Review – Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden

Overview

Developer Don't Nod
Publisher Focus Entertainment
Genre Action role-playing
Platforms PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X/S
Release Date February 13. 2024

“Life to the living. Death to the dead.”

The Banishers Creed

The year is 1695, and the New World is slowly beginning to grow and blossom. Banishers Antea Duarte and Red mac Raith, both lovers and partners, are summoned to the colony of New Eden at the behest of a long-time friend who needs their help. The ghost-hunters soon find themselves over their heads as they face a nightmare like none they have ever seen before. Antea is mortally wounded in this mission gone awry, and returns to Red as a spirit, much to her personal disgust as a Banisher. Together, they must fight their way back to New Eden, uncover the mystery of the curse that blights the community, and make the difficult decision of returning Antea back to the land of the living – or letting her go.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: As much as I did enjoy playing this game, I do want to share that there many aspects of the story that spiritually felt dark to me. I don’t mind the presence of spirits necessarily, as that’s to be expected, but there are a lot of terminology and concepts that liberally reference demonology and similar occult practices and ideologies. Witchcraft is also present; this is understandable given the setting and time period as this would have been the same era the Salem Witch Trials would have taken place. The game’s approach to the occult and witchcraft, including a few characters that are practicing witches, is ambivalence.

As for Christian themes or characters, there are a handful of these present, but I don’t think it was enough to sway those dark spiritual feelings away from myself. The main characters’ close friend is New Eden’s minister, and although a practicing Christian, he has studied demonology and occult literature as well in order to combat the present curse. Most of the population the players will come across are practicing Puritans, with some rigid dialogue that the characters (and player) infer to be backwards and intolerant. Others who are not as rigid in their beliefs are viewed as more ‘free’ than their religious counterparts.

Violence: Both Red and Antea are Banishers, meaning it is their job to banish unwanted spirits and ghosts from haunting the land of the living. Many of these specters are hostile and destroying them is part of the lifeblood of the game. There are scenarios the player will come across that are more gruesome than others (some deceased inhabitants and creatures will show their ribs and guts hanging out), but it’s not explicitly gory compared to other rated M titles. Much on-screen violence that occurs in-story takes place in wispy flashbacks the characters may encounter or occur off-screen.

Sexual Content: Appropriately for the time period and location of the story, most if not all the main characters act fairly chastely. Red and Antea are in love with one another, and do consider themselves to be man and wife, although they are not formally married. Some homosexual characters the protagonists come across are shown to be hiding their relationship, in fear of retaliation from their community. Some female ghosts are shown with clothing hanging loose, though nothing extremely revealing is ever shown.

Negative Themes: To put this simply, the inhabitants of New Eden are not nice people. This can be understandable in-story, given the circumstances of living with a curse on the land where the dead are harassing the living, and survival comes before everything else. I had a hard time sympathizing with the people I was working to help; this may have been done on purpose as the truth behind the curse is gradually revealed. This still depicts a period that is hostile and unfriendly, and certainly not the best depiction of Christian love.

Positive Themes: There are some difficult decisions the player has to wrestle with in giving into selfish temptation to resurrect Antea, or to let her pass on to the afterlife. Both choices come with hefty consequences; if a player is wanting to reunite these lovers, they will have to sacrifice many an innocent life in order to do so, and also abandon their Banisher creed for selfish gain. Staying true to their purpose also has life-changing consequences for Red, as he has to face a potential future alone, without his loved one.

Main Review

I’m a big fan of Don’t Nod’s immersive narrative titles; the first Life is Strange game remains one of my all-time favorite games. The idea of playing as a ghost-fighting couple in the New World was too intriguing not to pass up. I was giddy with excitement when the opening cutscenes set up the relationship between Antea and Red, their calling as Banishers, and the cursed land of New Eden. The prologue had me captivated as I was encouraged to investigate and ask questions of the civilians. As I progressed further in the game and explored more of the land, I soon came across a problem…

I was becoming bored.

