Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden review - Moral ambiguity the star in supernatural thriller

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden review - Moral ambiguity the star in supernatural thriller
Images via Don't Nod

Written by 

Joshua Boyles

Published 

12th Feb 2024 17:00

Early on in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, I came across a man huddled in a cave-dwelling, chomping on meat like he hadn’t eaten since he arrived in the American Frontier settlement of New Eden. He’s lost in the woods having lost sight of his travelling partner, and he’s haunted by a terrifying spirit.

Playing as Red, a coveted Banisher of ghosts, I investigated the area like Sherlock Holmes, uncovering his secrets and the journey he’d undertaken. What unfurled was a tale of how his travelling partner met his early demise due to a disagreement - the ghost that was haunting the deranged man was his partner, as was the meat he was feverishly chewing on.

Red faces a choice. Does he banish the ghost from the mortal plane, or sacrifice the haunted man to punish him for his actions, in turn contributing to saving Red’s own beloved and recently deceased, Antea?

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is filled with these intricate, human tales of love, sacrifice, and strife, and it’s where Don’t Nod’s latest narrative-driven title shines. Its most ambitious work to date is complemented by world exploration and combat that punches above its weight given its smaller budget, and for the most part, it delivers a more than serviceable experience that had me hooked from the get-go.

GGRecon Verdict

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is an example of Don’t Nod doing what Don’t Nod does best - deliver an enthralling, story-driven title that had me hooked in its world and characters from the opening titles. It’s elevated by inspirations from other titles with bigger budgets in this genre and is all the better for it with a stunning world that invites you to explore.

The combat sections fall a little flat, and the run-time feels ever so slightly too long. However, the weight of the storytelling more than offsets these frustrations and will drive players through to see the ending of this magnificent adventure.

Should I stay or should I go?

Banishers gameplay
Click to enlarge

Ghosts of New Eden kicks off a new adventure for protagonists Antea and Red, partners both romantically and professionally as the titular Banishers. Their job is to investigate supernatural hauntings of spirits with the intention of banishing them from this mortal world.

They’re called to the town of New Eden by their friend Charles, a settler in New England around 80 years before the United States was founded. A terrible Nightmare haunts New Eden, a particularly nasty spirit that’s driven most of its inhabitants away from the town. All that remains are a few stragglers, but the couple’s friend Charles isn’t one of them - he’s been killed by the Nightmare before they can arrive.

After spending an evening investigating the area and comforting Charles’ widow, our two protagonists settle in for an evening around the campfire, which serves as a save point around the world of New Eden. However, Red awakes in the night to find that Antea is missing, coaxed to the local town hall where the Nightmare spirit kills her, shortly before discarding Red to the crashing waves that bark at the heels of the towering cliff below.

Upon awakening, Red discovers that Antea’s spirit is still tethered to his own, and they can symbiotically assist each other in both their traversal and investigation of New Eden. What follows is a journey back through the wilderness towards New Eden, with Antea learning more about her new supernatural form, and with Red coming to terms with a difficult choice he has to make.

As a Banisher, Red can eventually cast Antea’s spirit away, as he’s supposed to in his line of work. Or, he can trade the life-souls of living humans for that of Antea, essentially bringing her back to life. This feeds into the core gameplay loop I explained earlier. Ghosts of New Eden presents plenty of morally grey situations that examine the human condition, and where the haunted humans aren’t always the ones who deserve to be left alive. It’s up to you as a player whether you choose to take the noble route of role-playing as a Banisher, or whether you sacrifice those less worthy to restore your loved one back to life.

Punching above its weight

Banishers Gameplay
Click to enlarge

The core DNA of a Don’t Nod game is immediately visible in Banishers, from its storytelling to the impeccable range of British accents in the voice acting that is a joy to listen to. However, there’s clearly been a great deal of inspiration taken from much higher-budget games that are imbued here.

The world traversal for one is reminiscent of the God of War reboots, taking an over-the-shoulder POV as Red and Antea make their way through a semi-open world. The paths walked are linear, but there’s an element of Metroidvania as some areas remain locked off until you earn certain abilities. Regular campfires serve as resting and fast travel points, which can be travelled back to at any point.

