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Review in Progress: Redfall

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Redfall starts off in a curious place. Within the first moments of the game, the player is shown a montage of the little town’s downfall. Creatures of the night begin to fester and swarm, soon locking the town in with bloodsucking beasts, the cult that worships them, and the security contractors hired to cover it all up. A towering vampiress with a haloed visage holds you by the throat, telling you of big plans currently brewing, as the sun emerges outside.

The latest game from Arkane starts off strong. But as the days and nights go on in Redfall, I’m finding myself running up against its layout over and over. Some aspects are inventive twists on the four-player co-op shooter. But in both gameplay and technical aspects, it’s falling short of what I had hoped for.

Redfall (PC [Reviewed], Xbox Series X|S)
Developer: Arkane Austin
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release: May 1, 2023
MSRP: $69.99 (also on Game Pass)

In about 12 hours of Redfall played over the weekend, I’ve managed to clear the first of its two distinct hub areas and get a decent way into the second. From the start, the player gets to pick their character to play as, which defines their skill set moving forward. 

If you like gadgets with cool effects, try out Davinder. If you prefer some mobility and like the idea of ringing up a vampire ex-boyfriend to help you out, Layla’s your pick. Because I like to help out a bit and wanted free healing, I went with Remi, whose robot helper Bribón can distract enemies and provide a second ring of her healing circle. Each character brings something a little different to Redfall, and the initial diversity is promising.

Screenshot by Destructoid

In practice, however, it hits some snags. Redfall will feel familiar to other Arkane first-person games. It’s laid out in a similar way, too. Right away, from the starting segment on a beached boat attempting to flee Redfall, Arkane presents you with choices. You could have a little shootout with the cultists patrolling the area, or you could sneak around them. Go low, go high, or go straight through the middle.

Yet not long after that, you’re forced into combat anyways. If not with a cultist, then certainly with a vampire, in a fight that requires some bullets, fire, and a stake to settle. The straight-ahead path into the first hub then opens up into a large town, with different zones and points-of-interests, all open for exploring.

These zones aren’t so conducive to the kind of multifaceted approach Arkane offers up front. Some areas, especially those tied into main quests, might offer some alternative entrance options. And in some cases, it might be a good idea to sneak rather than shoot. But the second you’re spotted, the alarm’s on and all forces converge. And where Dishonored or Deathloop have tools for quick getaways, you—or members of your crew—may not.

It forms a strange dichotomy where my single-player time felt a little more slow and steady, encouraging some careful play and picking fights, sometimes breaking out into mad scrambles for survival; but in co-op, it often felt like running and gunning with my best weapons was the best option.

Image via Bethesda

The loot doesn’t feel too rewarding, as guns tend to rotate out fast aside from golden drops, and I always found it more worthwhile to save my scrap than spend it on drops from the arsenal. In fact, I really only spent my salvaged barter cash on ammo refills and the occasional lockpick. Those were often not needed in co-op, but in single-player, some extra ammo and an easily opened door does make life a little easier.

Co-op, in general, comes with a few asterisks in Redfall. One big sticking point for some might be that story progress does not carry over for you, unless you’re the host; so if you join someone else’s game and beat a few story missions, you’ll need to replay them in your own file. That’s not a huge problem for those already planning to four-stack it through the whole campaign, but might put a sour note on more impromptu sessions.

Redfall’s co-op also just amplifies some of the storytelling shortcomings for me. A decent amount of Redfall’s ambient story is told through notes found in the open world, or dialogues between characters—either NPCs or those within your own party. Sometimes, dialogue will start just as you walk by. With all four players roaming a hub, conversations were constantly firing off, making it difficult to tell what story was happening where. And notes picked up by other players were inaccessible to me in co-op.

Screenshot by Destructoid

There are quite a few mechanical hitches, too. In co-op, we had players flying through the sky or crouch-walking through the ground. After one cutscene, a player had a duplicate avatar frozen in the middle of the hub. Limbs wouldn’t move right. And in both single and multi-player, different bugs would cause problems. Enemies slide around or fail to detect players right next to them. In the worst case, Bribón disappeared for several missions, and didn’t reappear until I restarted the game.

On top of that, I ran into what seems like optimization issues on PC. I’ve got an AMD Ryzen 5 3600X, NVIDIA 2070 Super, 16 GB of RAM, and I’m running Redfall off a solid state drive—nothing top-of-the-line, but should clear the Recommended bar. But Redfall defaulted me to a choppy Medium that I eventually moved down to Low. Still, frame rates would drop low and world elements would pop in, issues that four-player co-op exacerbated. A friend I played with, who has a similar set-up to mine, experienced similar optimization issues.

All of the technical mess is something that might exist now, at launch, and then soon be tinkered with and fixed. That’s not necessarily new in the world of reviewing games. However, it did make some elements of Redfall that I enjoyed difficult to appreciate. I do like its horror and supernatural elements, and there are a few special areas that feel laid out well for a creepy experience. Though ambient dialogue can often spoil some surprises, there were still moments where I was afraid of what might lurk in some downstairs shadows.

And when the story gets going, especially in the second area, it gets pretty alright. I haven’t mentioned it much because the goal is straightforward: vampires are infesting the town, so go take them out. There are big bosses like The Hollow Man, and lesser evils you’ll have to uncover and hunt through side missions. Details on those vary, but a few were thematically interesting, especially when they involved the special versions of vampires like the Angler or Shroud. Where regular vampires start off intimidating but can be easily dispatched once you’ve got a few good weapons, special vampires remain a threat. They force you to change up tactics, introducing new rules that can make the otherwise cannon fodder-esque human enemies more dangerous, even just as distractions.

Screenshot by Destructoid

And one or two missions so far have shown a little more of that multiple-approach design, encouraging me to find some fun alternate ways to tackle objectives. But for the most part, missions in Redfall have constituted navigating to an area, shooting vampires/cultists/security forces, and picking up or interacting with an objective. A few interesting diversions aside, Redfall seems laser-focused on killing vampires.

Which is why, so far, it’s fallen short for me. I enjoy blasting a vampire with a stake launcher. Every now and then, I’ve felt clever as I set a trap with my C4 and lure enemies towards it, or used Bribón’s distraction function to line up a perfect shot. But more often, I’m walking into an area, blasting whoever I see, and teleporting back to a safehouse to pick up a new mission.

Overall, Redfall so far feels like a co-op shooter with some neat ideas that aren’t fully realized. I can see some of the concepts, like managing a limited loadout of weapons and carrying powerful anti-vampire weapons alongside anti-personnel armaments, and how they create interesting moments. Sometimes, they really pull them off. 

Image via Bethesda

I can think of a few occasions where I was running through a firefight, hurriedly reloading and making snap decisions. Sometimes I’d feel rewarded for taking an alternate route, cleverly avoiding some traps. Or, in one instance, ducking behind cover to hastily swap in a different weapon because a deadly Rook was on the way and I needed some vampire-slaying power, now.

More often, though, Redfall has been technical hitches, repetition, and scattershot story. I enjoy the kind of world, narrative, and experience it wants to be, but I just don’t think it gets there. We’ve only had a few days with it, but we’ll have more on Redfall once we’ve rolled credits later this week.

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Eric Van Allen
Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.