Although it was in development prior to the acquisition, Redfall checks a lot of the boxes for games handcrafted for the Game Pass era. It isn’t essential, but the game can be played as a collaborative four-player vampire hunt throughout a checklist open-world. A clear conceptual departure from their other works, including Dishonored and Prey, Redfall is still very much an Arkane game. Like Dunwall and Talos I before it, the titular town of Redfall is far and away the game’s most pivotal character with the developer’s penchant for delivering on a rich world remaining a strong focus.
While the game is assumed to be designed around character synergy and running down vamps with your buds, our hands-on session had us take in the game’s single-player offering. Things picked up just a few missions into the main game, in a quest called House of Echoes, which tasked us with seeking out and ransacking the abandoned manor of Dr. Addison—whose link to the emergence of the town’s vampire infestation, which is interestingly born of in-world science, is of keen interest. Starting out from Redfall’s fire station, which is serving as a headquarters for the town’s remaining survivors, I feel Redfall showed its hand as far as its mission structure goes.
The ultimate goal in Redfall appears to be ridding the town of the vampire infestation, which has spiralled out of control after an experiment gone awry. A byproduct of said catastrophe are the vampire gods, who’ve hunkered down in the town’s four corners and act as the all-powerful vampires pulling the strings. The aforementioned Dr. Addison has also transformed himself into a vampiric, god known as The Hollow Man. I expect the story to follow an almost “monster of the week” formula, focusing on a god at a time, taking the time to explain their place in Redfall, their ambitions, as well as the human cost of achieving them. Either way, what’s evident from our ninety minutes with the game is that there is a story which, admittedly, I’d be concerned about given how much this departs from Arkane’s past work.
There’s so much personality to Redfall, a fictional, sea-locked island town in Massachusetts and likely a stone’s throw from Salem. The four hero characters have big personalities and interesting back stories given Layla’s ability to call upon her vampire ex-boyfriend for help, while Redfall feels like another achievement in world-building from one of the best to do it. Spots of interest are fairly scattered as solo-trawling of the map felt too evenly split between eventful and the uneventful. With a lot of empty space, lone wolf locomotion felt a bit like work—I expect when you’re shooting the shit with friends, it’s a different ball game.
Like any good open world, there’s plenty to do. The firehouse might serve as home base for the main quest, but the safe houses scattered throughout Redfall serve as avenues to the game’s side content. As time was limited, I didn’t get to explore many of the side distractions, but the side quests I did try were lean in terms of objective but went a long way to fleshing out the world and therefore felt worthwhile. The main one I recall involved a house call to a friend’s apartment to perform a welfare check only to discover a grisly scene, another involved triangulating a signal but I ran out of time to see that one through.
There are town monuments to mark on your map, spiritually charged gravelocks that can be collected to record the town’s notable history, and vampire nests to clear out like pouring boiling water into an ant colony. It’s in these nests, which are incredible, distorted iterations of the town’s landmarks such as the Overton Theatre and the United Church of Christ, that I noticed the greatest spikes in both numbers and difficulty. Fortunately, the game is forgiving in where it respawns you, as well as respecting the progress you’d made, after each death.
When you do attempt to vanquish your fanged foes, Redfall’s gunplay is rather tight. I’d say there’s parity with their previous games, as there’s a deliberate, almost sluggish heft to using these guns. Shotguns are predictably powerful and popping heads from half a klick will never disappoint, but getting your mitts on an ultraviolet beam is a must. With the power to swiftly petrify a vampire and pulverise their rock-hard bod, it feels like something Arkane might yet balance.
Playing as Layla, I found her powers to be functional without being entirely useful. Her projected hard light elevator lift is cool, but all rooftops of interest have other access points simply due to the fact not all heroes have her particular power. And the same kind of goes for her umbrella parry, meant for reflecting bullets, as I never quite felt threatened by any gun-toting zealots on the recommended difficulty, but I don’t doubt both of these abilities—in tandem with the other heroes—will be a lifesaver on the more extreme settings. I did love the ultimate power-up which sees Layla summon her vampire ex-boyfriend, Jason, to knock a few heads before sending him straight back to hell, to the point that I poured any skill point I unlocked right into it.
I do regret not being able to experience the other players, but the reception to Jacob, Devinder and Remi on the day from those who took on the content as them seemed exceptionally positive.
One thing that’s evident from combing through the Hollow Man’s corner of Redfall is that the team has challenged themselves to ensure the day-walkers you fight have an array of abilities to strategise against. Of course, cultists serve as the human fodder and I expect each god to have their devotees, but there’s a host of special vampires that disrupt your flow in and out of combat.
Watchers perch themselves in gargoyle posture on eaves around town as a means of surveillance, but they’re especially weak and are perhaps the most disposable of the specials. Shrouds will blanket you in a veil of darkness, lowering visibility as the ads close in around you, and Bloodbags are sickly mines full of claret, extracted from the husks around town. Although it’s in your interest to use prejudice against these specials, their deaths draw the attention of the gods who’ll send the Rook after you—it’s a real “fuck around and find out” kind of deal, and I was too chicken shit to call on that kind of whooping during my session.
Redfall, as a setting, definitely commands your attention with its attentive world-building and familiar visual language that has constantly set Arkane’s games apart from their contemporaries. Again, I expect the sample we got is perhaps a quarter of the town’s map and I was still floored by some of the inspired design. It didn’t matter the direction I looked, I kept spotting things that beckoned me. I saw a dried quay resting at the foot of tidal waves that had been suspended in midair courtesy of vampiric magic, and I saw affluent, and now overrun, hillside manors. In an effort to encourage exploration, the team deliberately scaled back the reach of the player’s radar so that objectives wouldn’t appear from range, which does seem like an inspired choice—I’m sure we all recall the lure of the undiscovered in games like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout that’d tug at our sleeve and pull us from the main path.
Of course, as our session focused on proving that single-player is certainly a worthwhile way to experience Redfall, several questions still remain. How will the game hold up and scale to challenge four players, will powers synergise as nicely as trailers suggest, and will progress make sense for all involved? I expect we’ll get these answers soon enough, but it’s a relief to know there’s a game here for those looking to escape solo into Redfall.
Redfall launches on May 2nd for Xbox Series X|S and PC, and will be launching into Xbox Game Pass on day one.