Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden Review – Bridging Fantasy and Romance
Developer Dontnod has established itself as a narrative-driven studio. After finding success in the Life is Strange series, the team has expanded their creativity to other genres, as seen in their cliff-scaling adventure Jusant. However, while Jusant delivered a story without overly relying on text, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden forces the developer into uncharted territory with the implementation of combat and investigative systems. However, at the core of this entire experience is a truly memorable adventure that blends fantasy and romance like I’ve never seen before.
The Moral Quandaries of Love and Duty
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden masterfully weaves a tapestry of fantasy and romance, crafting a narrative-driven adventure that’s as unforgettable as it is emotionally compelling.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is set in New Eden in 1695 as Banishers Red and Antea arrive at the request of their friend Charles. As a Banisher, these two travel to various towns to rid them of spiritual unrest. Ghosts and other spirits linger, causing the living to suffer as a result. However, the case in New Eden is unlike anything the two have ever confronted, and they underestimate the power of this spirit, which leads to the untimely death of Antea. After surviving the encounter with the spirit, Red makes it his goal to travel back to New Eden and banish the ghost who killed Antea. However, dying in this world has other meaning in this game, as Antea finds herself becoming the ghostly figure she once fought against.
The question emerges of, “What would you do for the one you love?” The game sets up just how serious Antea is about her job in the opening moments, but it also shows how hard some choices weigh on her. This makes the oath the two come to in their current circumstances so impactful. Players have a choice to do the job of the Banisher and ascend or banish spirits or sacrifice the living for a chance to revive Antea. While this choice is made, players still have the option to change their decision as it comes up in the narrative.
This game challenges players with moral dilemmas that test the boundaries of love and duty, making every choice a poignant part of the journey.
Without spoiling the best parts of this game, I will say that Dontnod has really created a wonderful cinema-esque experience with this adventure. Rarely do the characters move on from events before reflecting on the emotional damage that stems from their action. I was very impressed with the way my choices affected specific scenes, and while I first wanted to do anything to bring Antea back, the investigations encountered throughout the adventure make it difficult to consciously sacrifice those who may not deserve it for the sake of my own needs.
Combat and Investigation: A Mixed Bag in New Eden
During gameplay, players will travel towards the goal of New Eden, but along the way, they will find towns and people in need of a Banisher’s ability. As you interact with residents, you’ll collect clues that lead to spirits in need of investigation. The gameflow requires exploration, summoning and questioning spirits, examining scenes, collecting information, and then bringing everyone together for sentencing. It’s here that you can choose whether to Blame, Banish, or Ascend. Blaming will sacrifice a living person, while Banish and Ascend are for the spirit and are basically a bad and good ending to them, depending on their crime if any was commented. The choices are never easy, but there are a lot of chances, so you aren’t technically required to stick by your oath each time. Still, you aren’t told how many lives will need to be sacrificed to bring Antea back, so it’s always a topic of conversation.
I will say that some of these choices are very hard to make because I know what must be done, but I also want to save this character. Sadly, the game does a terrible job of establishing these two as lovers in the opening, showing them mostly working separately. However, their relationship becomes more clear throughout the journey, which makes future choices more impactful. Still, I would have hoped their love was a bit stronger from the outset because it would have made the early struggles heavier on the player experience.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden represents a bold step for Dontnod into action and investigation, proving that even a studio renowned for storytelling can venture into new territories.
The other aspect of the game is combat, which is okay. I didn’t think combat would be the strong suit of Dontnod, but they’ve crafted a decent system here. During the battle, Red is meant to attack the spirits, while you can switch to Antea to fight against possessed creatures. The switching requires some spirit energy, but I never felt like I didn’t have access to Antea when I needed her. As you progress, you’ll be able to upgrade equipment and abilities, which also comes with some choices, as unlocking one ability will lock you out of another, but you can switch them as you see fit. Material for upgrading is found throughout the world, making it necessary to explore the environments, but let’s stay in combat for a second.
As you come into contact with enemies, attacks can be combined as you switch characters and utilize their various abilities on cooldowns. I should say, though, that the biggest challenge that I encountered was hitting an enemy that I wasn’t locked onto. Sometimes, there’s a group of enemies, and Red will just start swinging in the wind behind him even when three wolves are right in front of him. Locking on helps, but not so much when you have multiple enemies surrounding you. Other actions include a block and parry system required for stronger enemies and a gun that can used to cause damage and access hidden items.
Exploring New Eden: An Adventure with Depth
As you explore, you’re constantly in a state of strafing which does take some getting used to. While this works in the open world. It makes exploring closed areas a little chaotic. However, it didn’t take long for me to get the hang of navigating the game’s enormous world. Yeah, there’s a lot to get lost in here. The game’s map takes on a sort of Metroidvania-like design with branching paths and abilities required for access to other areas. It’s a little overwhelming at times because the map isn’t the most straightforward, and the onscreen compass isn’t too helpful for finding sidequest landmarks. Still, I did like how fast the characters are on the overworld map.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden becomes a sum of many parts. It attempts to bridge the gap between action and emotionally charged narrative story writing. For the most part, the writing takes the award for the strongest aspects of the experience. It elevates this game from an action-adventure game you’ve played before to media with depth. While there’s room for both, the combat just never sticks. I can see this becoming a stronger aspect of the studio if they stick with it, but in its current design, the challenge and pacing are mostly weighed down by the fights. That said, without the combat and exploration, the experience also needs to give a break from the heavy dialogue and depressing setting. So, in the same breath, the developers were right to blend these systems, but more work is required to make each aspect seamless. Further, I can just add that the delay it takes to get to the map or menu gets more noticeable as you access the map more and more to find alternative routes. I also wish that there were additional markers you could lay down to remind you of points of interest.
The Evolution of Dontnod: From Narrative to Action
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a surprising adventure from Dontnod that genuinely capitalizes on the theme of love and duty. The choices made in the game aim to force the player to live with their choices in the hope that they will get what they desire. It’s this knack for narrative delivery that will keep players invested, but this is at the expense of a subpar combat system that, although necessary, doesn’t evolve enough to stay as prominent as the goals of the narrative. I’m eager to see what endings players come to as I really struggled with navigating the emotional impact of my choices.
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