Several years have passed since Microsoft acquired Bethesda Software. One of the mega-publisher’s crowned development studios is Arkane Studios, known for its ultra-popular games ranging from the Dishonored series to 2021’s phenomenal Deathloop. The first Microsoft exclusive release under the deal heads down to Massachusetts for a vampire invasion through Redfall. An open-world loot shooter, the game has players choose between four characters with various psychic powers for killing vampires and their human followers.
Redfall finds itself tapping into Arkane’s rich history of giving players creative ways to tackle enemies via both weapons and special powers. It also takes huge inspiration from many multiplayer-leaning shooters, including Borderlands and Destiny, in how it’s constantly rewarding characters with loot and experience for destroying enemies or completing objectives. Then there are other influences from more tactical shooters like Gears of War and Far Cry.
The problem is that Redfall doesn’t meet Arkane’s own standards nor excel the way its many inspirations do. Despite two fairly unique open-world maps, they’re fairly lifeless, which makes early exploration a chore before fast-travel points come into play. It’s too bad, because the in-game notes, books and art style really do a great job in world-building.
When combat does commence against vampires and their gun-toting followers, the gunplay mixed with the psychic powers feel great. It would feel even better if the enemy artificial intelligence wasn’t so primitive. This makes firefights fairly boring after the first several hours in single-player. Then there are the various performance issues and game-breaking bugs currently plaguing the title at launch.
Redfall is out now on Xbox Series X, Series S and PC, and we finished a playthrough after being provided a Steam review code. For those interested in some open-world vampire-hunting action, here are our thoughts after playing for around 15 to 20 hours.
There are hints of greatness in Redfall through its “vampire invasion in Massachusetts” premise. However, the open-world loot shooter is bogged down by repetitive gameplay loops made slightly better if played with friends. Despite the pedigree of developer Arkane Austin, the Xbox Series X/S exclusive feels rushed, unfinished and boring.
What we liked about it
Really cool powers that blend well with gunplay
Each of the four selectable characters is filled with booming personalities, which play into their individual approach to gameplay. On the more stealth side is Jacob Boyer, who is equipped with cloaking abilities and a raven for scoping out enemies’ positions. For crowd control, Devinder “Dev” Crousley can pull out a staff that emits ultraviolet light to turn vampires into ash and send out a transporter beacon to instantly teleport for a quick escape. Alongside her Boston Dynamics-inspired robot dog, Bribon, to distract enemies, Remi De La Rosa is more of a support member of the group with her ability to create health-recovering rally points or drop C4 charges.
Finally, there’s the most well-designed character in Layla Ellison, who is dubbed by the game as a “telekinetic threat in student debt.” Not only can she use a telekinetic umbrella shield to block bullets and an elevator to jump even higher, but she can also summon her vampire ex-boyfriend to attack enemies. This is who we played as during our playthrough, as she’s the closest to a general “assault”-style character in the game. Ellison and Boyer are probably going to be the most popular for players looking to get through the 15- to 20-hour single-player campaign. The other two have the potential to add various crowd control and buffering for multiplayer sessions.
In general, the gunplay is punchy, and sounds and feels good. Add the powers into the mix and it can lead to some very interesting approaches to combat against both vampires and their human cult enemies. The possibilities for multiplayer setups between the four characters can lead to some exciting moments during firefights. For example, the elevator Ellison can deploy can be used by other characters to get the jump on enemies or position themselves to a higher vantage point. Meanwhile, Remi’s rally points can be a great way for the team to play more aggressively against a large number of enemies.
Lots of looting, upgrade and customization options
Each of the four characters has a pretty extensive upgrade skill tree that allows them to improve their powers that extends to attacks, health points, ammo capabilities and group buffs. This can lead to some interesting character customization, depending on how you approach combat encounters. Outside of more gameplay-related customization options, each of the characters can earn various aesthetic changes while playing through the campaign as well.
Redfall handles looting in a very simplified way, for better or worse. Characters can get buffs through blood valves recovered from some enemies to buff some stats, but most of the loot will revolve around guns. There are five conventional gun types split between pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and snipers. Then there are more vampire-centric weapons that include flare guns, UV-Lights and Stake Launchers.
All of these weapons have a level number attached to them and come in different colors depending on their rarity (it’s worth noting that weapons can’t be upgraded or modified). Redfall welcomes exploration with specific gun types, as many of them have various stat buffs and features. Considering weapons can be found on dead enemies, near bodies, inside cars or bought at a headquarters-like hub, players will be constantly shifting to more powerful weapons nearly every other mission.
There’s a contemporary style that works to Redfall’s advantage in the personality department. The idea of vampires taking over an island town in Massachusetts due to a failed scientific experiment is bonkers enough. Trapping citizens by creating a water wall and blocking the sun is a whole other thing. It’s a wild premise, as Redfall doesn’t intend to scare players but make them feel like a carefree vampire hunter. That idea reflects into the stylish design of the four playable characters. They all just look and sound like they’re having the time of their lives slaying vampires.
