Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Austin
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, PC
Release Date: 05.02.2023
In the decade since the launch of Dishonored, Arkane Studios has proven itself as one of the most talented developers in all of gaming—and also one of the most fearless. Rather than churn out sequel after sequel in the same universe, the developer has instead pushed itself to constantly try new things. After Dishonored’s Victorian-inspired stealth action, Arkane moved on to Prey, a BioShock-style shooter in a sci-fi setting. Then came 2021’s Deathloop, which tasked you with escaping from a time loop, mixing combat and detective work in a ’60s-inspired world.
Now, Arkane is pushing itself into new territory yet again with Redfall, the studio’s first fully open-world experience. Set in the fictional Massachusetts island town of its title, Redfall also marks the first time an Arkane game will be playable in multiplayer from start to finish, with co-op support for up to four players.
Oh, one more novelty we forgot to mention: vampires.
“The situation is that vampires have overrun the town [of Redfall],” explained Ricardo Bare, one of two co-creative directors on the game. “They’ve blocked out the sun, and they’ve pushed back the waters around the island so that nobody can escape, so you’re essentially isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. It’s up to you to figure out how to stop these vampires and take Redfall back.”
If heart-pumping, jump-scare-filled survival horror games aren’t your thing, though, don’t worry. “Redfall is not really a dismal, player-disempowering genre horror game,” explained Harvey Smith, the game’s other co-creative director. “It’s spooky and thrilling—an action game with ‘fun horror’ undertones.”
In addition to first-person shooting against standard-issue blooduckers and their human cultist lackeys, you’ll also have to contend with special vampires, like the Angler, who can harpoon you and pull you in to attack, or the Siphon, who can drain your health by sucking your blood. And at the very top of Redfall’s food chain are four so-called Vampire Gods: the Hollow Man, Bloody Tom, Miss Whisper, and The Black Sun. They’ve divvied up the town between them, each with a different area under their control. “They’re sort of like lions competing for territory,” Bare explained.
To slay these Vampire Gods, you’ll need to discover their weaknesses by learning more about who they were before their transformations. You’ll also have to take out their lieutenants and weaken their grip on their region before you can face them.
While Redfall’s vampires are the product of a science experiment gone wrong rather than supernatural forces, the game’s bloodsuckers draw on enough of the familiar tropes to be recognizable. And, they share a trait with traditional vampires that adds an interesting wrinkle to gameplay: They can’t be killed with conventional weapons.
Yes, you can blast Redfall’s vamps all day long with bullets, but you won’t do anything more than simply stun them. If you want to actually banish them, you’ll need to either stab them through the heart with a stake, light them on fire, or freeze them with UV light and then smash them to bits. Some weapons have stake bayonets attached, allowing you to finish the job up close, but there’s also gear that opens up more creative options, like stake launchers, flare guns, and UV beam cannons.
As you take on Redfall’s legions of bloodthirsty baddies, you’ll play as one of four different characters with their own specialization: the stealthy Jacob, the tech-focused Devinder, the telekinetic Layla, and the companion-centric Remy. Be aware that you’re locked into your choice—you won’t be able to swap between different characters during the game. Bare compared it to a run in Diablo, in that much of a playthrough is about leveling up and unlocking a skill tree to make your chosen hero more powerful. If you want to switch to a different character, you’ll need to start an entirely different playthrough.
Rest assured, though, that being locked into your character doesn’t close off any options in co-op. If you want, you and your friends can play through the game with multiples of the same character. If everyone in your party loves stealth and sniping, for instance, you can run with four Jacobs. Though you might miss out on some options to combine abilities in imaginative ways, and your squad may not be as well rounded, it won’t make the game impossible.
In fact, Redfall’s co-op support is designed to be quite open-ended. If you’re playing online with your friends, you won’t be tethered together. Each player can go wherever they want and do whatever they want within the open world. Then again, that may not be the smartest course of action, as enemies scale up to offer an added challenge in co-op. And, to encourage players to work together, you’ll actually get a buff for staying close to your teammates during combat.
