Life to the living, death to the dead. So goes the banishers’ credo. Red mac Raith and Antea Duarte have been called upon to deal with a ghost situation in New Eden, a fledgling New England town, in 1695. The spirits of the dead are running amok. It’s snowing in June, and the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is paper-thin. Thus, it’s a job for the banishers. But the pair find themselves in over their head. And Antea doesn’t make it.
Haunting occurs when a ghost clings to the living. Red, in full regret and shock, finds Antea’s spirit, now separated from her body. But she wants her body back. Though they came here to try to bring peace to New Eden, their quest turns from a job into something more personal. There’s also still the lingering question of what to do once Red finds the body, and there are no easy answers to that question. It’s a little romantic, maybe, but it’s more like a desperate flailing in the dark.
This is the world of Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden. Red and Antea have a long trek ahead. There are many ghosts still hanging around the townspeople, who’ve packed up in search of a life outside the town since the initial incident that left Antea dead. Red and Antea are still banishers, after all, and it’s their job to send the ghosts on their merry way, even if it’s in a residual sense now that New Eden as a whole appears lost.
This is DON’T NOD, and if you’ve played their games, you know there are choices to make. The most important one occurs early in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden; the real question is whether you have the stomach to see it through between now and the end. While the choices are not the only key element, they are the most interesting part. As you make your way through the vast wilderness surrounding New Eden, you come across hauntings. For banishers, there are steps to exorcising a haunting. It’s not as simple as telling the ghosts to go away or beating them with their special weapons. Since haunts affect many people, a significant amount of your time is investigating these haunting cases. This usually involves procuring objects the ghosts are attached to, speaking to people who know the haunted individual and possibly tracking down living people who have gone missing.
I’m always glad for more detective-style games, and Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden does the trick. The investigation sequences aren’t as detailed as, say L.A. Noire. Mainly, they involve finding significant objects, which appear highlighted as you approach them as in a Telltale game, and then turning to Antea for ethereal assistance when the corporeal trail goes cold.
Though Antea’s a ghost, she’s still a banisher, which makes her cooler than other ghosts. What she’s lacking in physical presence, she makes up with her ghost powers. What powers, you ask? How about the power to track? Antea can sense spectral presences in objects and in the air, so when Red’s human intuition fails him, you can flip to Antea’s perspective. In a Witcher 3-like manner, her ghost senses can pick up a trail to whatever you’re looking for. Meanwhile, Red does the talking so as not to frighten the villagers. Together, they make a great good cop/dead cop team.
As you spend a lot of time talking to people in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, it helps to have engrossing characters to talk to. Most of all, Red and Antea are both quite likable. They have great chemistry as a couple, and there’s plenty of fun banter between them. It’s a shame that Antea is dead, as she was “the boss,” as Red puts it. Antea, who was English, is the more experienced and confident banisher; Red is capable, but his role is more that of an assistant. A true Scotsman (?), Red makes for an intriguing hero, as he’s thrown into the deep end, lacking in confidence, but now having to take the lead role in the banishing work and rely on Antea for help doing things where his experience is limited. The townspeople are interesting, though they all seem to harbor dark secrets. Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden isn’t overwhelming with books filled with lore, but I developed a slight fascination with the little bits Red and Antea casually mention about banishers’ rituals, culture, and tools.
There are a couple friends you make along the way to aid you, who are also excellently written. Seeker is an easy favorite: a good witch’s apprentice who resembles that cool woman you knew in college or around the neighborhood who was into Wicca and wasn’t a big fan of authority. She’s a friendly face who offers respite from some of the nastier inhabitants of New Eden. The more time you spend with the townspeople, the more you get to know them. It’s a morbid fascination to follow their lives as they come and go in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden’s main story, and even when their part is complete, you can continue to watch them develop in sidequests. However, many don’t get happy endings.
That may, at points, be your fault. Taking on the role of Red and Antea, you choose a pact between them for their plan once they find Antea’s body. To finish a haunting case, you take on the role of judge, jury, and banisher, deciding whether to ascend or banish the ghost and whether to blame the living for the pain they may have caused, which means bringing their life to an end. The cases range wildly in their moral ambiguity, as for all the harm even the worst among these people do, it’s hard to fault them completely for doing what they determined to be best in this brutal colonial world. Complicating things is that Antea requires energy only obtained by taking lives.
Whichever route you attempt, the context of Red and Antea’s story shifts depending on your ulterior motives. Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden doesn’t hold back in showing you the disturbing result of whichever choice you make for each citizen or spirit. Red and Antea are fine with pronouncing judgment on others, but what if they become guilty of the same sins they denounce others for? Many games let you make moral choices, but there aren’t many where your characters’ core morality shifts as much as in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden or where those choices feel so personal.
Between investigating hauntings, New Eden has a semi-open world to explore with many points of interest on its map and more showing up as you advance through sidequests. When I finished the main story, the map informed me I had completed about 25%. Though Banishers boasts about 25-30 hours for its main story, that would be a minimum, bare-bones speedrun, as there’s much more to do beyond that, and I’d be happy to explore more of it. If that sounds exhausting, at least quality-of-life elements make it a smooth experience. I was especially impressed at how smart the navigational guidance was at shepherding me through the uneven terrain.
As much as I love the story and world, that love doesn’t extend to combat. It’s not that Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden’s combat is bad, it’s just basic. I could describe it as Bloodborne-lite without the intricacies of FromSoftware games. You have light and heavy melee attacks, combos, dodging, and a parry that’s rewarding if you get the timing down. It started to pick up for me once I got the rifle, though that was a significant distance into the game. It’s about at that point that there’s enough to juggle that it’s at least not boring anymore. The rifle is an enjoyable balancing act; it takes a chunk out of an enemy but only fires one shot at a time and is slow to reload. In combat, you typically fight as Red but can swap in Antea, who has more powerful attacks and doesn’t take damage but can only make a limited appearance.
While Red uses his banisher tools, the saber and firebane (a special torch), Antea beats other ghosts with her ghost fists, which I thought was silly-looking. There are scourges (bosses) that are more exciting to fight than standard combat, but there are only three in the main story, and it would have been nice to have a few more of them rather than repeatedly fighting the same few enemies so often. Like I said, combat is fine but never so enjoyable that I would seek it out, and it wouldn’t be something I would recommend about Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden.
Combat is the only weakness here, however. Banishers is beautiful to look at, as you get a sampling of the diversity of the different regions of New England, traveling through heavily wooded areas to rocky crags and beaches. It’s a somewhat astounding touch to see snow land on characters’ hair and clothing and build up as they stand outside chatting. The characters look impressive too, and I love the old-timey style of the many outfits. The cinematic horror visuals are spectacular with gorgeous composition and framing in cutscenes.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is also a joy to listen to. The music is simpler and sparser, almost more like ambient noise, though it does the job of setting an appropriately creepy and foreboding mood. The voice acting is spectacular, doing a lot of work to make Red, Antea, and a few other characters so likable. The sound effects when you make your final judgments on hauntings are appropriately haunting. The controls are mostly sharp, which is (of course) important when you need to time your dodges and parries. However, the button to use healing potions seemed less responsive, and I’d have to press it twice sometimes to make it work.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden grabs you by the soul and drags you through Hell. It’s a harrowing story that takes some turns you might not expect from the premise. Despite the lackluster combat, it’s easy to want to get lost in the woods and the gorgeous and frightening world of New Eden. It’s another common win for DON’T NOD, and it will continue to haunt me.