March 4, 2024
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is the latest narrative RPG from Don't Nod. But did it expel or put a spell on us? The Finger Guns review:

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is the second Don’t Nod title to be published by Focus Entertainment. The first of which was Vampyr, a divisive RPG that garnered a cult following for its ambitious narrative that would tie to its gameplay and interesting setting. Banishers is not a direct sequel, but in spirit, it shows all the hallmarks of being comparable. A strong narrative, filled with an abundance of dialogue choices. Ambitious combat with some unique mechanics tied to it. Even some of the jank still remains, but maybe to a lesser extent.

Either way, if you were ever into Vampyr, you can click off this review and go play it and probably love it – don’t though, I’ve got a lot to say! Similarly, if you weren’t won over the first time around by Don’t Nod’s aspiring first approach, let me explain why this may just change your mind. Did my excitement vanish? Or was I banished to the world of New Eden? Left to enjoy all that is ghost-hunting? Let’s get into it.

When Two Become One

Set in America during the twilight years of the 1600s, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden follows Antea Duarte and Red mac Raith as they take on the titular role of being banishers, by helping the dead move onto the afterlife. They say working with your lover can be a recipe for disaster, and for Red and Antea it was just that indeed. After taking on a job to help rid New Eden of a curse that has fermented across its people, Antea is struck dead. Red meets a fate not much better as he washes up outside of New Eden alone and broken.

However, due to their unique abilities to communicate with the dead, Antea is now an apparition for Red. Whilst the pair of them still have unfinished business in New Eden, they also need to decide the fate of Antea. The banisher’s code is “life to the living, death to the dead” but it’s easier said when it’s not your life at stake. As the player, this is your journey to choose, will you help Antea ascend into the afterlife? or bring her back to life through the killing of others?

You make an oath at the start of the game on which path you’d choose but this is a Don’t Nod game after all, so of course you’ll be questioning your morality whichever way you choose. The morally ambiguous and complicated lives that you dictate through the gameplay see Don’t Nod at their most nuanced.

To The Bitter End

Red is the standout performance, with his wry wit, Scottish lingo and inherent empathy for those who are being haunted. He’s contemplative, thoughtful and often quietly wrestling with his emotions throughout. Antea, on the other hand, has a jaded veteran outlook.

She’s perceptive, great as a banisher but at the cost of being curt to humans behind the contract work. Antea’s a lot more muted, often speaking with not many emotions behind it. Whilst the couple’s relationship is prevalent through their sweet nothings, it comes across as disingenuous from Antea.

This is a game about the pair of them, but it’s far more a journey about Red’s reaction to loss. Told through either his own actions or the NPCs you come across. All of them are well voice acted, giving a lot more weight to the dialogue. It all delivers a fully realised setting. Most of the people from New Eden have come from other countries or other parts of the US to seek a new life, only to be plagued by a nightmarish curse and it’s all told so eloquently.

The Ghost Inside

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is driven by its hard-hitting story threads, but in between the great story beats are equally as driven gameplay elements. Given the nature of your job, you’ll have a bounty of tools and trinkets that tie to the gameplay. You’ll be using your tricks of the banishing trade from a third-person perspective across a semi-open world America. I say semi because the map feels like one constant through line from one side to the other that guides you through the story, but there are little branches that veer off from the path for you to find one of the game’s many currencies, crafting items or gear.

Similarly, this could also be an opportunity for a side quest or activity that’ll put your skills to the test. You’ll come across these spectral piles of bones that you’ll use as one of the handful of banishing summons. The technique uses some of the raw materials you’d have picked up along the way, stabbing the ground and drawing a symbol to bring the dead out. This mechanic is used in a manner of ways across the story, but the one main use is to summon spectres for battle.

The combat leans heavily on the groundwork God of War (2018) popularized. The over-the-shoulder, deliberate combat plays so much more fluently than Vampyr ever did. You’ll have your light/heavy attack with your blade, a musket for range and a block, that can also act as a parry.

With Antea being a spectre, you can also switch character mid-combo to use some of her unique abilities. By default, she uses her fists to combat foes much like how Red uses his blade. This does a type of spectral damage that Red can’t do which lowers some of the enemies’ defences.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, Red fighting spectres.

Ghost Busters

You’ll also get a couple of special abilities like a dash toward the enemy for big damage and an outburst that you charge for an explosive AOE, taking out multiple enemies. There’s an inherent fluidity to the combat that I was really hoping for, before the release of Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden. Don’t Nod have proven to be brilliant storytellers, but the gameplay usually falls flat for me. Whilst Banishers isn’t perfect, it is a satisfying concoction of ideas. Playing smart, mixing up styles between Red and Antea with your combos and utilising both of their abilities is a bunch of fun.

Seeing the particle effects as Red banishes enemies with what is essentially a finisher move or Antea giving a sneaky sucker punch at the end of a flurry is endlessly satisfying. The only aspect lacking is the consistency in the parry system. The timing feels like they’re just making up when you should parry, and with no indicators to help with the timing you are kind of left looking at the enemy’s swing to hope that you’ve done it right.

The pair’s unique symbiosis of the living and the dead doesn’t stop there, however, as much of your job is to complete the many cases of NPCs being haunted by someone, or something. Antea’s state means giving Red her spectral vision as you switch between the two characters seamlessly. Think of it as Batman’s Detective Vision from the Arkham series but spooky.