Despite being a bit lifeless, the island of Redfall itself has a lived-in feel, and there are some interesting districts and neighborhoods to explore for the first couple of hours before things start to get stale. Halfway through the game, there’s a second town that players will explore featuring a more vertical environment and a thick fog that changes the pace of combat a bit.
One of the best things about the presentation is the audio. All the characters have clever quips, and it’s pretty spooky to hear nearby vampires amidst the darkness. The soundtrack from Jongnic Bontemps is also filled with some seriously well-mixed bass.
What we didn’t like about it
Performance issues and bugs at launch
Before Redfall went live, many gamers were disappointed to know that Redfall would only run at 30 frames per second (fps) at launch on Xbox Series X and S (most modern games offer a 60 fps mode these days, which allows for much smoother gameplay). Thankfully on PC, we were able to crank out nearly 240 fps on average at max settings with 1440p resolution. Sometimes, the frame rate will drop incredibly low for the strangest reasons, including when you simply enter the character menu.
Like many games utilizing Unreal Engine 4, there are some stuttering issues from time to time. Strangely, there’s a load screen when entering hubs or safe houses, while many missions allow players to enter buildings without load times. On a positive note, load times are pretty speedy.
Redfall’s biggest problem at launch are the sheer amount of bugs that range from annoying to flat-out game-breaking. On the hilariously bad side of the spectrum, enemies will stay in one place or glide around, among other strange behavior. Then there are issues with texture pop-up, late asset load-in and the likes. When bugs get bad in Redfall, they can really interrupt an already questionable gaming experience.
There were times where an accidental slip of the Caps Lock key would crash the game on several occasions. One mission had to be restarted as the prompt to start a conversation to progress the mission wouldn’t trigger. Interestingly enough, there was a moment when fighting the bigger underboss vampire where the game crashed. When reloading and coming back to the encounter, I had to fight enemy henchmen and found the big boss dead, ready for his skull to be collected.
As mentioned previously, Arkane has always had a reputation of delivering quality games at launch. Redfall is shocking in how unfinished and buggy it is currently. This is especially disappointing considering that the game doesn’t exactly deliver groundbreaking visuals. Even the story cutscenes feature a low-budget still style that feels off.
Mission structure is incredibly repetitive
Despite the lackluster AI, most of the fun in Redfall revolves around the creative approaches to gunplay. Everything else has been done before and better in various loot shooters it’s inspired by. Most of the missions in Redfall will have players retrieve an item, kill a specific enemy or activate some kind of mission-ending switch.
This leads to a repetitive gameplay loop of getting a mission, making sure your character is ready, shooting various sets of vampires and enemies reaching point A and heading back to the hub or reaching point B (and possibly C) before heading back to the hub. There’s even one mission that has players searching for a rabbit that involves going to a church just to get a note for its actual location.
Alongside the main campaign, there are other activities players can involve themselves in like finding safe houses and missions that come with that, and destroying a vampire hive, which works like a raid in Destiny before turning into something resembling Gears 5’s Escape mode. Redfall also artificially lengthens the game by having players fight several powered-up underboss vampires to open the big boss door. It would have been nice if those moments would have stayed as optional, as it’s initially suggested during the game’s early moments. When it comes to mission structure, Redfall doesn’t even attempt to reinvent the wheel and comes off as a poor imitation of its core design inspirations.
Single-player and multiplayer both have issues
Regardless of whether you’re playing single or multiplayer, Redfall is going to present some issues. The game is constantly online, which means that users can’t pause the game while out in the open world without putting themselves in danger of being attacked. That’s a strange design choice because multiplayer has to be started from the home screen and there isn’t drop-in entry. Like mentioned previously, exploring the world before getting to various fast-travel points is a rather boring experience due to how lifeless everything is.
Multiplayer features cross-play across PC and Xbox but lacks cross-progression across Steam and Xbox Live. In an odd decision for a game of its nature, Redfall also lacks matchmaking, which isn’t going to help the online community it’s trying to build. This means players have to go through their friends lists or put out some digital smoke signals. For a game that was built around multiplayer, the execution feels completely off. What hurts even more is that missions during co-op only carry over campaign progress for the host. Everyone else has to start from their initial progress.
There’s a lot of personality behind Redfall. It’s just disappointing that the game mechanics and design can’t back up the stylistic vision and premise. At launch, Redfall just doesn’t feel ready for prime time. Beyond questionable decisions for both single and multiplayer, the amount of bugs are surprising for a game that was supposed to be a first-party showcase.
If Microsoft is attempting to get more people on board with Xbox Game Pass, Redfall simply isn’t it. As of now, only time will tell if this game is salvageable similar to other broken releases like Cyberpunk 2077, Sea of Thieves or even No Man’s Sky. Existing Game Pass members may as well give it a shot, but it’s definitely not worth its stand-alone $70 price point right now. Those looking for some fun co-op loot shooting action may want to try something like Destiny 2, Back 4 Blood or even the recent Borderlands entries.