Redfall feels like the antithesis of Arkane

I thought the Xbox Game Pass model meant more creativity and novel experiences.

Redfall is fine. After a few patches, it might even be a 7/10 for fans of the setting, but 6/10 for a broader audience seems fair. Like most games, it’s better in co-op, but even that feature can’t make up for the tired, uninspired mechanics and just how noncommittal and safe it feels.

Of course, “uninspired” and “safe” are descriptions that hold true for many “AAA” games that stick to what’s popular, rather than offer anything interesting that might prove divisive – but Redfall feels particularly disappointing coming from a developer with Arkane’s pedigree (well, Arkane Austin to be precise).

Much of the initial and ongoing criticism fixates on its technical state, but these are elements that can be resolved with patches. The focus should be on highlighting just how generic, empty, and even unfinished it can feel.

I’d go even further and argue Redfall will never feel complete and cohesive when its core design – a perfunctory re-skin of the well-trodden open-world co-op shooter formula – is structurally antithetical to everything Arkane does well.

Great premise, bad storytelling

Playing Redfall is an immediately familiar and at times anachronistic experience that the intriguing premise, a few interesting power upgrades, and Arkane’s stylised, angular aesthetics just can’t elevate above mediocrity. After 10 hours split between two characters, I’d describe it as a co-op Far Cry with vampires. A little more restrained when it comes to the amount of filler, but still formulaic and predictable to the point of exasperation.

The premise is not without some neat ideas. Ancient vampires from another dimension, the infiltration of a pharmacology company focused on blood products; the atmospheric, autumnal, and illogically isolated New England – in theory, it has everything you’d want in a great horror setting. It’s also got a quirky angle with four protagonists that fit entertaining archetypes, all self-absorbed and often insincere to the point it feels like they’re saving the town to satisfy their own ambitions.

It’s a shame that storytelling feels half-baked and is undermined by the mission structure and inherent lack of pacing in open-world games.

Each character has unique dialogue when interacting with new NPCs, completing mission objectives, or during the storybook-style cutscenes, but nothing of significance changes based on your pick. Dialogue often references a team, making solo play weird; scripted conversations between the secondary cast ignore their presence entirely; and key NPCs are relegated to standing around repeating generic lines and selling you gear for most of the game.

If you want to find interesting documents or “psychic echoes” that flesh out the world and backstory, you have to actively ignore waypoints during missions or hunt down 100 ghostly audiologs scattered at random for padding purposes.

In contrast, 2012’s Dishonored featured a silent protagonist yet made the interactions between Corvo and the secondary cast feel more animated, natural, and inclusive. It had multi-stage side quests that told secondary stories and dozens of carefully placed documents or audiologs along your path – several of which could change based on your prior actions – complemented by intricate environmental storytelling. If you paid attention, many future targets and plot twists were foreshadowed. Redfall has unconnected side quests with minimal narrative context, and piles of corpses and blood trails to remind you bad things have happened.

We’ve seen this all before…

The reason I’d rate Redfall as just above average is the combat. Traversal feels smooth, the gunplay feels suitably punchy, powers are both useful and visually striking, blasting human cultists or shadowy agents is satisfying, and staking smug vampires was always good fun. Human enemies are simply differentiated by their arsenal, but the vampire variants demonstrate a little more creativity and keep combat more dynamic.

That’s fortuitous as running and gunning is the only way you’re able to play Redfall given the stealth system is unexpectedly crude and inconsistent. There’s no lean mechanic; there’s no dedicated takedown beyond thwacking basic foes from behind for a hilarious ragdoll effect; and it highlights buggy AI with inconsistent detection and reaction ranges.

You could argue the looter-shooter gear system and skill trees are there to add depth, but while you clearly become more effective in battle, gear and skill upgrades rarely result in new tactics or traversal options as seen in Arkane’s prior games.

Redfall Boss Fight

The classes – despite their quirky titles – offer the usual left-bumper skill, right-bumper skill, and double-bumper ultimate, and most are just supernatural re-skins of abilities you’ve seen in PvE shooters and Battle Royales for years. There are three branching tiers of power upgrades and character buffs that add a bit of versatility, but it’s the usual assortment of reconnaissance scans, a brief invisibility cloak, area-of-effect attacks, summonable decoys, minions, or weapons, and healing auras. It’s a far cry from Dishonored or Deathloop‘s creative abilities.

