Redfall could do what Dishonored and Prey couldn't. Arkane Studios is preparing to make its debut under the Xbox Game Studios banner with a brand new open-world, co-op shooter set on an island besieged by cultists and vampires. With Microsoft's marketing behind it, and the visibility afforded by Game Pass, Redfall has the opportunity to pull Arkane into the mainstream. The team deserves it too, the opportunity to be afforded the attention and adulation typically given to studios like Bungie and Insomniac.
Arkane Studios has become synonymous with quality and creativity. For whatever reason, that impression hasn't seeped fully into the public consciousness. Instead, Arkane's brilliance has become this weird secret; knowledge shared between industry insiders, game creators, and a relatively small pool of players who have been willing to invest their time and money into games that constantly strive to break boundaries. You need only unearth the estimated sales figures for the Prey and Dishonored games to support this assertion.
This is just one of the many ways that Arkane has come to resemble this generation's Looking Glass Studios. In the '90s, Looking Glass pioneered a new breed of immersive action and adventure games that changed the way interactive entertainment was made and played. Games like Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Thief had a seismic impact on the formation of story-driven worlds and sandbox-driven play, simulations that leveraged immersion and interaction to fully embed us in autonomous virtual spaces. They were inspired. They were influential. They didn't sell.
Years ago, Arkane's founder Raphaël Colantonio, who exited the company in 2017, told me that immersive sims are risky business – that they are "extremely hard to make and even harder to market" – and I believe him. Now, as Arkane moves beyond Dishonored and Prey (which, coincidentally, were once touted as spiritual successors to Thief and System Shock) and looks towards Deathloop and Redfall, it's putting itself in a position to receive the broader recognition it so clearly deserves.
Shoot your shot
"Every game we make is a little different from the last," says Ricardo Bare, co-creative director of Redfall. “Dishonored featured stealth. Prey leveraged tons of physics-related gameplay. Mooncrash introduced rogue-like elements. Despite those differences, in every case our focus remains on deep world-building and inventive game mechanics. The same will be true of Redfall.”
The hope here is that Redfall arrives with a broader appeal to that of Dishonored and Prey, and without diluting the efficacy of Arkane's unique approach to design. The studio is yet to show any of Redfall in action but, should you look at the way the studio has rolled out the announcement, it's effectively promising to release a co-op shooter infused with the values that have made the studio so revered in certain circles of players. Arkane wants Redfall to offer the freedom to experiment, creative mechanics, and the ability to chart your own path through a carefully crafted sandbox – one that's reactive to the decisions that you make and the composition of your squad of vampire hunters.
When you look at those vampire hunters, they should immediately speak to those with an affinity for games like Borderlands, Destiny, Overwatch. Only, given that this is Arkane, the heroes are somewhat unconventional archetypes. Even the traditionalists of the grouping, combat engineer Remi de la Rosa and ex-military sharpshooter Jacob Boyer, have their own delightful quirks. Remi comes with Bribon, a robot dog that Twitter and Twitch is bound to fall in love with, while Jacob is said to hit targets with supernatural precision thanks to his vampiric eye and pet spectral raven – that Arkane hasn't released a cosplay guide already is shocking to me. Then there are the sure-to-be favorites: Devinder Crousley, an amateur cryptozoologist turned paranormal investigator influencer, and Layla Ellison, a biomedical engineer with outrageous-looking telekinetic powers. I'm playing as Ellison in co-op, and there's nothing you can do to stop me.
Arkane is promising that each hero will be able to collect a specialized arsenal of weapons from across the island of Redfall, and customize them to better let you dial into a preferred playstyle – be it stealth, all-out action, or anything in between. That customization will be the backbone of hero loadouts and team composition (the game can be played solo or with up to three friends) and, as the trailer suggests, character link-up will be a key component to play. Arkane wants you to think creatively about combating the hordes of supernatural nightmares, and the studio is clearly tweaking its propensity for emergent chaos into a format better suited for streaming and shared experiences.
Arkane is also promising that its open world will be densely detailed and reactive to player action, just like Dishonored's Dunwall and Prey's Talos 1. We only saw a small slice of the once-quaint town of Redfall in the reveal trailer, although Arkane is teasing haunted forests, bunkered downtown areas, haunted seaside boardwalks, cultist outposts, supernatural psychic spaces, and more. It sounds worlds apart from the somewhat stoic and bland environments that so many co-op shooters are set inside of these days. Oh, and each of these areas will be infested with humans eager to worship the new bloodsucking overlords, and hordes of vampires that are developing powerful new abilities following the science experiment that started this paranormal chain of events.
There's still so much of Redfall that needs to be revealed, but even at this early stage there's something seductive about the setup. Bullets and stakes are a killer combination, as is a reactive world populated by oculus-curious humans and an assortment of hyper-powered vampires. Arkane knows its way around supernatural powers and tiered, reactive level design perhaps better than just about any studio in the business right now, and it's no slouch when it comes to first-person shooter combat either – we haven't had the chance to play Deathloop yet, but our extended look at it in recent months revealed an FPS that's taking great strides over the gunplay of Prey. This is exactly where Arkane needs to be as it prepares to take its leap onto the global stage.
A multiplayer gamble
Multiplayer games certainly come with their own set of challenges, but there's a chance that the genre Redfall is settling into here will have more viability in the current ecosystem than an immersive sim might – particularly when you factor in Game Pass, with Arkane's latest launching into the subscription service on day one. Given Microsoft's push for cross-platform and cross-progression play in recent years, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Redfall bring Xbox Series X and PC players together to further expand its potential player pool.
Perhaps believing that Game Pass alone is capable of putting the necessary momentum behind Redfall to propel it into the mainstream is wishful thinking on my part, although we can treat Outriders as a case study here. Launching last April, Outriders was a new IP with a focus on co-op, from a studio known only for creating kinetic single-player shooters a decade ago. From hitting Xbox Game Pass on day one, Microsoft reports that Outriders was the number one selling digital game on Xbox during its launch week and a top 10 selling digital game in April, with Game Pass helping to bring millions of players to the game. You could see Redfall having similar success, heightened further by the marketing money and global reach of Microsoft behind it fully.
Game Pass has a subscriber base of 18 million right now, a number that is expected to exponentially increase between now and Redfall's planned 2022 release. Where Dishonored and Prey dominated their niches, Redfall is clearly taking aim at a broader set of players. What's being proposed here is an energetic and exuberant first-person shooter built around choice, consequence, and killing vampires with friends by your side in a world built to generate chaos. If Redfall is unable to introduce more players to Arkane's brilliance, I fear nothing will.