There are some questionable design choices in Redfall, a mishmash of the half-baked famed Arkane formula. I love games made by Arkane Studios, with Dishonored becoming a title I revisit every now and then for its unique emergent gameplay. And this is what compelled me to try Redfall. After all, it is the Austin-based studio responsible for creating 2017’s Prey (which you should play if you haven’t). Sadly, Redfall falls short of what it intends to be because it feels like the studio is trying to meet certain checkmarks.
Thanks to a review code provided by the folks at Nvidia, I have been playing Redfall even prior to its release. Though the game released on 2nd May, I wasn’t quite ready to deliver my thoughts as I was headway through the gameplay. While the beginning felt promising, the game became a dull, drab, and tedious investment as time passed. However, not everything is disappointing in this game, and some elements are worth fawning over, albeit very few. Why do I think that? Well, keep reading to know my thoughts on the first game published by Bethesda under Xbox leadership.
Redfall’s Setting: The Plotline
Much of the main story of Redfall is pretty simple and does not require you to go through a wiki. The story takes place in a fictional island town of Redfall, Massachusetts, which has a supernatural outbreak. Cut off from the rest of America (and with the sun blocked), Vampires and their worshipping cultists overrun the town. After a planned escape from the island gets awry because of vampire gods, four characters take the responsibility to bite back at the hostile forces, taking back Redfall.
Redfall gives players the option to select one of the four characters to play through the game. The self-proclaimed “Cryptid Hunter” Devinder Crousley, university student Layla Ellison, Redfall Coast Guard Remi De La Rosa, and Bellwether soldier Jacob Boyer. Each of these characters has unique abilities and a backstory for how they gained their ability. Players can read these when selecting a character, but they are never reflected in the game’s cutscenes.
For example, Layla got her abilities after volunteering for Aevum Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company in Redfall responsible for the vampire problem. Similarly, Jacob got his abilities after Miss Whisper, a vampire god, forced her on him.
Additionally, every single character in the game, including the NPCs, is voice-acted, though with limited variety. However, giving voices to each character helps with setting their personalities apart. This is something Arkane is known for from their past titles, and they continue that with Redfall.
Redfall also returns with the signature Arkane art design we have seen in countless titles by the studio, but it’s not really there and looks a little dated. Water-color cell-shaded design returns, and while the gamers are hell-bent on welcoming the visually realistic but uninspired design, this art design isn’t too boring for me. Throughout my playthrough, the town radiated that cozy island town feel, and kudos to the team for pulling that off.
Redfall: Initial Gameplay Experience
While art design and characters are worth fawning over, gameplay is the most critical aspect. Redfall fumbles in this department, and it fumbles badly. For starters, this game does not follow the traditional immersive sim design that past Arkane games are well-known for, including Deathloop. The characters do not have bazillion abilities for creative gameplay. Instead, they have only three abilities, distinct across all four characters.
What Arkane did with this game is that they included the player-driven gameplay to the co-op experience. Every ability synergizes with each other, and the player-driven gameplay starts showing up. For example, Devinder’s ultimate Blacklight can be changed with Remi’s Bribone bot and C4 charge, taking out multiple petrified vampires in the process. Similarly, Jacob’s cloaking ability can help them sneak around tricky situations. It’s these small little things that make Redfall a worthwhile experience, but only when you are playing in co-op. And that’s where the problem begins!
This brings me to my first major gripe with Redfall, the gameplay decisions and experience. The game plays out fine and might even be fun when two or more players team up to tackle the vampires. Though, it completely falls apart when you play through the game solo, suddenly turning Refall into a dull, open-world FPS.
No ability to experiment, no emergent gameplay; just an uninspiring shooter with quite the average gunplay. I played 7+ hours of this game out of my total 20 hours solo, and I never want to go through those grueling seven hours ever again. It was everything I hate in video games, concentrated into one single experience.
While the experience changes depending on how many of you are playing Redfall together, what doesn’t change is the level design. Redfall takes place in an open world with two modestly sized maps — Redfall Commons and Burial Point. While both the maps are not as large as, let’s say Prey, it is the largest map Arkane has made till now. And in comes my second problem with the game – a soulless open-world.