Those environments are rewarding to explore, too, ranging from lush forests to grimy swamps. The realistic art style looks gorgeous here and even ran particularly well on a Steam Deck during the review process.

Character design is excellent, too, with countless NPCs having their own intricacies and identifying features. Even quests that could be considered side content feel carefully curated, with it all feeding back into the main story arc of Red attempting to come to terms with the potential passing (or resurrection) of his partner.

Cut the fluff

Banishers gameplay
Click to enlarge

While there’s plenty to love in the world-building and storytelling of Bansihers, there are a few forays into new territory where it’s clear this is Don’t Nod’s first rodeo. For a narrative game, there’s a great deal of combat to be had, complete with skill upgrade trees and counter moves.

Red is equipped with a spell-imbued sword, which is capable of defeating the waves of spirits that regularly spawn in easily identifiable combat arenas. The twist is that Antea can deal damage too, with the player able to swap between the two with a button press. Antea is supposed to deal slightly different damage to Red, so the idea is that you swap between the two to get the most out of their abilities and deal with different enemy types as they attack.

It all sounds great on paper, but the end result quickly falls a little flat in comparison to the excellent storytelling. There’s only so much physical feedback that you can get from whacking what’s essentially thin air with a sword, and a lack of interesting skills early on means combat arenas quickly become more of a slog than something to look forward to. Regularly recurrent combat barks from Red and Antea only exacerbate the repetitiveness - a small blemish on the otherwise fantastic voice acting.

The stale combat is somewhat resolved as the story progresses, with Antea especially earning upgrades to her abilities at key points in the story which makes her much more fun to use. Some entertaining boss fights also add some variety here, even if they don’t feel totally groundbreaking in this space.

In this area, Banishers could have done with a little more spellcraft in the early game to spice things up a bit. Red and Antea can be seen casting spells as they banish spirits during the story, and working this aspect of their professions into other areas of the game would have hugely benefitted gameplay variety.

There’s also an upgrade system to be aware of, which is fuelled mostly by resources you collect while exploring the world. However, this feels a little superfluous as I never felt like I needed to go out of my way to search for a particular item in the world. All of the material harvest I did was passive, and as such, upgrades felt that way too.

It would have felt more purposeful to uncover item upgrades meaningfully through the story, either by completing important side quests or by talking to the many intriguing NPCs that Don’t Nod had already woven into this world.

Suffering from success

Banishers gameplay
Click to enlarge

While there’s a small amount to criticise in the arguably less important aspects of Banishers, that doesn’t detract from the excellent story that Don’t Nod presents. It’s rare for a brand new IP like this to introduce characters that are so gripping from the offset, but the relationship between Antea and Red is so believable that I instantly became enthralled in their journey.

I’m usually one to play the moral high ground route in branching story games like this, but after being presented with the morally grey situations in the frankly brilliant haunting missions, I began to question the choices I should be making in Banishers.

The run-time is a little long at 25-30 hours before you see the ending, and it does begin to wear a little thin towards the end with the inordinate amount of combat the game throws at you. However, the payoff is certainly worth it and got me excited about potentially doing an alternative playthrough in the future.

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The Verdict

Banishers gameplay
Click to enlarge

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is an example of Don’t Nod doing what Don’t Nod does best - delivering an enthralling, story-driven title that had me hooked in its world and characters from the opening titles. It’s elevated by inspirations from other titles with bigger budgets in this genre and is all the better for it with a stunning world that invites you to explore.

The combat sections fall a little flat, and the run-time feels ever so slightly too long. However, the weight of the storytelling more than offsets these frustrations and will drive players through to see the ending of this magnificent adventure.

4/5

Reviewed on PC. Review code provided by the publisher.

Joshua is the Guides Editor at GGRecon. After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Broadcast Journalism, he previously wrote for publications such as FragHero and GameByte. You can often find him diving deep into fantasy RPGs such as Skyrim and The Witcher, or tearing it up in Call of Duty and Battlefield. He's also often spotted hiking in the wilderness, usually blasting Arctic Monkeys.

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