Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden continues developer Don't Nod's history of ambitious interactive narratives. It is a refinement of the team's character-driven thematic storytelling while still struggling when it comes to action gameplay. And if you can meet this game on those terms, it is a story worth your time.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden – Ghosts of the Past
In Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, you play as a Red Mac Raith and Antea Duarte. They are a team of Banishers, an order of exorcists and ghost hunters, sent to investigate a haunting in the American colony of New Eden.
During this investigation, Red and Antea uncover that a great evil haunting this village is, something extremely dangerous, one that could threaten the rest of the continent if left unchecked. Making things even worse is this spirit kills Antea and throws Red to the edges of the colony.
Trapped in the wilderness with only Antea's spirit as a guide, Red must journey back to New Eden, delve into the colony's secrets, untangle the mystery of the haunting, and come to terms with Antea's fate.
It turns the game into a meditation on moral absolutism and how it can be warped or even broken by the complexities of human nature. When that is paired with the puritanical evangelism the colonists adhere to, it leads to genuine moments of brilliant interactive drama.
In many ways, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is similar in style to Don't Nod's 2018 gothic-horror action-RPG Vampyr. It takes a singular high concept and imagines it in a heightened alternate version of real-world history. In this game's case, it explores the idea of spirits, ghosts, and exorcists in the 17th century American colonies.
The game even opens with some content warnings, stating that it will portray cultural attitudes towards various peoples by the puritanical settlers at the time. Overall, Don't Nod's approach is mostly respectable, touching on various biases towards different Christian denominations and types of settlers.
There is some lost potential on this front with Antea. There was a great opportunity for Antea to directly challenge the colonialist mentality of the era, drawing attention to various atrocities committed. Given the story's entire conceit being about vengeful spirits on recently reclaimed land, the scenarios were self-evident. But with her spending most of the game's runtime as a spirit, it not only pushes such commentary to the background but narratively puts her in a supporting role to Red.
While Antea and Red's roles in the story are handled well, some of the best drama comes from how their romantic relationship is tested, I couldn't help but imagine a more interesting, challenging version of the story with them at the center.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden – Who Am I To Judge?
The biggest narrative potential in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden lies in how you can approach spirits and hauntings. As you travel from settlement to settlement, you will encounter hauntings. Part of a Banisher's job isn't just to destroy ghosts; it's to negotiate and adjudicate between the departed and the living. This means you will have to find clues, talk to people, and figure out what ties the spirit to the living world.
While there is always the option to just banish a ghost, basically sending them to oblivion, there is the option to Ascend. While more time-consuming, Ascending is where you reconcile the spirit's unfinished business, allowing them to depart with a clear conscience. Alternatively, there is Blaming, a ritual where you enact vengeance on behalf of the spirit against the living that wronged them.
By modern standards, the map is relatively small, covering three or four major settlements and outposts. This does mean you'll be seeing a lot of forests and mountains, but it also means none of these elements overstay their welcome.
It is with these three key choices that the game frames its moral dilemma. Early on in the game, Red discovers there is a way to bring Antea back to life, but he would have to Blame almost everyone in the colony to do so. Alternatively, if he Ascends enough spirits, he can ensure that Antea will be given a peaceful passage to the beyond.
It is here that Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden shines. Almost none of these hauntings fall into standard good/evil moral quandaries, they feel like genuine challenges of character. Do you condemn a man who killed his friend and ate the body in an attempt to survive the winter? Can you forgive the sins of an abusive spouse or do you judge his brother for killing him in an act of covetous envy?
In addition, unlike Vampyr, there is no gameplay benefits for choosing one path or another. It turns the game into a meditation on moral absolutism and how it can be warped or even broken by the complexities of human nature. When that is paired with the puritanical evangelism the colonists adhere to, it leads to genuine moments of brilliant interactive drama.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden – Swinging At Smoke
While the haunting investigations and complex philosophical dilemmas are great in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, they are just one part of this action RPG. Between investigating hauntings you will travel to different locations on the world's map, collect resources, navigate environmental obstacles, and fight enemies along the way.
At best, combat in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden feels like a chore. The game attempts to emulate the fast, balletic sword combat from The Witcher series, but there are dozens of small issues that hold it back. Most enemies in the game are wispy ghosts, which means there's a distinct lack of feedback. Not only does this lead to underwhelming enemy variety, but it feels more like you're fighting angry jello than otherworldly spirits.
In addition, enemy attack patterns and animations are erratic, making it difficult to predict attacks. More than once I saw an enemy charge at me, stop halfway, then slide ten feet to the right. You can parry enemy attacks, but the window of time and animations are so off it becomes unreliable.
Things get slightly better when you get a rifle. The shots are powerful and have just the right amount of audiovisual kick. You can even down certain enemies with a single headshot. The downside is that since you're handling a gun from the 17th century, it takes an agonizingly long time to reload after a single shot.
On a more mixed note, there are the RPG skill trees. As you fight enemies and solve hauntings, you can improve Red and Antea's skills Almost all of these are incremental increases to damage with certain attacks. Each of these bonuses comes with drawbacks. For example, every continuous light attack you do deals extra damage. The damage stacks, but it resets when you get hit.
Thankfully, you can switch between different bonuses at any time. Not only does it let you experiment with different playstyles, but it can also let you change your approach on the fly. While all these upgrades amount to boring stat increases to underbaked combat, the flexibility is a plus.
Those numbers become important with Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden's optional activities. In addition to hauntings, the map is peppered with combat challenges. These challenges usually put some twist on combat: enemies heal, certain weapon attacks don't work, etc., but the rewards amount to static upgrades to your stats. These upgrades help, especially in boss battles, but they do little to hide how tedious certain battles can become.
The bright side is that Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden isn't bloated with superfluous content. By modern standards, the map is relatively small, covering three or four major settlements and outposts. This does mean you'll be seeing a lot of forests and mountains, but it also means none of these elements overstay their welcome.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden | Final Thoughts
If you can look past the janky combat, there is a lot to love with Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden. The central story and character drama is great. The hauntings are packed with interesting, engaging moral choices. And the sheer novelty of exorcists on the American frontier is captivating.
While it doesn't fully commit to some of its ideas, it is an experience well worth playing.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden was reviewed on PlayStation 5 with a code provided by Focus Home Interactive over the course of 22 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Strong, Likeable Lead Characters
- Complex Moral Choices
- Imprecise, Unpolished Combat
- Some Squandered Narrative Potential