If you’re the kind of player who prefers going it alone in single-player, though, don’t worry: You’ll be able to experience the entire story without feeling like you’re missing out on anything. “One of Redfall’s highest priorities was making sure that the single-player version of the game is completely enthralling,” Smith said.
Rest assured, as well, that the shift to an open world hasn’t dampened Arkane’s focus on offering the player interesting gameplay choices, either. “We like to invest in player and game mechanics that allow players to be expressive and creative, and kind of solve things their own way,” Bare noted.
That approach shines through in Redfall. While exploring, you’ll find plenty of navigation puzzles with multiple solutions that would be right at home in Dishonored or Deathloop. Say you come across a weapon crate in a garage. The only trouble is, the side door is locked, and the garage door is rigged with explosives. Do you spend a lockpick opening the door? Or burn your rewire kits disarming the mines? Then again, if you’ve got Devinder in your squad, you can always just toss your teleporter past the laser beams, blink inside and open the door for everyone else. Those classic Arkane moments are still littered throughout Redfall. The difference is that now they’re connected into a single world you can explore in whatever way you see fit.
According to Smith, that openness has also allowed Arkane to further lean into its other passion: building richly detailed settings. “We love the way players can pick their direction, heading out across the town, seeing environmental storytelling evidence at every turn of what happened at a given spot,” Smith said. “The longer you play, the more you feel like you understand the community of Redfall.”
Xbox Game Pass
Like all of Microsoft first-party exclusives, Redfall will be launching on Xbox Game Pass on day one. That means that if you’re already a subscriber, you won’t have to spend a dime to try out the game, but there are other advantages, as well. Want to convince a friend to play with you? They can sign up for Game Pass to try it out for much cheaper than the cost of buying the game outright (plus they get to access everything else Microsoft’s subscription service has to offer). And being available on Game Pass should also ensure there’s a thriving community for the game right away, which should make it easier to find others to team up with in co-op.
In addition to the conventional structure of an open-world game—main missions, side missions, areas to gradually liberate, fast travel points to unlock, and tons of chances to explore for loot—Redfall also keeps you on your toes by introducing random elements through procedural generation. “The map is of course fixed,” Bare said, “but most of the encounters you find out in the open-world, that’s all procedural stuff.”
The most extreme example of Redfall’s randomization comes from Vampire Nests, special areas created by the vampires’ psychic energy, offering twisted, otherworldly takes on familiar sights from the town. And each Nest has its layout generated on the fly, so you’ll never know exactly what you’re getting into when you walk through the door.
Once you work your way to the end of the Nest and destroy the heart at its center, there’s another added wrinkle. As the psychic space around you begins to collapse, a timer begins to count down how long you have to escape. At the same time, however, previously closed-off areas in the Nest become accessible, and they can hold some pretty powerful loot. Now you’re left with an interesting dilemma: How long do you press your luck grabbing gear before you hightail it to safety?
Another element that makes Redfall unpredictable is its day-night cycle—and yes, there still is one, even though the vampires are blocking out the sun above Redfall. “We wanted to do an eclipse, but we were like, man, it can’t just be dark all the time, right? Because it’s cool to have a little bit of variance,” Bare said. “If it’s daylight and the sun’s eclipsed, most of the vampires you find would be sleeping inside houses. At night, they’ll be awake, perched on rooftops and flying around.”
Throw all of those elements together—along with the always looming threat of the Rook—and it’s clear that Redfall will be a game bursting with surprises. While the main story will be the same each time you play, how you get through it should be anything but predictable. Everything from the lineup of characters in your squad, to the routes you take, to the time of day, to the procedural encounters mean that no two playthroughs will ever be alike. If nothing else, that approach makes Redfall a fitting next step for Arkane, a studio that’s built a legacy by constantly taking us to unexpected new places.