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April 2024

Banishers: Ghosts Of New Eden

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Don't Nod
Release Date: Feb. 13, 2024


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PS5 Review - 'Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 13, 2024 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Hunt ghosts as two memorable characters in a story driven Action/RPG where your decisions have dramatic consequences.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden follows a pair of Banishers, who are professional ghost hunters for hire, in the early days of the colonization of America. The duo are the lovers Red and Antae, who are also extremely talented hunters. When their friend asks them to travel overseas to banish a ghost, they discover that it's no simple haunting. The town of New Eden and its surrounding areas have been taken over by a powerful ghost called The Nightmare, which has left the land in an eternal gray winter and caused endless nightmares. It's stronger than any ghost the Banishers have ever faced, so the first encounter leaves Antae dead and the less-skilled Red tossed to the seas. When he awakens, he's now haunted by Antae's ghost, who is unable to pass on until her body can be recovered. The unlucky lovers must make their way back to New Eden to banish the Nightmare — and perhaps find a way to free Antae's ghost.

The core focus of Banishers is performing the Banisher's job. This involves finding people who are haunted, solving the mystery of why they are being haunted, and then figuring out how to resolve the haunting. You can Banish, which sends the ghost to hell; Ascend, which gives them a peaceful passing; or Blame, which enacts a lethal punishment on the haunting victim. Blame comes with a small side note: There is a forbidden ritual that can bring Antae back to life, and if you choose to Blame a victim, their life can be used as fuel for the ritual. It becomes a question of whether you're willing to sacrifice lives you might otherwise have spared to reunite the lovers.

For the most part, the hauntings are interesting, if occasionally a tad predictable. They largely focus on the inequalities and cruelties of early America, in addition to what should be considered a justifiable response. Is it wrong for an oppressed woman to kill her abusive husband who refuses to let her divorce and considers her to be chattel? Does said husband's ghost deserve a peaceful Ascent instead of a Banishment? Most stories usually have two sides (sometimes more), and while it doesn't always hit, the game is pretty reasonable about making players consider if someone deserves absolution. It turns out that early America was full of some genuinely horrible people.

I'm a little torn on the "Blame/Banish/Ascend" mechanic. On the one hand, the choices are good. The Blame choice feels like a punishment for terrible crimes, but the spirits of the deceased are a mixed bag, and sometimes Banish is a genuine temptation. For the most part, the writing is strong enough that players have to think about the most moral outcome for a situation. There are times when it felt like allowing someone to go unblamed was the wrong choice, despite it being the "evil" option.

Unfortunately, this is tainted by the fact that Banishers bluntly discourages players from varying their selections. Early in the game, your characters make an oath to either to resurrect Antae through a ritual, which requires you to Blame "a large number" of settlers, or help her ascend via Ascend/Banish choices, with a warning of consequences for breaking the oath. It almost assures you'll stick to what you picked, no matter the actual context. The game would've been more effective without the oath, allowing you to judge each case on its merits. Instead, it feels like the strongest part of the game is undermined by practically demanding players to stick to the same option.

You actually control two characters at once in Banishers. Red is your main character and tied to the physical realm. He has a sword, a "firelighter," and a single-shot rifle, and he can swap between them. His combat largely consists of the standard slash-parry-dodge-block attacks for the genre, but he also has access to his Banish ability, which he charges up to inflict massive damage on foes.

The other character is Antae, who you can swap to. She's a ghost, so she "overlays" herself over Red. She can attack with punches and use "Manifestations," which are special attacks that allow her to leap to an enemy, slow them down, or do a massive AoE attack. Antae doesn't have a traditional health bar but a Spirit bar that fills up as Red fights and drains as she attacks, uses abilities, or takes damage. If the Spirit bar is empty, she can't manifest until Red builds it up, and that can happen fairly quickly.

