Redfall Serves Up Campy ‘80s Scares For Solo Vampire Hunters
A 90-minute demo left us thirsty for more.
There’s a certain set of game design rules fans have come to expect from Arkane Austin, the Texas-based wing of Bethesda Softworks most notable for the Dishonored franchise. Creative magic and ability sets! Environmental storytelling! Stealth combat vs combat-combat! Consequences!
Now that its next release, the vampire-slayer Redfall, is almost here, fans are wondering: will it feel like an Arkane game? After a 90-minute preview event, I’m ready to say “probably.”
The caveat here is that Redfall, the map, is BIG. It’s the first true open-world the studio has ever done (Creative Director Harvey Smith referred to the other titles as “wide canyons” in their approach). So a 90-minute jaunt may sound beefy, but in the grand scheme of the game doesn’t offer as full a picture as I’d hoped.
There’s a robust narrative at the heart of everything too, as this new trailer suggests:
Going into the demo, I was under the impression Redfall would be more of a co-op thing, because much has been discussed about it being a co-op thing. However, the Arkane team seems keen to dispel that notion. There was no co-op at the demo, and they reiterated the game could be played solo or co-op — neither version was designed to be better than the other.
We were given a mid-level character, armed with good weapons and enough skill points and cash to build out whatever playstyle we wanted. I chose Jakob, a sniper with a ghostly raven scout, and gave him a stealthy build centered on his cloaking ability.
In most Arkane games, particularly Dishonored, stealth is superb. I found it to be a bit lacking in my Redfall demo. Stealth is a tough sell when the map is so large. There’s just too much ground to cover to be crouch-walking everywhere. This playstyle doesn’t get any special treatment either. I snuck up on several enemies and was disappointed there was no cool stealth-kill melee animation. You just club them with your gun (within a very generous hitbox) and they drop to the ground.
So if you have your heart set on ruthless Corvo-esque takedowns you’re gonna have a bad time. Which isn’t to say I had a bad time with Redfall. Far from it. Even though it’s an Arkane game, it’s a different Arkane game. And, like most Arkane games, it’s looking pretty darn good.
Combat is at the core of Redfall’s atmospheric open world. Of the four characters, which Smith called the “launch roster,” each is designed with a different playstyle in mind. It’s not as simple as a tank/DPS/support breakdown, and my exposure to the abilities was pretty limited. I was focused on finding stuff to kill to try out my cloaking and headshot buffs. I soon learned it takes more than bullets to kill vampires. You often need to get up close and personal.
Redfall vampires can’t be killed by shooting alone. Once you deplete their health bar, they get stunned, and you have a brief window to either stake them, burn them, electrocute them, or petrify them with UV light and shatter them into dust (very satisfying). This means when you attack from a distance, you need to close the gap. Or, in many cases, the vampire closes it for you through flying or teleportation.
It gave me Halo multiplayer vibes, trying to time my pacing so that my clip ran out right as I got into range for the melee kill. It kept things moving fast and added a timing element when fighting groups. Stun multiple vampires and a countdown starts in your head, as you only have a few seconds to kill them before they recover and start fighting again.
Not all vampires are created equal, either. Smith explained that the difficulty is based around elite vampires and cultists with special abilities, rather than increasing the number of enemies or “making them massive hit point sponges.” An elite might provide shields to its allies, for example.
Instead of following the recommended mission for the demo, which involved some vampire’s terrifying mansion, I opted to wander through the world in search of a new popcorn machine. It was a quest from a found bit of narrative on a post-it note. Whether it's single-player or co-op, players are still in a world populated with NPC survivors and must manage safe houses all over the map. I was happy to oblige and see the sights.
The vibe feels like the ‘80s cult classic Monster Squad, where a ragtag group of kids fights movie monsters. It’s not a scary survival horror — it’s a bit campy, but no less sinister. The town of Redfall plays like Blackreef meets Far Harbor. Expect a lot of procedurally-generated action in these quaint coastal streets, which are in a constant state of flux thanks to the game’s day-night cycle.
There was lots to explore, plenty of danger, and my side quest wasn’t holding my hand the whole time. Once I got to the abandoned movie theater, I had to find the machine inside without the help of a waypoint, while a menacing uber-vampire stalked the building. It was a tense combination of problem-solving, observation and stealth. Exactly what I want in an Arkane game, and a promising sign that I found it on one random side mission.
My 90 minutes flew by, and it's clear Redfall will be more of a time sink than other Arkane titles purely because of scale. Bigger questions remain unanswered. Will co-op undercut the traditional Arkane experience? Will the always-online requirement create technical issues at launch? Will the story hold up under the weight of a big, distracting world?
We’ll find out when Redfall launches May 2.