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Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden

Don't Nod's latest effort sees the French company once again flexing its narrative skills in an adventure that feels very God of War-esque.

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Ever since Gamescom 2023, I've been quite vocal about Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden and the potential that this game presented. To me, this project from Don't Nod was the most impressive game that I had the opportunity to go hands-on with during the German convention, which is why I was both a little disappointed but also happy that the game was delayed at the last minute out of 2023 altogether. Now that we're at release and I have had the chance to enjoy the entirety of this narrative-heavy adventure, it's clear that the extra time has been both beneficial for refining and making last-minute performance improvements, but also in setting this game up as a titan at the heart of February 2024.

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Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is the latest project from Don't Nod that steps in a different direction from what we've come to expect from the French company. This isn't a narrative-first, gameplay-second story that touches on current social trends and presents characters as artistic and highly progressive individuals that look to essentially shake the status quo, as was the case in Life in Strange and Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, for example. Banishers is more akin to what the modern God of War games have looked to serve up, with fast-paced combat and exploration opportunities accompanying a core, powerful, and mystical storyline revolving around two very coherent and fleshed out characters. It's Don't Nod through and through in many ways, but at the same time, this project feels completely unique, truly premium and AAA, and different to what we've come to expect from the French studio, with perhaps Vampyr being the only former title that fits a similar bill.

The story of this game is set in late 17th century North America and follows the ghostbusting duo of Cuban Antea Duarte and Scottish Red mac Raith. The two very unique characters serve as mentor and mentee, but also entangled lovers, and it's these two dynamics that make up the majority of character building throughout the story, more so when very early on Antea is murdered on an assignment, leaving her spirit (the very same spectral entity that the pair have spent their lives eliminating) to remain. From here, the story takes the pair all throughout the lands of New Eden, where they look to discover the heart of the major haunting that threatens the North American colony, all while making significant choices that relate to either bringing Antea back to life or instead letting her spirit pass on. In a typical Don't Nod fashion, these decisions impact the narrative in a multitude of ways and culminate in an ending that depends on the choices you make.

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Don't Nod's narrative brilliance is never once questioned in this game. The characters feel real and have tremendous depth, the story itself is complex and features unexpected twists and turns, and the branching dialogue presents the player with a variety of ways to manipulate the narrative to their own whims. Whether this is simply regarding the standing and ways that people refer to Red (and Red alone as for the most part, NPCs cannot see Antea in her spectral form) or instead in how you make critical choices that impact the lives of NPCs; be it blaming them for their actions and ripping their souls from their bodies, choosing to banish a spirit haunting a living person, or instead allowing that spirit to smoothly ascend from the living's plane of existence. Don't Nod hasn't held back in letting its narrative excellence shine here.

Banishers: Ghosts of New EdenBanishers: Ghosts of New Eden
Banishers: Ghosts of New EdenBanishers: Ghosts of New Eden

The combat is also solid. It's not quite as refined as God of War and lacks some of the subtleties that makes Santa Monica Studio's battles so lively and fluid. But it fundamentally works, and the options that Red's unique attacks and Antea's unique skills bring to the table give the player a host of agency with how they tackle combat scenarios. Perhaps the key thing to take from the combat however is that it isn't as challenging as you might originally think. Enemies for the most part are quite predictable, slow and easy to avoid, and with Antea being a ghost, as long as you are inhabiting her form you cannot die, taking away a chunk of the difficulty. That being said, being able to use Antea's melees to shred a spectre's protections, before switching to Red to put a musket ball bearing into the spectre's skull, slashing a few times with the sword, and ultimately using the banishing move for massive damage to wrap up a fight works effortlessly in practice. What doesn't feel so effective in action are the action-RPG elements, like healing potions that are rarely ever required, and also the way the actual progression works too.

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As good as the narrative is at keeping the player engaged and constantly moving forward, the RPG elements feel much more like an afterthought. You level up with experience to improve core attributes and earn skill points that can be spent in skill trees to unlock new abilities and combos. Then to add to this, you can find objectives and activities throughout the world to boost certain attributes further, as well as picking up tons of resources to spend on improving your items and gear. The system, in the most basic sense, functions but it lacks any significant importance, as you never have to think about the way you are improving and developing Red and Antea simply due to the fact that the combat is never that challenging in effect. It seems like Don't Nod is aware of this. For example, the resource system can be something you solely treat as a background activity, one where every time you reach a campsite you simply check to see whether you have enough flower petals to upgrade Red's armour or brooch, or whether you've completed enough of the spectral nests or void travelling side quests to earn the required rarer resource to improve an item from tier five to six. The point is that it's present but it doesn't drive the gameplay.

This stretches to the activities in the world. The haunting side quests are fantastic and essentially act as minor narrative threads with important decisions attached that connect to the main storyline. But the other tasks feel far less interesting to complete. If anything you start treating it like other open world games, where you see a question marker on the map and make the decision whether it's actually worth your time to visit the point of interest to uncover it, which more often than not, it isn't. Well, that is unless you enjoy finding an activity that you can repeat continuously for the sake of earning resources that you never really need to spend.

But here's the thing, the middling world activities and RPG elements don't detract from the fact that Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a remarkably engaging story to follow. From the first moment you'll be entranced by the tale of Antea and Red and the contract they have been tasked to fulfil. As you venture throughout the world, reaching new, beautiful and well designed settings and biomes, meeting twisted new characters, fighting horrifying bosses that begin to spell out why New Eden is haunted the way that it is, it's all brilliant for a collection of reasons. If you're looking for a narrative-heavy adventure game then there's a lot to enjoy here, and Don't Nod deserves praise for that, especially for cranking out a game that feels AAA and premium and isn't burdened with microtransactions or such. This is a fantastic example of what Don't Nod can achieve and while there is some room for improvement, it's an excellent overall product.

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09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+
Brilliant storyline. Detailed and fleshed-out characters. Branching dialogue and the choice system is very effective. Quality graphics. Fantastic level design. Solid combat.
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RPG elements leave a little to be desired. World side activities can be boring and often feel irrelevant too.
overall score
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Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden

REVIEW. Written by Ben Lyons

Don't Nod's latest effort sees the French company once again flexing its narrative skills in an adventure that feels very God of War-esque.



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