Ghosts of New Eden is why double-A gaming is awesome – Review – WGB

By admin Mar11,2024

In the first encounter with the Nightmare haunting the fledgling settlement of New Eden our Banishers are thoroughly handed their arses, completely unprepared for the power that awaits them. Antea is killed in the struggle while Red is forced to watch before he is dropped into the icy sea by the Nightmare. While Red would likely rather die in the depths than face a world without his beloved Antea, he is rescued by a mysterious woman, Seeker, acting on the orders of her Master, a witch. Red’s distress is somewhat short-lived though, because Antea returns as a ghost with unfinished business, the very thing she and Red have spent their lives battling and helping to move on. Now, they face a choice: Red could use black magic to bring back his beloved by sacrificing innocent lives during his investigations, or he and Antea can work toward giving Antea her Ascent, sending her into the afterlife (or whatever awaits) properly. Whatever option is chosen, they need to get back to New Eden to find Antea’s corpse and finish what they started.

What drives the story isn’t the overarching mystery of New Eden and the Big Bad that’s haunting it, although that’s certainly compelling, but the Banishers themselves. Him hailing from the beautiful lands of Scotland and her from Cuba, Red and Antea are an odd couple very much in love. The best moments of the game are them sharing a quiet minute or two together, delving into their pasts or trying to deal with the tragedy that has befallen them.

Available On: PC, PS5, Xbox Series S/X
Reviewed On: PS5
Developed By: Don’t Nod
Published By: Focus Entertainment

Review code supplied by the publisher.

Russ Bain voices Red mac Raith and does an exceptional job of it, imbuing the character with courage and strength as he faces down terrors and the reality of potentially losing his partner a second time. I really felt for the couple as they faced an impossible choice: to turn their back on what it means to be a Banisher and shed blood to bring Antea back, or for them to uphold their oaths and say goodbye to each other again. Amaka Okafor provides the voice for Antea, a more reserved and sometimes even cold character, but as time goes on you come to realise the depth of her emotions, tempered by a will of steel. She’s patient with those deserving of it, cold to those whom she deems undeserving. In the quiet moments with Red the power of her love comes through in the wry little comments she makes, the softness in her voice and the idea that she would be willing to stay as a ghost, the very thing she despises, purely for Red’s sake.

Maybe it’s because I’m Scottish and I love seeing a Scottish lead character, but Red was the standout to me. Early on I committed to help Antea gain her Ascent and pass on rather than linger in the world, but like Red I couldn’t help but question that choice throughout the game. Red wears his heart on his sleeve, a former soldier who fell into the cold embrace of depression, and Russ Bain uses that to the fullest to paint a man conflicted by the idea of doing the right thing at the cost of the woman he loves, the woman who pulled him out of that embrace and showed him how to live again. Put into a situation where I could regain the most important person in my life by sacrificing some strangers, I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t consider it.

Returning to New Eden isn’t as simple as just walking through the gates. In the time it took Red to recover, most people had fled New Eden to the surrounding hamlets, villages and camps and the Nightmare had created a stranglehold on the town. First, Red and Antea need to work to reduce the influence the Nightmare has in the surrounding regions, and that means it’s time for a good old-fashioned New England road trip, baby! They need to find out more about the Nightmare, like who it was when it was alive and what tragedy befell it to cause such a powerful, malevolent creature to be born into the world. By helping out the regions surrounding New Eden, our intrepid duo can piece together what they need to know, slowly uncovering the web of lies, deceit and guilt.

While more than capable of dishing out damage in a fight, Red and Antea are first and foremost detectives. Solving a haunting typically involves speaking to people and investigating locations to discover what is motivating a ghost to manifest, and what item they are tied to so that they can either be Banished (forcibly removed from the world) or granted their Ascent. Most of the side missions follow this basic template, but the story missions obviously go a little bigger and grander, typically asking you to unravel the mystery behind “upstanding” pillars of the community before casting your judgment.

Much like Don’t Nod’s last action-adventure title Vampyr, Banishers of New Eden dwells in the murky areas of morality where right and wrong aren’t always obvious, nor is there always a “good” choice that will make the world a better place. Often, you’ll be dealing with choices where neither outcome is particularly great, like opting to leave a settlement in the hands of a commander who has fallen into the pits of depression, or to someone with more fight left in them who is also under the influence of a spirit.

Smartly, the game mixes in plenty of times where the moral choice is obvious. Some spirits are clearly in the wrong and need to be banished, but if you’ve opted to resurrect Antea then you need to blame and thus sacrifice villagers. In the more murky cases, the justification for killing someone is easier, but when the living party is clearly innocent of all wrongdoing it’s a lot harder to pin the blame on them. And sometimes it’s the living person who is clearly an asshole and whose actions led directly to the death of other people. As Red mutters under his breath at one point, it’d be nice if people could just stop killing each other for a few minutes.

Meting out justice can feel contrived and awkward sometimes, however. This is a videogame and thus it doesn’t have the nuances of real life, so when you’re choosing between one or two options there’s going to be times when you feel like the outcome doesn’t really cover everything that needs to be covered. There were several cases where I felt like the ending wasn’t satisfying because it was too simple or where obvious options were ignored, like Ascending a ghost and handing in the living person to local authority because they had done some heinous shit.

But the main storyline and the optional hauntings almost always manage to tell engaging stories about people in stressful situations just trying to do their best, how ignorance can cause pain, how it can be easy to appoint blame when things are spiralling out of control and how even people with good intentions can end up hurting others without meaning too. Strong performances across the board help, too. Like, seriously, I can only think of one or two questionable voice actors throughout the game, which is impressive considering how many characters you’ll meet.