While the map gets the atmosphere on point, it does not hold any incentive to explore, outside of searching for materials and guns. The maps exist to just carry the story forward, level up your characters, and find some occasional lore trinkets, which are fun to read through, providing backstory and lore for the vampire onslaught.
Coming from a point where I’m used to having tight, yet highly detailed maps in Dishonored and Prey, Redfall completely disappoints me with its level design choices. It feels like Arkane forgot to make the single-player gameplay meaningful or even fun in an attempt to make a compelling co-op experience.
Bite Back Against The Forces of Vampire
Well, it does not mean that Redfall doesn’t have any activities for you to do, it does. Unfortunately, those activities are limited and for lack of a better word, lackluster. The activities are divided into the following:
- The main storyline follows the journey of the character through Redfall. These are limited and show what happens after the vampires take over the island.
- Vampire Nests, which are the dungeons of this game. These pop up randomly across the maps and finishing them provides players with better guns or materials.
- Side stories, which are sparse but available around the game world. Finishing them will provide experience points.
- Safehouse missions – Unlocking a safehouse will provide players with dedicated missions. These are important as completing them reduces the vampire presence in Redfall. Two missions each in every safe house that you unlock. Finishing the safehouse missions also allows us to re-allot the abilities of our characters.
These four mission types are important, as doing them will provide players will skill points. You can then allot the points to improve your character in a skill tree. These skills do not drastically change how your character plays but improves their existing abilities. Furthermore, in numerous instances, you can receive Vampire blood. These are blood samples from strong vampires, giving you passive abilities, like resistance to certain elements, higher health, etc.
None of the above-said activities are time-limited. However, once you change the map, you won’t be able to do any of the missions left on the Redfall Commons. This sorely left a bad aftertaste in my mouth — yet again, as I was practically forced to finish my pending nests and side-quests. A thing I did not appreciate one bit.
Resisting against the vampires in Redfall also has consequences. With each successful act of defiance, players fill up the Rook Storm meter. When the meter fills up, a Red thunderstorm begins around the island, bringing forth a stronger Vampire enemy called Rook. Successfully taking it down brings the meter back to zero and provides you new guns. This is a good feature that adds some tension to the game.
To stop you from achieving your goals, vampires roam the streets of Redfall at all times. There’s no crazy variety here, though, but they are a nuisance to deal with, especially during night-time. There are the standard vampires, vampires that suck your blood out, shield vampires (real), and shades. To take down vampires, you need weapons. Well, thankfully, Redfall takes place in America, so there are plenty of them for you to choose (shrug emoji).
Choose Your Vampire Slaying Weapon in Redfall
Redfall features the most dreaded system for guns and I absolutely detest it – looting. As mentioned before, guns are plentiful across the maps. They are even color-coded, with each of them having stats and passives tied to them. The better the level of the gun, the higher the damage. Categorically, the players can keep three guns with them, which includes the standard, i.e revolvers, assault rifles, snipers, and shotguns. But of course, we are fighting vampires in Redfall, so we need something pointy.
Each of the bigger weapons like ARs and Shotguns comes with a stake. The game plan is simple. You take out a vampire using the guns, and when they are groggy, stab them using one of the guns fitted with a stake. That is the core gameplay mechanic, and it quickly gets monotonuos. Additionally, flare guns and UV rays petrify the bloodlust enemies, and stake launchers are also available in the game. As for guns that you don’t need, simply scrap them to get currency and buy better guns from vendors.
To get better guns with better stats, players have to hit vampire nests. And this is where the looting system comes into play. Once you clear the nests, players have a minute to run across the room to collect whatever guns they can find. And nests generally hold guns with better stats, so they become a necessity to get better loot. The other alternative is to scavenge through the houses.
As for how they perform, the guns remind me of using weapons in Deathloop, but not quite. It feels like they re-used some of the gunplay from the previous Arkane releases, but slightly modified it to the game. Nothing spectacular, but useful for vampire hunting. Arkane tried to bank on our nostalgic fear of zombies, but sadly, it only delivers an experience worth a few pennies of the 70$ it demands for the game.