The two can also fight together. As you progress, you'll unlock team attacks where Red performing a certain action can summon Antae for a follow-up attack. You'll also get switch combos, where you can swap to Antae mid-combo for a powerful attack. Near the endgame, you also get the Fusion ability, which allows Antae to temporarily take control of Red's body, giving her access to his swords and effectively the benefits of both characters. Likewise, Red's Banish ability can power up Antae's manifestations.

Swapping isn't just about skills. Enemies come in two types: possessed corpses and raw specters. Specters are the standard enemy, and Red's enchanted weaponry is designed to make short work of them. If a specter finds a corpse on the battlefield, they can possess it and transform it into a shambling zombie. The zombies are strong and durable, and they also gain benefits depending on the possessing specter, ranging from granting shields to dodging bullets. Antae's punches inflict increased damage to possessed enemies. Once a corpse is defeated, the spirit is freed, but particularly strong attacks (like Banish attacks) can sometimes take out both at the same time.

Combat is largely fun. Swapping between characters gives the gameplay a good rhythm, and it's fun to switch between ranged and melee combat , since the gun takes time to reload and you need to time shots for maximum effectiveness. It isn't too different from other games of the ilk, but it's a competent and enjoyable combat system.

Banishers' largest problem is a lack of interesting enemies to fight. You're introduced to most of the enemies early on, and only rarely does the list expand. I often reached the end of a side-quest where I was supposed to fight a tough enemy, and it was the same large reddish specter I'd fought dozens of times before. Combine that with a relatively slim list of abilities, and the game feels like it's stretched too thin. The gameplay is padded by adding modifiers to fights, but that usually boils down to one specific type of attack inflicting reasonable damage, making the skirmishes feel more limited.

The equipment system in Banishers doesn't exactly help. You have a series of different pieces of equipment that you can find, allowing you to power up both Red and Antae. Most give you a stat boost and a specific passive ability, and every piece of equipment can be upgraded to make anything endgame-worthy. Once you get a passive ability that works for your play style, there's no reason to swap to different equipment. A lot of my endgame equipment was stuff that I'd found early on, so a lot of loot feels meaningless.

The equipment system also impacts side-quests. There are two types of side-quests: Hauntings, which end in the Blame/Ascend/Banish mechanic, and the more standard kind. Hauntings are worthwhile, since you get Essence to power up Antae's moves and the plot beats can be intriguing. The rewards feel lacking: some EXP and an occasional item. Even the hidden chests, which require a bit of puzzle-solving, only grant a small scattering of crafting materials that are bountiful in the game.

Early on, Banishers feels genuinely engaging and exciting, but it doesn't have the sense of escalation and growth that is necessary to sustain a 30-hour action RPG. Beyond a certain point, I groaned every time a fight began because I knew it was going to be the same enemies and the same fight. The boss fights remain engaging, and the game could use a few more of those. It feels like an engaging 10- to 15-hour game that's been padded out to full length via some bland, open-world mechanics.

Banishers is a reasonably good-looking game. The facial animations are frequently on the mark, and the game does a good job of making its relatively limited environments shine. While it looks good, the performance is often rather poor. Even in Performance mode, the frame rate hitched and jerked, and the act of opening the menu froze the entire world for three or four seconds before popping up the menu, which was both annoying and distracting. It's not unplayable, but it feels poorly optimized. The voice acting is excellent. Red and Antae absolutely sell the central story and elevate things above and beyond. Some of the side characters veer toward the cheesy, but they're not around very much, so it doesn't detract from the strong vocal performances.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a great example of less being more. What it does well, it does very well, but those elements are bogged down in a needlessly large, open world that's been padded out with thin gameplay. When you reach the meat of the game, it's usually worth the effort, but there's so much dilution that it has difficulty shining through. The poor performance also makes the tedious elements feel more so. Like its main characters, Banishers is stuck in limbo between excellence and blandness, and I can only hope that any sequel will focus on quality over quantity.

Score: 7.5/10

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