Also on: Xbox Series X, PC
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: DON’T NOD
Don’t Nod are such odd developers. If they’re creating an adventure game, they’re practically unbeatable, with all the games in the Life is Strange series consistently receiving rave reviews. The moment they branch out into more action-oriented genres, however, things become a little hit-or-miss. Vampyr, Remember Me, Jusant…they all have their fans (some more than others), but none of them have garnered the same kind of attention or fanbase.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden represents Don’t Nod’s latest attempt to try and make the whole action thing work. This time out, though, they’ve taken the novel approach of trying to play to their strengths, by creating a narrative-heavy action game with a heartfelt story and multiple endings that depend on your choices.
Does it work? I can definitively state: kinda, sorta, depending on how you look at it.
I mean, I can certainly see Banishers getting more positive reviews than the likes of Vampyr and Remember Me. It feels a lot weightier than their past action efforts. The game is all about a couple of ghost banishers, Antea Duarte and Red mac Raith, who travel around colonial-era North America fighting – or, as their name implies, “banishing” – ghosts. During one mission, Antea dies and becomes a ghost, and Red has to decide whether to help her ascend to the next life, or sacrifice other souls in the hopes of bringing her back.
Without getting into spoiler territory, the problem Banishers has with making choices matter is that the way it’s executed is kind of heavy-handed. While the game may give you the choice of either banishing dead souls and blaming the living (and thereby have a chance at bringing Antea back to life), or helping souls ascend, it very clearly has its thumb on the scale in one direction. Sure, it allows you to ignore how the choices are framed and go your own way, but it banks a lot on players finding the Antea/Red love story to be one for the ages, and while there are some nice moments between the two (and the two voice actors undeniably shine in bringing their characters to life), the game never quite hits the heights it’s aiming for.
That said, there are some nice moments between the two. Their banter flows nicely, and the way the game shows Antea’s ghost watching over Red while he sleeps is pretty sweet.
I was less sold on the way the two interact during combat. In theory, the game allows you to swap back and forth between the two, with Red attacking ghosts in their physical forms and Antea taking them on in the spectral realm. Most of the time, though, I was able to just stick with one (Red, to be specific), which made all their talk of sharing duties feel a little off.
Speaking of combat, it’s definitely an area where Banishers leaves a little to be desired. Particularly when you’re fighting as Red with his axe, the game gives off distinct God of War (post-reboot) vibes. While it works, it’s also seldom very exciting. I loved the moments where you could run and launch yourself at enemy ghosts, but too often, it just feels like you’re hacking (or slugging) away at them.
To balance out my criticisms, I should note that Banishers has a richly imagined world. It might at times feel like the game is guiding you through it in a slightly-too-linear fashion, but at the same time, it’s easy to want to keep moving forward through all of it just to see what the game has for you next. There are some gorgeous landscapes to be found, and you occasionally stumble across some neat stories during the 30+ hour runtime.
Is that enough to say that Banishers is going to help Don’t Nod break out of the adventure niche that it’s carved for itself? Probably not, since the game doesn’t do anything so amazingly well that it stands out. But Banishers is definitely better than Don’t Nod’s previous action efforts, and if they decide to revisit this world again, they’ll be starting from a very solid base.
Focus Entertainment provided us with a Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden PS5 code for review purposes.