enemy variety is somewhat limited, but I didn’t have an issue with this as it stays well within the game’s supernatural theme.

At first, combat was not challenging at all and it was easy to dispose of enemies.  However, gradually, Banishers builds up its challenge and some fights become ferocious and sweaty. I appreciated the gradual difficulty build-up as too many games suffer from drastic difficulty spikes.

Oh and Some Boss Fights

Banishers does also have boss fights. Though on the normal difficulty setting, they weren’t particularly challenging. But they do help keep the game fresh. My favorite boss was The Beast, as you had to target different body parts to defeat it, while overcoming waves of enemies.

Haunting Cases Are Truly… Erm… Haunting

In Banishers, players can investigate haunting cases from different folks. Usually, this involves death and the ghost coming back to haunt a loved one or friend. Red and Antea will investigate clues, and interview people of interest involved in the case to try to establish motives. At times, players will use Antea to find clues in the spirit world as well.

The end of a haunting case usually involves confronting the ghost or perpetrator and selecting a conclusion. This includes ascending the ghost to the afterlife, banishing it to a purgatory-like plane, or blaming the human suspect as a sacrifice to return Antea to the living world.

To my surprise, some of the stories in the cases were truly grizzly. Themes of cannibalism, slavery, murder, adultery, and even identity theft were common. In some cases, I didn’t have any issue selecting a human sacrifice as some of the people were truly wicked despite their appearances. One case in particular had you seek out a widower to seek out her husband, who was the only blacksmith in town. Turns out that the woman took on a secret lover and they both colluded to kill the husband.

Gear and Skill Trees of Banishers Ghosts of New Eden

Banishers skill tree

Banishers features a rather unique skill tree. With every new skill you unlock, a new skill appears. But what is unique is that players are free to switch between skills if they’re on the same branch. For example, if a skill branch has 4 skills in it and you can only invest 2 skill points in that branch, you can choose any 2 and switch them if the outcome is not to your liking at any Shelter. It’s a clever way to change up any skills on a whim.

Most of the skills are useful and seem well-thought-out. My favorite was the skill that extends the spirit meter with every melee kill so I could use Antea for longer periods. Best of all, Banishers’ skill trees make it easy to adjust what you are trying to prioritize. By mid-game, I wanted to deck out spirit damage and was easily able to reconfigure my spirit skill points.

Well Thought Out Perks

Banishers Gear Upgrade screen

Banishers Ghosts of New Eden does feature gear. Everything is upgradable and the more you upgrade the item, the higher tier it becomes. Players upgrade gear using resource materials and there are a bunch of them. Even as early as 1 hour into the game, you are likely to have collected at least six different resource materials.

Most gear has some perks that can help create synergy in your build. Say if you want to focus on survivability, you’ll seek gear that gains you health after defeating enemies with melee attacks. But overall, it’s a simple and effective gear and perk system.

There are random merchants that will sell gear. But in the beginning, they are incredibly expensive. However, when you open up more side quests, you’ll get some useful gear that’s worth the effort. But for the most part, there isn’t an overabundance of gear to contend with.

Graphics

Banishers battlfield promo art

Banishers Ghosts of New Eden does feature decent graphics for the most part. Both the Antea and Red models are highly detailed. While the other characters did not receive the same attention and effort. Enemy designs are mostly bland spirits and dogs or wolves. Environments looked great, especially the forest and outdoor locations looked lush and vibrant. But the true stand out is the battlefield outside of a fort, as it was such a grim and stark contrast from the game’s predominantly nature setting.

Great Technical Performance Overall Minus Some Transitions

I opted for the performance mode that prioritizes 60 FPS on console. For the most part, Banishers performed well during gameplay. Even in multiple enemy fights, the game’s framerate kept up. Surprisingly, the game over relies on narrow corridors as a loading buffer when entering new sections of the map, similar to the elevators in Mass Effect. Although I didn’t mind it at first, these corridors are regularly littered across the game. Luckily, it didn’t detract from the experience.

However, the game didn’t fare that well in transitions. The screen would freeze for a couple of seconds before opening up the map or journal. Moreover, whenever a cinematic would boot, it would always render at 30 FPS. This was extremely noticeable when going from cinematic to gameplay. To add, this would happen a lot even when exiting out of the Shelter screen to gameplay. However, with the release of patch 1.3, these pauses were reduced but still present.

Audio Design

Banishers does a solid job on the audio front. Combat sound effects are all on point, while the spirit world has an eerie vibe to it that the game nails. Whenever you’re close to a spirit world chest, those creepy sound effects just kick in naturally.

Voice acting is also inconsistent. By far, Red had the best vocal performance. He had the quickest quips and had a semblance of personality compared to the other cast. Perhaps that’s because Red is a Highlander from Scotland. The rest of the cast was serviceable, but again with no particular stand out.

Final Thoughts on Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden

Banishers Red and Antea promo shot

 

Banishers Ghosts of New Eden adheres to a scope that DON’T NOD is comfortable with and sticks to it well. The game has decent combat with cryptic haunting cases to solve. Despite a lot of attention placed on the post-mortem love story, don’t expect it to be the next Romeo and Juliet any time soon.

Banishers Ghosts of New Eden releases on February 13 on Steam, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S.

Note – a key was provided for the purpose of this review.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *