Redfall is not the game I expected it to be. What I hoped for was a multiplayer game injected with Arkane's single-player prowess, with a touch of viscera, a hint of blood, and lots and lots of teeth. After all, this is the studio that brought us the dark and brilliant Dishonored series, the sci-fi intellect of Prey, and the detective thriller of Deathloop. I wanted this to be Arkane's take on vampires, and while they are cool blood-suckers, it's a disappointment, and there's not much here that would make you think the same Arkane is involved.
Release date: May 2, 2023
Platform(s): Xbox Series X, Series S, PC
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
For a studio so renowned for making titles unlike other games, Redfall is surprisingly familiar. It's essentially a squad-based shooter, more akin to something like Back 4 Blood or even The Division 2 in terms of mission structure and the way it handles multiplayer progression (albeit with some odd quirks). You start at a base, with main quests chosen from a mission board. They're linear and mostly revolve around heading out to a location to pick up an item, interact with something, or take down a named vampire - which are essentially just stronger versions of the standard vamps you'll find roaming the streets.
There are some side quests that can be found by exploring or speaking to people in your base, but sadly they're basically shorter versions of similar ideas. Even the Safe Houses, which can be found and unlocked in each district of the map, repeat themselves almost immediately. Each needs a generator to be found and turned on to be unlocked, and then subsequently provide one mission from a small pool of repeating options and a surprisingly underpowered sub-boss to defeat.
What that means is Redfall quickly becomes formulaic. You know what's involved in each mission regardless of the narrative wrapper it might have. There are always going to be vampires to be staked, something to be blown up, keys to be found, or items to be collected - it's just a case of which version of the mission structure it'll be. There are two or three really good missions that add some complexity to the structure, and some cool details involving the headline vampires, but whether enough players will get through the dredge to get to them will be an interesting test.
There are four playable characters to choose from: the telekinetic Layla, robotics specialist Remi, inventor Devinder, and long-range marksman Jacob. While all four present interesting and diverse backstories and powers, once you've picked one you can't switch to another without starting the entire game over again. Don't like the character you've chosen? Well, tough basically - unless you fancy repeating all the missions you've already done. So while it's very much a squad-based shooter in terms of structure, it managed to leave out the character-switching fun that you'd find in something like Back 4 Blood or Dead by Daylight.
It's a shame because the gameplay is good. Gunplay is satisfying and figuring out how to best wield all three of your characters' powers both in combat and traversal is great. You collect weapons and new gear throughout, and although, weirdly, there's no way to upgrade what you already have, there's a satisfying grind to proceedings.
However, the narrative it's all packaged with is oddly lifeless in its presentation. It's something that comes as quite a shock compared to Arkane's other games. For each core story mission, you'll get a kind of cutscene intro, but rather than a visual set piece they play out like someone put the Ken Burns effect on some concept art. You get story beats through memory flash-backs, which involve watching blue silhouettes replay a key moment from before the vampires took over. Again, it's super passive, and underplays whatever interesting narrative is buried within them. Characters you meet in the bases also feel painfully underdeveloped, with the majority of your "chats" with them being a single grunt, sigh, or simple hello. I've never met such apathetic NPCs or lacklustre cutscenes, and it makes everything feel like a rush job.
Friends and fangs
There are also oddities around the way Redfall handles co-op. It's not drop-in for starters, so unless you pick the 'host game' option at the title screen you'll have to back out to the menu if you want to play with pals. It's bizarrely structured too, as only the host will get story progression, meaning anyone else will have to replay all quests. Other players will get everything else, like XP and weapons, but there isn't much in the way of replayability. Main missions or Safe House missions can't be replayed either, leaving the Vampire Nests as the only thing readily available for repeat long-term play. These short, linear side quests dungeons see you work through randomly generated areas to reach a 'heart' you need to destroy in return for loot. However, the more you take on the more you'll realize they're pulling from a limited pool of randomisation, so again it becomes a case of how many repetitions you can endure before giving up on them entirely. It's basically pointless to play co-op, because there's simply not enough to enjoy together, and too little reward for doing so.
There are hints of multiplayer opportunity though, from co-op-focused skills to the fact that the more you play with friends the more you build trust between characters. They'll slowly talk to each other more, getting to know one another the longer you play, and raising that trust level also unlocks other perks too. That should make for a compelling long term co-op experience, but it's just not what Redfall's structure allows.
What is very Arkane about Redfall though is that its world is dense and regularly gorgeous. It's not a huge game, coming in at around 20 hours in terms of a single playthrough, but what's there is compelling and intriguing to visit. Arkane's clearly taken time to make sure every area feels distinct, with historic spots to take in as you take out yet another vampire. It's reminiscent of Deathloop's Blackreef in design and visual interest but it's just a shame there really isn't much to make you need to explore more than the story requires - even if you might want to.
Unfortunately, Redfall is currently also pretty buggy. Fast travel doesn't always work, human enemies regularly just stop animating or being responsive to your presence, and vampires can teleport directly into the scenery and get stuck there. Textures can be inconsistent, and even on running at Ultra on PC, there's persistent pop-in. Plus, on Xbox Series X/S it's launching without a 60fps mode, which results in combat feeling a bit odd and jagged.
Redfall is ultimately not up to Arkane's usual standards. It feels rushed, unfinished, and unsatisfying to play. Single-player is hampered by a squad-based open-world shooter structure, multiplayer held back by odd decisions, and decent gunplay is marred by uninspiring mission structures. It's a confusing game, full of contradictions, and the result is unfulfilling.
Redfall was reviewed on PC (Intel Core i9-9900K, 32GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 3080) and Xbox Series X.