Redfall PC Performance And Dumb AI
We finally come to the dreaded question, how does Redfall perform on PC? After the announcement that the game will locked to 30FPS on the Xbox Series X/S, many expected the same on PC. Fortunately, Redfall performs well on PC but has problems in other places. We tested the game on the following system
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600
- GPU: NVIDIA RTX 4070Ti
- 16 GB RAM (3600MHz)
- Installed on SSD
- Played at 1080p Epic settings
First, let’s address about the elephant in the room — does the Redfall PC port run well? In that regard, on the above requirements, Redfall ran without any problems, with some caveats. Without Nvidia DLSS, we were getting somewhere between 75-80 FPS at every interval. We did notice a substantial frame drop in the Suburbs area of Redfall Commons, filled with red smoke and cramped housing. Here, I also saw the frames dipping down to well below the 60s at multiple instances.
The game does come with Nvidia’s DLSS technology, and we tried it out as well. For the uninitiated, DLSS is an upscaling technology that RTX cards can utilize. It downscales a game to a lower render point and then upscales it using AI. This provides higher frame rates without losing out on visual fidelity at higher resolutions. While using Nvidia DLSS 3, we did notice a slight performance boost without losing out on visuals. However, even DLSS did not help with the frame dips in the suburbs.
It is interesting to note that at this point, my CPU utilization was at 30-40%, never going above 50%, while the GPU utilization was below 65% and averaging around 50%. Take it as you will. Another thing to note is the visuals. I’ve read tons of discourse on the internet already while writing this review, with many people saying how Redfall feels like a 2013 game, which isn’t actually the case. The game follows the signature Arkane art style of watercolor painting and cell-shading. As such, the world does not have the fidelity you would expect from a modern-day title, but it does not look ugly.
What it does have a problem with are the texture pop-ins and draw distance. This game’s draw distance for items like trees is abysmal. In several instances, I found myself running into a tree (they popped out of nowhere) while fending off vampires to save my life. Furthermore, even when installed on an SSD, the game struggled to load in textures by one and a half-second in numerous cases. These issues were not addressed at the launch, as I checked them earlier in the morning before writing the review.
Another major blunder Redfall makes is the enemy AI programming. I thought Deathloop had some of the dumbest AI at launch. Thanks to Arkane’s continued efforts, Redfall takes the crown. There were numerous instances where enemies either ignored me when I killed their friend right beside them, shoot at me with point-blank accuracy, had zero movement animations, and straight-up felt spongy. They are not smart, they are there to fill the world as a nuisance, and frankly, is a chore to deal with. Smarter AI goes a long way to make a game enjoyable, and Redfall doesn’t have that.
Redfall Falls Short in Almost Every Aspect
So, with all of these problems packed into an otherwise mediocre game, I cannot recommend Redfall if you do not have a friend to play a co-op run of this game. Even then, this is a hard sell on my end. My love for Arkane Studio games goes deep, with Dishonored and Prey being two of my all-time favorites. So, to see a studio I make something like this is heartbreaking. Redfall might as well go ahead and take the spot of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider for being a disappointing title by the developer. At least, that game allows for some fun.
Redfall tries using a tried-and-test vampire story-driven approach with Arkane’s smarts but doesn’t manage to deliver. Redfall piggybacks off Arkane Studio’s legacy by promising the same essential goodness gamers experienced in Dishonored. Sadly, the studio manages to miss that mark, thereby, making Redfall another entry in a line of games from the studio losing its charm. While one would expect Arkane to age like fine wine, the grapes have sadly turned sour.
The emergent co-op gameplay is commendable and makes the game somewhat bearable. Unfortunately, almost everything else in this $70 package is either lackluster, uninspiring, or plain boring. So yeah, overall, Arkane’s first title under Xbox as a first-party studio falls flat on the face, and the green team should huddle and reassess its strategies. For now, you should give this game a try if you have an Xbox Game Pass, but you’re not missing out on anything if you don’t.
Redfall piggybacks off Arkane Studio's legacy by promising the same essential goodness gamers experienced in Dishonored. Sadly, the studio manages to miss that mark, thereby, making Redfall another entry in a line of games from the studio losing its charm. While one would expect Arkane to age like fine wine, the grapes have sadly turned sour.