If the name Don't Nod conjures thoughts of the episodic adventures of Life is Strange, or the beautiful puzzle platforming of Jusant for you, then Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden might seem like a little bit of a departure.
In truth though, this new action-RPG draws its heritage from other games in the studio's portfolio like Vampyr and even my personal favourite, Remember Me. It is a combat-filled adventure, but one that also has a rich and immersive storyline.
- BANISHERS // GHOSTS OF NEW EDEN -
It is this lean towards the narrative and consequential decision making that grabs you very early on in Antea and Red's tale. The experienced spirit hunters are tasked with freeing the town of New Eden from a nightmarish curse and malevolent hauntings, and it isn't long before things take a turn for the worse.
Antea suffers a fatal blow during the game's opening, leaving her as the very thing she dedicated her life to destroying. It's a twist that not only sets up the combination of mortal weapons and ethereal abilities in the third-person combat, but also leaves the couple – who are lovers as well as working companions – with some serious moral dilemmas.
- BANISHERS // GHOSTS OF NEW EDEN -
Working together through, the pair set out to fulfil their duties and must seek out clues to uncover the motivations of both the living and the dead as they solve each ghostly manifestation. It's a path that leads to some profound decision-making, with your choices having real consequences and impact on the story.
Will you banish the spirit and condemn them to suffer eternity in the void, or find them worthy to ascend to a serene afterlife? Maybe you will choose to make those responsible pay for their actions or do what it takes to save your love no matter what the price.
- BANISHERS GONE // ANTEA -
It's compelling and thought-provoking stuff, and the story of love, death, and sacrifice is backed by strong visuals and a great 17th century aesthetic. There is more than enough then, to offer inspiration to jump into the game's photo mode. This is a first for Don't Nod as far as I know, so it is interesting to see what they have done right...and wrong.
Key Photo Mode Features:
Free camera with precision mode
Custom colour filter adjustments
Save / Load camera settings
Controls & Implementation:
On paper at least, it seems like Banishers should have the makings of a pretty good photo mode. It includes a convenient quick-access shortcut, a free camera with reasonably good range, and has no limits on its pan, tilt or roll. The essential optical control like field of view, manual focus, and aperture values are also present for everything you may need to create a good photographic effect.
That is on paper though; in practice, things don't quite work out that way. Camera movement itself is actually perfectly intuitive and there is even a Precision Mode toggle for fine adjustments, but the limitations start to show once you open the settings menu to adjust the Field of View.
"Features have been included in a photo mode without any real thought about exactly how they might be used..."
With a viewing angle range of 50 – 130°, the field of view is something equivalent to a 10 – 40 mm zoom on a real camera lens. This means that you have an extremely wide angle with lots of stretch distortion at one end, and even the maximum zoom is barely enough to compose intimate portraits, and certainly not enough for a more cinematic look.
- BANISHERS GONE // FOV -
That limit is quickly compounded too, by a large collision detection box that prevents the camera from getting close to the characters, or even from dropping much below waist height. As a result, you'll quickly discover that the photo mode restricts the variety of compositions that you might be able to achieve, though this soon becomes academic thanks to the manual focus options.
Ignoring the fact that it is shown in mm and should surely be cm, the range of focus adjustment is simply too small. The maximum value of 200 means that the camera can only focus on objects that are no more than 2 metres away, much less than the camera's own range of movement.
- BANISHERS GONE // COLLISION & FOCUS -
Combined with the fact that it can't get closer than 80 cm from a subject anyway, you are left with a simply tiny effective window to work in. Placing the camera outside of that range basically means having to give up any depth of field effect, otherwise the subjects will always be out of focus.
It's a real shame actually, because the aperture values otherwise do a great job and create a soft defocus on the foreground and background, along with a nice circular or pentagonal bokeh. It has to be said, this seems like one of those cases where features have been included in a photo mode without any real thought about exactly how they might be used.
- BANISHERS GONE // DOF -
Elsewhere in the photo mode UI, there are a selection of 7 colour filters as well as a custom filter option that opens up manual control of Gamma, Brightness, Contrast, and Saturation. These work well and can be used in a variety of ways to create styles that go beyond what the default filters offer.
That is, apart from the film grain and vignette that are added exclusively by the Cinematic filter style. Neither of these can be applied or adjusted any other way, not even via the separate Vignette option. Instead, this is where you will find the 4 graphical frame overlays, albeit quite well-designed ones.
- BANISHERS GONE // FILTERS -
Other good intentions can be seen with the optional thirds grid and even the ability to save & load your preferred camera lens setup. It's just unfortunate that these settings are so inadvertently limiting.
"Tormented spectres, possessed corpses, and more powerful demons make for some decent opportunities..."
While the photo mode itself is quite lacklustre then, the narrative storytelling of Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden still manages to set it apart. Right from the outset, it is hard not to become invested in the tales of the Banishers themselves, as well as in the many unique characters they meet along the way.
This naturally translates to a desire to photograph them, maybe to capture a hint of those stories that hide behind the eyes of each high-quality character model. With no access to camera movement during the narrative sequences though, you will have to make-do with the less impressively lit in-play models to manage that.
Exploration of the fictional but period-authentic North American lands will lead you to many an interesting and eye-catching area of natural beauty and haunting atmosphere. Things can also be seen in an entirely different light by switching from Red to Antea for her uniquely ethereal view of the world, although this does disable depth of field effects.
- BANISHERS GONE // LOCATIONS -
Out and about is also where you will encounter the vast majority of the game's combat scenarios as the Banishers are regularly attacked while wandering through the eerie wilderness. The various tormented spectres, possessed corpses, and more powerful demons make for some decent opportunities to shoot some action.
The same can be said for the dynamism of the fighting itself actually, as you fluidly swap between Red's melee and ranged weapons, or Antea's otherworldly skills. Once again though, the limitations of the photo mode put a crimp on things, not least because the minute workable focus range makes it extremely difficult to capture the action with any real sense of style.
- BANISHERS GONE // COMBAT -
It all leaves this photo mode feeling like something of a missed opportunity then, and one that certainly makes a case to use external camera tools on PC to unlock the game's obvious photographic potential.
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Banishers: Ghosts of New Eden is a hugely enjoyable, beautiful, and powerful game that is just crying out to be photographed and Don't Nod evidently recognised that when they added a photo mode. it is one that could, and should, have offered way more than it currently does though.
A good feature list is undermined by limitations that compound each other and heavily restrict your creative options. While there are some good shots to be had with a little perseverance, many opportunities will be banished to the ether and might leave your photographic urges tormented with unfinished business.
Full Feature Set:
Access & Control
Photo Mode Access: D-Pad↑
Camera Movement: Free camera with bounding area Horizontal Pan: 360° Vertical Tilt: 180° Roll: ± 180°