The dead hide many things from the living, on the comparatively banal side are chests with some goods, but it works in a multitude of ways when you’re investigating hauntings. Antea can remove the astral webbing to reveal it for Red in the living world and thus find more motive and intent for these cases.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, Red banishing an enemy

Phantom Detective

It immediately made me think of those fun contracts Geralt of Rivia would pick up in Witcher 3. Investigating the scene of the haunting, picking at reading materials to connect dots, and following traces of ghosts that might lead you to a conclusion or danger. It’s all a thrilling loop that I never grew tiresome of during my playtime. Couple this with Don’t Nod’s excellent characterisations of the NPCs and it’s a winning formula all around.

At the end of each case, you’ll decide the fate of the living person or the ghost which helps towards either the oath you pledge or to go against if you’ve changed your mind. It’s a fascinating attempt at a morality system. It’s not tied to some good or evil meter but your own morality truly feels at stake.

To see a soldier sick with guilt after accidentally killing their best friend and wanting to be put out of his misery. His ghostly friend begs him to forgive himself and move on; it all comes down to a taxing choice by the end of it. And that predicament is constant, the path towards your goal isn’t always the right choice in the moment and it really challenges you as a player, these moments make the game personable and your choices will affect how the NPC will interact with you throughout the Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, Red and Antea walking into town.

Trouble In The Armory

As I mentioned before, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to pick up new equipment. These come in the form of your weapons, gun, clothing/armour and a couple of accessories for Red or Antea. Banishers really fail to make the system work in a fulfilling way. More often than not, I’d come across new items that are just a fraction of what I’ve already equipped.

There’s a laundry list of stats from your more obvious Vitality or Defence, but then game-specific ones like Wrath. It felt arbitrary to bother seeking for loot, you’ll have campsites dotted about the map that you can rest at to refill your potions and use skill points in your skill tree (which I’ll get to) but you can also upgrade your equipment. It’s all tied to a meaningless rarity that buffs your stats and I didn’t really pay much attention to it all. It pads out the systems within the game fine enough but it doesn’t feel intrinsic to the gameplay, just a factor to help the label of it being an RPG.

The Skill Tree is interesting though. Skill points are split between Red and Antea as the tree weaves both of their abilities together. It’s mainly combat-focused, giving you buffs after a certain attack or giving you an extra hit in your combo. The kicker is that you can’t have all of it unlocked, rather you make a choice on one thing or another, which you can switch between once you unlock it.

This makes for some unique combinations of abilities that aid in suiting your playstyle. I’ve not found anything to the point of feeling overpowered but once you find the moves you lean on and have the right skills equipped, you can feel the game working in harmony with your actions.

Beauty In The After Life

Performance-wise, Banishers: Ghost of New Eden has the ambition of looking like your first-party major studio releases, and somewhat does an alright job at getting it there. The environments of New Eden are dynamic, full of foliage, with wide vistas to completely soak in. I think this is made easier by the fact that the game has that one track that you trudge down with a couple of detours, so it has the opportunity of having very bespoke areas. The lighting and colours used in the world feel drab, not in a boring way, but rather a stark melancholic way that befits the tone the game is going for.

This is all running at 60fps on performance mode, with only the shifting between menus hindering that. Cut scenes are locked at 30 as they’re not in-game, but the actual character models for everyone are brilliant. You can tell by just the clothes alone a character’s story if you’re paying attention. Red’s default outfit, for example, looks like a repurposed army uniform with some Banisher-esque blemishes attached.

The lip-syncing isn’t all that great as you’re watching all the characters converse, signs have a very generic Microsoft-type font written on them and some of the animations could have done with some refining. Red and Antea don’t have a fluid turn whilst moving and they have an either walk or run with very little nuance attached to it. This also bleeds into the combat encounters with enemies having poorly telegraphed attacks sometimes, but I started to forget the rough edges when it became fully invested. Other than some of those performance blemishes, the game looks and feels pretty good for the PS5.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, Red in a cave.

Banish Your Love

Overall, I had a great time with Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden. The opening sequence really doesn’t do the rest of the game justice and the ambitiously flawed attempt to reach the heights of a AAA gets in the way of how the game feels as a whole. However, there is a brilliant game when you look past some technical aspects of it. I think the unique blend of combat between Red and Antea is inspired and fun to get in the thick of – when you’re not missing your parries.

The story is deeply moving, even by Don’t Nod’s standards, with some of the best-written NPCs for any game. Red and Antea’s journey is bolstered by that aspect but also stands on its own as a thought-provoking journey of loss and how to cope with it. The world of New Eden is vast with such interesting concepts tied to it, from the practices of banishing, to the religious elements dictating the world in a subtle yet omnipotent way.

Don’t Nod’s propensity to be ambitious often results in a lot of misguided achievements, but for Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden there is so much more going for it in positive than some of the minor gripes I had with some of the systems or performance.

Banishers: Ghost of New Eden is a comprehensive look at loss through the eyes of its two star-crossed lovers, with a world around them to match the quality of its narrative. Don’t Nod continues to be ambitious with the game’s open-world design, combat and RPG systems, and for the most part, they work harmoniously to provide a stellar experience. However, there is still that trademark over extending Don’t Nod games have that hold it back from excellence.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is out 14th February 2024 for PlayStation 5 (review platform), Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam.

Developer: Don’t Nod
Publisher: Focus Entertainment

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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