The tiered gear system is instantly familiar and underwhelming. With only a few variants of a half dozen weapon types – think pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and rifles – and two trinket slots, you end up collecting dozens of the same items and scrapping most of them. Even more interesting tools like the flare gun, UV gun, and stake launcher still fill familiar roles. Of course, higher-level gear offers improved basic stats and rarity tiers increase the number of added effects, but enemy scaling ensures it just feels like you’re keeping pace and battles continue to play out the same way.

Redfall Devinder Skills

An underdeveloped and underutilised world

As this was developed by Arkane Austin – who developed the incredible Prey (2017) and its Mooncrash expansion – you might expect detailed, interactive environments and flexible mission designs to carry the game. Sadly, that’s not the case at all.

What surprised me most is that Arkane Austin is no stranger to large and complex maps. Despite the fantasy or sci-fi trappings, they’ve often built dense and believable spaces that felt lived-in. In contrast, Redfall just feels big and static, with lazy enemy spawns, respawning item boxes and doors that re-lock themselves, an expanding list of busywork activities, and far too many empty locations waiting to be populated when a mission demands it – often repeatedly for side quests and sometimes right after you’ve passed through them to get to a mission marker.

Missions range from randomly-generated busywork – which features in several story missions as well as side quests – to moderately engaging, multi-part objectives that never evolve beyond finding a thing, activating a thing, or destroying a thing.

Story missions do at least feature more fleshed-out locations that demonstrate just a little of Arkane’s multiple-approach mentality. The problem is those alternate paths are usually the equivalent of picking a lock on a door, hacking a garage door, or climbing through the window between them. They feel almost obligatory and no matter how you approach an area, you’re just being funneled into the next battle where the quality of your gear and aim is all that counts – not the approach you took to get there.

At this point, it’s worth highlighting just how disappointing the visual quality, lack of interactivity, and the 30fps cap feel. Interiors fare better but, on the whole, Redfall looks objectively worse running in Unreal Engine 4 in 2023 than the 7-year-old Dishonored 2 looks using their decade-old Void Engine. I have no idea what the game is doing behind the scenes to not hit higher resolutions and frame rates but, to reiterate, the technical state of Redfall is the least of its problems.

Redfall Xbox Series S Visuals

Literally middling

Ultimately, the classes feel too familiar, the loot system too generic, the AI is inconsistent, and the world looks crude, artificial, and forgettable. I can recall and sketch out most locations from all three Dishonored games with reasonable accuracy, while the town of Redfall I’ve just spent 10 hours in is a blur between objective markers.

Even in co-op. the basic gameplay loop swiftly settles into a monotonous rhythm of explore, loot, shoot, maybe unlock a safe house for even more busywork, and periodically tackle a boss that’s just a tougher variant of a special vampire you’ve seen before. Repeat that a half dozen times on one map, then do it again on the next one.

Now I understand this design might be a consequence of the co-op focus. As a methodical, pacifist ghost who spends 90% of any game in a crouch-walk, I can merrily spend upwards of 2 hours systematically exploring Arkane’s largest levels, and I doubt I’d ever find a coop partner sane enough to join me in that endeavour. I’ve also sunk enough time into all the Borderlands games to appreciate the undeniable thrill of looting, shooting, and watching numbers go up with friends.

The problem is Redfall feels like it’s straddling the fence between genres and doesn’t want to commit to being anything.

Redfall Powers
I thought the Xbox Game Pass model meant more creativity and novel experiences.

If you want a simple comparison to summarise my thoughts, I’d say Redfall is to Dishonored what Wolfenstein: Young Blood was to Wolfenstein: The New Order. It feels like a gradual bastardisation of a great concept into something moderately enjoyable by virtue of retaining a few core elements, but far from that original greatness.

That said, I’m not against developers trying something new and don’t expect studios to develop sequels or spiritual sequels forever, but Redfall doesn’t feel like a sincere effort. If this had been marketed as Arkane Austin experimenting with new genres thanks to the Xbox Game Pass model – and sold at a “AA” price point to those without a sub – I’d say just “fine” would have been an acceptable result.

The problem is Redfall is a heavily-marketed, console-exclusive game, sold at a premium $70-equivalent, and described as (and this is verbatim from storefronts): ”an open-world, single-player and co-op FPS from Arkane Austin, the award-winning team behind Prey and Dishonored. Continuing Arkane’s legacy of carefully crafted worlds and immersive sims, Redfall brings the studio’s signature gameplay to this story-driven action shooter“. You can disregard almost everything in the second sentence.

With that sort of marketing, releasing a game that’s just “fine” should never have been an acceptable target for Arkane Austin or Microsoft.

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