“Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden delivers both slick action and tough moral choices.”
- Excellent worldbuilding
- Strong sidequests
- Engaging real-time combat
- Compelling choice system
- Choices can feel too binary
- Technical issues
I just couldn’t bring myself to kill a killer, even if I felt she deserved it. As justified as my violence might have been, her motive was to protect her sister before she contracted a deadly disease from a man. That was just one of many difficult moral quandaries that would test my values in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden.
Developed by Life is Strange developer Don’t Nod, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a narrative-heavy action RPG set in the 1600s. That era isn’t a terribly exciting time to be alive, with a life expectancy of around 30 years. However, Banishers’ paranormal open-world approach makes it a genuinely fun time period to explore, filled with impactful choices to bolster its strong world-building.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden has an engaging overarching story supported by its excellent characters, further explored through engaging side quests. Even with a strong approach to choice-driven narrative in its standout main story, it falters when it railroads players into picking specific options.
Banishers follows Antea Duarte and Red Mac Raith, a pair of lovestruck ghost hunters, as they investigate a mysterious case in the town of New Eden. During their investigation, they encounter an incredibly powerful ghost called the Nightmare, which subsequently kills Antea, turning her into a ghost.
Antea and Red’s relationship is defined by conflicting ideals. Lingering ghosts suck the life essence from the hosts they haunt, so Antea believes that the ghosts need to ascend to the afterlife as soon as possible. Red has a more sympathetic view. Ironically, now that Antea is a ghost herself, she has to face the inevitability of having to leave Red after they complete their journey to defeat the Nightmare and lift New Eden’s curse.
The moral gray areas had me seriously contemplating what actions I should take
That creates some effective tension throughout the story, as Red’s secondary goal is to honor Antea’s wishes and help her ascend at journey’s end. Or, he can participate in a dark ritual that could bring her back to life — at a cost. Throughout the story, players come across side quests called Haunting Cases, where a ghost is haunting a villager. It’s up to our banishers to figure out why. You never know what kind of twist or direction they’ll end up going in.
Many start with a simple premise but then unravel, revealing more complexity behind both the ghost and the host’s motivations. For example, a simple shopkeeper’s store haunting ends up being the consequence of a local Native American tribe’s demise by colonists. This is where Banishers’ choice system comes into play the most. The moral gray areas had me seriously contemplating what actions I should take. Should I gently ascend the ghost or blame the host? Sacrificing the host provides Red with their life essence, required to bring Antea back to life, but this sends him down the path of a cold-blooded murderer.
Despite the compelling Haunting Cases, I couldn’t help but feel I had to stick with the same choice from the very beginning. For my playthrough, I chose to ascend every single ghost I came across, and that strict binary morality system dilutes the feeling of choice. There were times when I thought death was a worthy punishment for the host, but I still felt an obligation to ascend the ghost instead so that I could stay morally consistent for a specific ending. There’s a third option to banish the ghost, but it’s just a harsher way to ascend them. In most cases, I felt like the host was in the wrong, more so than the ghost was, and banishing also seemingly has the same effect as gently ascending them. I didn’t find myself really using that option much, if at all.
Banishers has a third-person real-time action battle system that’s similar to some of its contemporaries like God of War Ragnarok and Forspoken. The twist here is that you can switch between Red and Antea at any time during a fight. Their different attributes complement each other with the kinds of enemies you’ll find throughout the game. Red does well against boned enemies and can switch between his scimitar and his single-shot bolt-action rifle.
Banishers’ RPG leveling system does a fantastic job of balancing both characters.
Antea’s fists handle the glowing blue spectral enemies that sometimes try to invade nearby corpses to grow stronger. Switching between both characters on the fly depending on the enemy you’re fighting keeps combat engaging, especially when Antea can literally punch the ghost out of an invaded corpse.
Banishers’ RPG leveling system does a fantastic job of balancing both characters, too. Antea generally feels more powerful than Red because of her paranormal abilities but can only come out for a limited amount of time, even less so if she keeps getting hit. Another balancing act is that Red has a Banish gauge that, when filled, lets him completely destroy a weaker enemy and deal massive damage to stronger ones. These gameplay details and mechanics add depth to the combat that prevented me from simply just button-mashing.
Both characters also have separate skill points; Red earns his from leveling up, and Antea earns hers from solving Haunting Cases. This adds even more complexity to gameplay, as certain trade-offs could buff one character but hurt another. For example, a skill could increase Antea’s damage output by 30%, but damage taken by Red increases by 15%. Thankfully, these points can be distributed and refunded at any time with no additional cost, so there’s a lot of room for experimentation.
Much like its combat, Banishers’ open-world traversal is quite similar to God of War Ragnarok’s. There are big spaces to explore, collectibles to find, and equipment to plunder. It all feels quite rewarding to go out of your way, and the Haunting Cases will take you to all the corners of New Eden in a way that feels like the world is naturally unfolding. Banishers doesn’t have the highest fidelity graphics, but there’s enough environmental variety that it makes the world worth exploring, from its forests to its surprising underworld.
Antea’s spiritual powers are able to break down certain environmental obstacles, which adds a Metroidvania-like feeling to the exploration. It’s satisfying to progress through the story and unlock new powers for Antea and then use them to revisit old areas to finally get that one treasure chest locked away behind a wall of vines.
Technical issues occurred more than I would have liked …
Navigation can be a bit tricky at times. Banishers uses a compass rather than a mini-map, but players can access a larger map by pressing the menu button. However, pulling up the map is a pain due to some technical hiccups. Playing on Xbox, I found there was lag time between pushing the menu button and the map appearing, which was annoying since I constantly relied on it and there was no mini-map available.
I ran into some other problems, such as my screen turning completely black when trying to select a place to fast travel to. I occasionally experienced hard crashes for seemingly no reason that sent me back to my console’s dashboard. While the technical issues occurred more than I would have liked, they didn’t compromise Banishers’ quality storytelling, characters, and combat.
Developer Don’t Nod is known for its narrative adventure games that empower players to make difficult choices like Life is Strange. The studio’s 2018 supernatural RPG, Vampyr, was the blueprint for mixing those in with RPG elements, and Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is the next step in that solid foundation. Everything here feels bigger and more ambitious due to its open-world structure, yet still focused and personable because of New Eden’s inhabitants. You couldn’t convince me to take a time machine back to the 17th century, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t reconsider if it meant fighting ghosts.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden was tested on Xbox Series X.