clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Redfall is a monster-filled sandbox with big immersive sim potential

Hands-on with Arkane’s new vampire game for Xbox and PC

The four protagonists of Redfall walk down a street together, carrying their guns and chatting Image: Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

After playing Arkane Studios’ Redfall, I was left somewhat puzzled about how to classify the strange new co-op shooter spawned from the minds that brought us Prey and Dishonored. The closest thing I can equate Redfall to is an expansive immersive-sim sandbox that attempts to keep its narrative front and center.

Redfall is definitely not a horde-based co-op shooter akin to Left 4 Dead or Warhammer 40,000: Darktidestudio director Harvey Smith has already stressed that.

Yes, Redfall incorporates co-op elements, but like other Arkane games, it’s a solo experience first. In fact, Smith encourages players to play the game solo first, and to invite friends for an encore performance. (Unfortunately, co-op wasn’t playable in a recent 90-minute hands-on demo with the game in New York.)

For the demo, I played Layla, whose drip and attitude made her the obvious choice for me. She’s a med student with witchy powers and an ultimate ability that lets her to summon her absolute snack of a vampiric ex-boyfriend for assistance. It would be easy to dismiss Redfall’s four characters as class archetypes; their spread of abilities makes them all equally suited to solo or support roles. Each character has two abilities on cooldown in addition to an ultimate ability that recharges by killing bad guys.

An animated GIF showing off Layla’s ultimate in Redfall where she summons and fist bumps her vampire ex-boyfriend
Layla’s vampire ex-boyfriend is a snack that turns your enemies into snacks.
Image: Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Moreover, each character feels distinct in their attitude, motivations, and interactions with the world. Layla, for example, coaxes shells into her shotgun using her telekinetic powers when she needs to reload and offers a fist bump to her former bae whenever he’s pulled from the veil.

Before setting off into the open world, I got to examine my loadout and allocate a handful of skill points, getting a starting block equivalent to what players will experience about an hour into the main story. I started off in an old firehouse, one of the many reclaimed safehouses you’ll find scattered around the world where you can catch your breath.

A Redfall screenshot featuring a multinodal skill tree for the character Devinder
Each character in Redfall features a unique skill tree to unlock.
Image: Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

Heading out into the town of Redfall, I was met with relatively vacant streets. The regular residents may have left, but Redfall is still peppered with enemy patrols, vampires, and environmental hazards ranging from gas cans to car batteries. Using these elements to your advantage is essential when handling larger groups of enemies, as your ammo supply is limited, and vampires tend to shrug off bullets. The immersive elements of Redfall also allow for some fun unscripted moments, like sneaking around feeding vampires to flip the switch on some conveniently placed UV lights and dust them.

Ultraviolet light, fire, and electricity are some of the damage types I saw during the demo, with each offering debuffs and counters to specific enemy types. UV lights might be great against vampires, but the human cultists running around couldn’t care less.

The cultists working with the vampires are armed with guns and grenades, and they patrol in groups and will alert others to your presence. You’ve fought these dudes before, and they only really become a problem if they ask for the manager (i.e., the vampires) running the show around Redfall. The pasty fashion-forward cryptids are usually found brooding by themselves or in pairs and like to juke you by teleporting to get in close with their claws.

An animated GIF showing off Dev’s ultimate in Redfall, in which he pulls out a UV weapon and turns two vampires into stone
Dev’s ultimate emits a conical burst of UV light to petrify vampires.
Image: Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

The vampires were more engaging than the more human enemies I faced, as bullets would only stun the bloodsuckers. Taking them on in 1v1 situations isn’t too tough if you know what you’re doing, but tangling with three or more at once can get dicey without a backup plan. Finishing each one requires you to either stake them at close range, or get creative by setting them on fire before finishing them off.

Vampires come in multiple flavors. Siphons, for example, are capable of steadily draining your health at range while supplementing your own, while Shrouds limit your vision to a small area around them until they’re dealt with.

Thankfully, the eclectic armory in Redfall provides you with some interesting solutions for solving the town’s vampire problem. In addition to your standard arsenal of shotguns and assault rifles, Redfall features numerous makeshift weapons, like the flare gun, which can start fires or set enemies ablaze, or the UV projector, which operates like a freeze ray against vampires. My personal favorite, though, is the stake launcher, a triple-barreled monstrosity that uses scavenged ammunition from various environmental objects like pool cues or guitars.

A screenshot of the inventory system in Redfall showing Devinder’s Snipe Hunter stake launcher Image: Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

I only got to see two of Redfall’s factions during the hands-on demo, but Smith has promised additional human and vampire factions. When he mentioned that rival factions can even fight each other, I immediately started conjuring up clever ways to bait them into attacking each other.

Redfall comes with four difficulty modes out of the box, and while specific zones of the map can be tougher than others, according to Smith, dialing up the difficulty in addition to having more buddies join your game will spawn enemy clusters with additional perks and more specialized enemies.

In true Arkane fashion, there are novels’ worth of literature scattered throughout the world and sundry random objects to pick up, which inevitably turns your inventory into a magpie’s nest of edibles and romantic novels. Redfall has streamlined the process somewhat by having items converted automatically into either food or money. These currencies are used to purchase consumables back at your safehouses, which also provide you with localized side missions that provide you with loot and experience upon completion.

An animated GIF showcasing Jacob’s sniper rifle skill, in which he summons a crow and manifests a sniper rifle to shoot enemies at long distance
Jacob can summon an ethereal sniper rifle that snaps to targets.
Image: Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks

The side missions I saw during my time with Redfall seemed to be fairly standard, offering small, predictable objectives to accomplish near a specific safehouse. These ranged from clearing out a specific house, flipping switches on a few scattered transmitters, to defending a point on the map for a set length of time. One of the standout distractions from the main story track are the vampire nests scattered around Redfall — which aren’t so much nests as they are tiny, linear pocket dimensions sustained by a heart at their core.

Vampire nests operate like a smash-and-grab heist, taking you and your party through an “upside-down” slice of the town, with vampires scattered liberally along your path to its core. Destroying the core opens up several areas filled with shiny loot, but also causes the nest to start collapsing, giving you a limited window to escape with your dosh.

Completing side objectives or killing certain types of vamps fills up a meter that summons an uber-vampire called the Rook. Even though I was thoroughly stomped by this guy during his single appearance in my playthrough, I was assured that while he is tough, the Rook isn’t invincible. Naturally, beating him will reward you with some of the best loot in the game.

Overall, the gameplay loop for the slice of Redfall I got to play felt pretty standard for an open-world shooter, but it was still interesting to see Arkane’s take on the genre by combining imm-sim elements with an asymmetric, complementary class system. The solid gunplay paired with supernatural abilities gives Redfall a good starting block for players to experience the story and become more familiar with its systems before eventually breaking them with friends when the game launches on May 2 for Windows PC and Xbox Series X.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon