Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden – Review

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is for fans of folk horror, complex narrative choices and Scottish brogues.
Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden

At first glance, you would be forgiven for mistaking Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden as typical action-RPG fantasy fare. There are sweeping vistas of forests, snow-laden mountains and craggy ranges with caves and overcrops. There are disgruntled townsfolk, mysterious witches and hulking wolves. And there are ghosts – plenty of ghosts.

But after spending a bit of time exploring the world of New Eden and its surrounds, I quickly found Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden to be a surprisingly nuanced adventure – one for players who love strong choice-based narratives, and have a soft spot for all things deeply haunted or macabre.

Packed with ethical quandaries and darkly lit corners that loom with ghostly dangers, the game sits at a really engaging intersection between the linear narratives of games like God of War Ragnarök, and the folkloric horror inspiration of Robert Eggers’ The VVitch – with the 1600s era New England setting providing ample fodder for cursed atmospheres and spooky energy.

Read: Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden – Preview

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden tells the story of Red Mac Raith and Antea Duarte, duty-bound lovers who travel the world banishing ghosts who’ve lingered too long in the mortal plane. As Banishers, it’s their solemn calling to protect the living by eliminating the near-dead, but when an encounter with a seriously dangerous (and seriously pissed off) ghost results in Antea’s own death, the pair are faced with an impossible choice. Do they follow their creed and banish her ghost, or do they find another way?

It’s this ethical dilemma that sits at the heart of the game. As someone who is drawn to any kind of media that delves into the discussion of death and the afterlife – especially when it involves difficult moral choices and an understanding of grief – I was immediately hooked, as Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden deals with this in spades. Grief is not unfamiliar territory in video games, but when it comes to action RPGs, grief is often seen as just another monster to be hacked at – a villain to be defeated.

It’s less frequent that you find a game which leans in to the full, complex spectrum of emotion around grief – rage, injustice, comfort and acceptance, all at the same time – but depending on the choices you make, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is able to inspire those feelings.

banishers ghosts of new eden gameplay preview

Image: Don’t Nod / Focus Entertainment

Its also a game that relies heavily on character relationships, and the quick development of player empathy for their situations. Red and Antea’s connection is undeniable, and their back and forth provides a lot of the lighter comedic relief, but the relationships between townsfolk provides a really interesting splash of colour in the otherwise moody palette of New Eden.

There are some characters you’ll only speak to briefly, but the interactions are significant enough that they’ll grab you. From haunted sisters with unspoken trauma, to grieving soldiers full of regret for fallen comrades, these interactions make the admittedly sparse wilderness of the world feel warmer – which is no small feat should you choose to navigate through the snowy peaks.

Two become one

The combat in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is also multifaceted and reasonably intuitive, with straightforward mechanics that rely a lot on timing and well-chosen manoeuvres. The dual combat is effective, with both characters feeling balanced enough to appeal in different contexts. Alternating between Red and Antea’s characters happens swiftly, which allows for very quick transitions between Red’s more aggressive, typical attacks and Antea’s spectral energy-driven attacks.

A big part of the combat is finding the perfect moment to swap between the characters – slicing with Red’s sabre in one moment and bursting Antea’s ghostly power out with another – and it feels almost rhythmic when you’re able to strike that balance perfectly. The skill tree makes a big difference here, with upgrades available to allow for new manoeuvres that combine the pair’s respective talents.

I definitely found myself favouring Red’s rifle when it unlocked, though the slower reload period discourages players from treating the game like more of a conventional shooter. Precision and selective use makes a huge difference here, and you’re encouraged to make use of all your options in a more balanced sense, rather than a gun-heavy or ghost-heavy run-through.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden gameplay

Image: Don’t Nod / Focus Entertainment

But while the combat and balance eventually become second nature, the characters’ barks can become quite repetitive in these moments. It will never get old to hear Red’s Scottish accent yelling out “die ya bastards!” but there are definitely some more grating lines that could do with a little more variety.

During one boss battle fairly early on in the game (which GamesHub played through as part of a preview), one of Red’s barks repeated a total of 14 times over the course of the reasonably short fight, which got increasingly distracting. Between this repetition and Antea’s insistence that you use her more frequently (she’s certainly not shy about hollering at you in battle to give her a go), it made me more inclined to lower the volume in these encounters.

The boss battles are definitely a step up, and the Elite encounters provide opportunities for repeatable combat challenges which increase in difficulty the more you attempt them. These encounters also often come with specific guidelines, with certain attacks having higher or lower effect in each skirmish.

What I also appreciated is that while Antea’s character really manifests most significantly in these combat situations (and occasionally in dialogue as she provides offhand opinions), she also flits between the material and immaterial in non-combat contexts as you go along the journey – sometimes running up ahead as though to scout, other times slowly plodding alongside Red as he travels. It’s a small detail, but one that feels welcome as a reminder that, for all its talk of spectres and battles, this is a love story.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden gameplay

Image: Don’t Nod / Focus Entertainment

This is a case for…

One of the main goals in Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is to solve Haunting Cases scattered around the map, bringing peace (or potentially pain) to the townsfolk who are haunted by ghosts and scourges. Each case provides an opportunity for Red and Antea to Blame, Banish or Ascend one of the characters involved – which will impact the final outcome of your game considerably.

Some of these choices feel weightier than others, but very few of them feel cut and dry. This is a world where difficult people make difficult decisions, so to choose their fates can often feel conflicting – with some feeling like there is no clear “good” choice. While clear “good” and “evil” choices can be effective for some games (Mass Effect‘s Paragon vs. Renegade options being the most obvious example), this uncertainty and drove me to keep pushing forward to find out what consequences my gut-wringing decisions wrought for the wider story.

It’s this element of the game that makes me want to replay it in its entirety to see how it impacts the final act of the game – and how Red and Antea handle each different outcome. Every time I found a clue, I was filled with an immediate satisfaction, especially when it was the official confirmation of suspicions I’d developed in conversation prior. There’s nothing quite like being right, though this does not at all mean that the results are predictable.

Secret Password: NIGHTMARE

A welcomed haunting

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden surprised me with how deeply its hooks sunk into me. Much like the scourges and spectres that Red and Antea seek to banish from the plains, the game and its choices have haunted me long after I finished playing.

Not only does it have the exact blend of haunted landscapes and grisly consequences that I personally gravitate towards in media, but it also manages to make dual combat feel excitingly different and complex. If nothing else, I am overwhelmingly pleased to see an action-RPG deal with letting loved ones go and processing grief in such a clear, non-judgmental way.

From folk horror to Scottish brogues, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden has a lot to offer, and I’m definitely going to dive back in to its deeply haunted map soon to try some of the alternative choices.

Four stars: ★★★★

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden
 PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Developer: Don’t Nod
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Release Date: 13 February 2024

The PS5 version of Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden was provided for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a five-point scale.

Steph Panecasio is the Managing Editor of GamesHub. An award-winning culture and games journalist with an interest in all things spooky, she knows a lot about death but not enough about keeping her plants alive. Find her on all platforms as @StephPanecasio for ramblings about Lord of the Rings and her current WIP novel.