Strong storytelling aside, Banishers of New Eden is yet another game that struggles to make detective work a compelling gameplay mechanic by flat-out refusing to let players deduce anything. Mostly, cases involve ambling around a location and clicking on the highlighted objects. Red and Antea will discuss the findings and draw conclusions, all without you really needing to do much. A few optional things provide some extra texture to the decisions, but ultimately you’re led to everything you need to find and told everything you need to know. Any ideas of being like Sherlock Holmes crossed with a Ghostbuster are tossed out the window. It’s something games have struggled with for a long time now, with only a handful of them really getting it right.

Still, I did enjoy the act of solving the hauntings. Red gets to perform cool rituals to manifest memories from objects that have a strong spectral residue, Antea can find things hidden by spirits or use her powers to blast landslides out of the way. There’s nothing too fancy going on here but that doesn’t stop it being fun to investigate an area by burning away spectral ivy, pushing a few boxes around and finding evidence before bringing closure. And I also like that you get to check in with people and settlements to see how things have changed. There are no huge visual changes or anything like that, but when you revisit an area there might be a sense of improvement or people will be a little happier.

Combat is relatively straightforward, pitting Red and Antea against all sorts of spirits and ghostly manifestations. The main hook is that you can swap between the two by tapping a button. Red deals the most damage to the spectres using his sword and rifle, whereas Antea is best at tackling possessed corpses while also being able to unleash special abilities like a teleport attack. At first, you just have a light and heavy attack, a parry and a dodge to work with but gradually more options are added, especially with Antea since her powers are still developing. She doesn’t have a traditional health bar either, for obvious reasons, so if she takes too much damage she simply can’t manifest until Red lands some successful attacks.

There’s an RPG element to the game in the form of skill trees that you’ll slowly throw points out. It works pretty well, offering a good range of ways to build Red and Antea, especially in combination with the small selection of different gear Red can equip. In some ways, it reminds me of God of War: Ragnarock. In the end, my build favoured Red’s rifle, using multiple perks like automatically reloading upon Antea decking a ghost in the face, or one where landing a shot on a weak spot would cause Antea to manifest and kick the enemy in the head.

If the phrase “gameplay is king” is your go-to when it comes to picking out games to play, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden probably isn’t going to be for you. While it’s certainly not bad, the combat and adventuring are both quite basic and clumsy and do struggle somewhat to hold up the game’s surprisingly beefy playtime of around 20+ hours if you focus on the main story, and 35+ if you take on the optional haunting cases. If you appreciate a good story, great acting and a strong atmosphere, then Banishers of New Eden is a criminally overlooked gem of a game.

I found getting around in Banishers to be a pain in the arse, mind you. Toward the middle of the game, the world expands by quite a bit, opening up dozens more Hauntings and areas to investigate. It also expands on its love of corridors that loop around and back in on themselves, a design that feels very familiar if you’ve ever played…well, almost anything, but especially the modern God of War games. Fast travel points come in the form of campfires but there’s still a lot of running from place to place to be done, which is where the problems come in. You can’t jog for more than a minute or two without having to clamber over a tree, squeeze through a tight space, slowly climb up a wall or awkwardly hop off a high ledge. These little cinematic moments of traversal are so frequent that it makes getting around a chore and honestly feels like the game is trying to slow you down for no reason.

At least part of this might be because of the enemy encounter design. Ghosts and spooky bastards can pop up at just about any time while you’re out strolling through the country, and the game uses its various fallen trees, ledges and walls to create little combat arenas. The key is that you can’t leave them during a fight. Neither can the enemies. In fact, if you stand on the other side of a log or other obstacle and shoot a visible enemy, it won’t do any damage nor will they react. So it seems like part of the design might be to contain spectres, wolves and other foes, presumably in a bid to ensure you don’t bypass fights by running full pelt past them while screaming Scottish obscenities.

Whatever the reason, the constant slowing down for yet another obstacle really dampened my enjoyment of the optional content that the game offers. Any time I got a quest marker across the map and far away from a fast-travel point, I groaned because I knew it was going to involve a lot of jogging across the terrain, getting into random fights and slowly side-stepping through crevices or clambering up walls.

This contributes to the feeling that Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden might be too long. I hate to say that because Don’t Nod provides a lot of content for your money, but at about 20 hours long the main story began to drag and by the end, I was more than ready for it to be over. A lot of that is due to the slow exploration and the repetitive combat struggling to support the length of the game. Stopping off to do optional hauntings obviously slows the pace down even further. I can’t help but think the game might have been better off with a leaner 10-15 hour storyline, perhaps by trimming a section three-quarters through the game where you choose to head to Fort Jericho or the Harrows and end up visiting both anyway. The game probably would have worked fine with one of those locations removed.

Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a great example of why double-A gaming is so vital to the industry. Don’t Nod has conjured up an engaging, cool concept and poured a reasonable budget into it, resulting in a game that still looks beautiful without costing hundreds of millions of dollars. And in the end, I enjoyed it just as much as I’ve enjoyed numerous triple-A titles with triple the budget.

Now, that isn’t to say that Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden isn’t without some flaws. In its gameplay, there’s nothing too exciting going on. It falls squarely into the “yeah, it’s fine” category, and I do think it struggles to stay entertaining for the entirety of the game. However, in its storytelling, world and atmosphere, Banishers is excellent across the board. The standout is Russ Bain as Red, giving a fantastic performance that makes it easy to connect the character. I was hooked from the start, and while it dragged a little toward the end, it was absolutely worth seeing the credits roll on this fantastic, emotional, well-told story.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

By admin

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