The story is wonderful, and the voice acting and writing that help bring it to life is phenomenal. I love the ghost-haunting cases and delving into the mythologies the writers have left in stone. Traversing through the map and playing with the battle mechanics soon became tedious for me. That’s not to say it is downright terrible, but compared to similar titles with vibrant locales and versatile battle systems like the new God of War games, I was feeling very underwhelmed.

For the gameplay, you have two distinct playable characters that you can switch between at anytime. Red mac Raith is the heavy hand of the two; he can land strong physical blows subsequently on his enemies, and later can gain a rifle to take out long-range enemies that fire at him, as well as to help solve puzzles with. Antea, with her new ghost powers, can gradually unleash strong bursts of energy that can weaken or even decimate enemies. You have to learn to balance both styles to defeat your foes; sometimes Red will not be able to crack through a stronger enemy’s armor. Antea can help weaken and speed things along with her powers. I’d say there’s less strategy at work here, and more about switching back and forth and trying different things until something works.

There is a skill tree present, but no crafting. Instead, any items you obtain in battle or in shops are used to upgrade items. On the one hand, I did enjoy strengthening Red and Antea with these upgrades, and seeing how powerful they became in battle with each one. On the other hand, I was disappointed there is no crafting or weapons that can be purchased. Even though I understood that the materials I found would be used for upgrading current items into stronger ones, I felt that a potential piece of something fun and rewarding when traversing the map and fighting more battles was missing.

The world map of New Eden is stagnant too. Granted, there is a plot purpose for this; New Eden is under a curse that forces inhabitants to stay in their towns, and ghosts roam the land of the living searching for unfortunate stragglers who venture their way. The locales seemed underwhelming, however, and travelling from one area of the map to another became tiresome. With little dialogue and banter between Antea and Red to pass the time, unless prompted from the script, it felt more like meandering than moving with purpose.

Banisher‘s greatest strength comes from its story and main characters. It is obvious from the very opening scene that Red and Antea both mean the world to each other. That being said, they don’t know everything about each other, and gradually open up long-kept secrets throughout the course of the story, such as childhood memories and lost loves. I would have liked knowing more of these characters’ pasts than through simple passing dialogue, but I was satisfied with what I did get.

I found the most enjoyable quests to complete were the Haunting cases you come across. Some of these are a necessary part of the main campaign, but most can be completed at your leisure. They give players a chance to not only get a chance to know the settlers of New Eden, but also unveil hints of the true cause of the curse the land is under. A Haunting case is an investigation, where you’ll go through items and possessions of settlers, uncover painful memories, and then bring about Closure.

Closure is when the player has to make a final decision of how the case should end: There are three choices (two of them are roughly the same, but the manner differs): You can choose to Blame the living settler, which basically dooms them to die at the hands of Red, and their life essence is fed to Antea. This strengthens her being and is key to resurrecting her should the player go that route. The other choices would be to Ascend or Banish the ghost. In both, you are sending the ghost away, either peacefully or by force. Just like in Life in Strange, your choices will have consequences, so choose wisely.

In conclusion, would I recommend that you pick up and play Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden? I think that depends on who you are, and what you’re looking for in a game. If you’re looking for a game with a rich open world and a dynamic battle system, you’ll not find that here. On the other hand, if you’re someone who is comfortable with the themes, and is looking for a complex moral story, Banishers is a title you may consider picking up.

The Bottom Line

 

While possessing an intriguing story and appealing main protagonists with a great dynamic, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden suffers a bit with its world presentation and somewhat lackluster skill tree that can't quite match up to its narrative.

 

7.5

Andrea Racoti

When she isn't travelling to far-off fantasy lands in a book or a video game, Andrea Racoti can be found in Central Texas writing out her latest projects and ideas, and teaching as a dyslexia interventionist. She loves games with rich storytelling, compelling characters, and makes people think. A breathtaking soundtrack and beautiful landscapes are icing on the cake for her.

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