In Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden, a voice calls out to me. I'm playing as protagonist Red mac Raith, lost and alone in the earliest hours of Don't Nod's upcoming action-RPG. I don't know where I am, or what's happened to bring me here, but as I wander through a forested area, I hear the voice again. "Where are you?", Red calls out again, sounding increasingly pained as I'm beckoned down a path leading into a cave. There are no signs of life here save for myself, but a curious green flame ignites a hanging lantern suspended from a tree; as if to guide me.
Making my way further down a rocky incline, I see the ghostly figure of a woman who seems to emit the same green hue as the strange fire I saw moments ago. It's immediately clear that Red knows who this woman is from the desperation in his voice as he tries to reach her. It's Antea, the love of his life, and given her spectral form, something terrible must have transpired. When I find myself in front of a small waterfall, the rings on Red's right hand - that are decorated with curious runes - also begin to glow green, and suddenly Antea stands before me.
It's an emotionally charged moment, as Red desperately reaches out to grab both her hands, almost as though he's grounding her back into the land of the living. The lost lovers are reunited, but now that Antea is a ghost, questions hang in the air between them. Can they really truly be together again? And even if they can, should they instead try to find a way to help Antea finally pass on?
During my hands-on session, I get a taste of the story, combat, and world of Banishers: Ghost of New Eden. I feel like I only scratch the surface of the action RPG, but from what I've played, it does well to quickly establish that Antea and Red's relationship is at the heart of the experience in more ways than one. With difficult choices that look set to shape them as a couple, the question of whether they can or even should be together again promises to drive the adventure forward in interesting ways.
Skills and spectres
Since I step into the game following the prologue, I'll have to wait to find out what happened to Red and Antea to lead them to this point, but I'm already quite taken by the dynamics between them. Since Red is a Banisher who hunts spectres and helps with hauntings, and Antea is now a ghost, there's already an interesting divide between them that's constantly fighting against the deep bond. They also each have their own unique skills which play into one of the standout features of Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden: playing as both characters.
You're able to switch between Red and Antea at any time during combat and exploration, making use of their skill sets interchangeably as you make your way through a location, or particular quest. With the pair sharing a skill tree, each one has their unique set of abilities, meaning you can use a combination of the weaponry Red has in his arsenal and Antea's ghostly powers. When spectral figures appear, one begins to try and possess the body of a deceased wolf nearby.
While you can prevent the possession by swiftly attacking, I'm just a bit too slow, and soon the wolf is covered in streaks of the spectre's light. In order to defeat the spectral being, you have to first whittle down the health of the wolf to essentially banish it from the body, and then attack the spectre to get rid of it for good. As Red, Antea asks to get stuck into the fight since her ethereal form packs a punch against the apparitions.
During my session, Antea actually seems to call for me to let her help out more times than is really needed, as though she's constantly saying something in a fight to remind me that I can make use of both characters during one enemy-heavy skirmish. In one sense, I can see why this has been done to make you feel her presence when you fight as Red, but I did find it a little distracting on occasion.
On the Xbox controller, pressing Y allows me to switch between the two characters quickly to fluidly make use of their skills. The duality of using both characters works very well both in and out of combat. In one instance, for example, Red's Bane rings begin to glow again, indicating that spectral matter is nearby. I can then switch over to Antea who can see what's invisible to the living and clear the ghostly substance away to reveal something Red can interact with. To start out with, I only have basic light and heavy attacks for the pair of them, and Red is only equipped with a sword. But as you progress, you can unlock some unique moves and powers, as well as upgrades for your gear and weapons using certain resources.
Hearts and hauntings
As a banisher, I get the chance to experience what it's like to be a ghost detective by investigating the first haunting case of the game. With Red and Antea's skills, I can work to root out the cause of a haunting and then decide what to do to put a stop to it. This is where Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden throws up its first big morally ambiguous choice, which not only impacts the person being haunted, but also Red and Antea's journey as a couple. The first case sees me help a fellow by the name of Jacob, who I meet in some woods that have been mysteriously tainted.
After speaking with him, he reveals that he's lost all sense of time and speaks of his missing best friend. Red and Antea immediately recognize that Jacob is being haunted by a ghost, and I set about looking for spectral clues using Antea's connection to the spiritual world to find the cause of Jacob's curse. Eventually, I'm led to an open area nearby a river, which is covered in a dense mist Red can't see through, which means I have to switch over Antea to navigate my way around and find a way to clear the mist.
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Once I find a ritual spot in the location, I'm able to perform it as Red with the right resources to see a past echo of what transpired here. Apparitions of Jacob and his friend show they were greatly suffering from hunger and had a big argument that led to the best friend's untimely demise. From this one case alone, it's evident that Ghosts Banishers of New Eden won't shy away from presenting you with difficult moral dilemmas. Is Jacob to blame for his friend's death, or can he be forgiven because his hunger drove him to it? At the close of the case, I'm now faced with a difficult choice to complete it. Do I banish the ghost, help it peacefully ascend, or blame Jacob? The latter option will feed Jacob's soul to Antea, meaning you essentially take a life.
What makes this so difficult is that blaming the most people will help bring Antea back and thus reunite the lovers. But should you take lives to save one? Even if you could argue that some have done terrible things? Not unlike Life is Strange, I spent a lot of time considering what to do, and when I chose to ascend the ghost, I find myself wondering what this will mean later down the line for the couple.
As a big fan of story-driven experiences that are shaped by your choices, Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden has certainly piqued my interest. I enjoy the way both characters play an integral part in the adventure, and switching between them in combat and investigations works effectively. But it's their relationship and the prospect of my choices shaping who they are as a couple that undoubtedly draws me in the most. I'm looking forward to seeing what other choices the adventure will throw our way, and how the story will unfold when it releases on February 13, 2024.
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