When people think of the acclaimed developer Arkane Studios, stealth-action adventures like Dishonored or Deathloop probably come to mind. These kinds of “immersive sims” are known for letting players maneuver through a “clockwork world” where characters go about their daily lives and players complete larger, open-ended objectives. So it’s a bit of a surprise to see the developers shifting to a more direct kind of looting and grinding-action RPG with the horror fantasy of Redfall.
After spending time with a single-player preview build of Redfall, I could still make out some hints of Arkane’s signature open-ended style amid the vampire slaying. But it’s still a noticeable shift from the bleak worlds of Prey and Dishonored, with a team of charismatic vampire hunters that bring the vibe of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer to the gameplay of Borderlands.
Welcome to Redfall
The titular town of Redfall has come down with a bad case of vampires and human cultists. Together, these forces have created a supernatural eclipse that blocks out the sun, allowing the forces of the night to retain control of the town at all hours. Armed with tricked-out guns and makeshift vampire-killing weapons, your ragtag crew of supernatural experts has been sent in to retake the town while also uncovering the town’s mysterious history.
While Redfall feels stylistically and mechanically distinct from Arkane’s usual pedigree, it was interesting to see how much of the company’s familiar design was present in a game. “If you look at our library of games that we’ve made, we definitely have immersive sims as a legacy, as those are part of our creative values, but if you look at each game, they’re not exactly like each other,” co-director Ricardo Bare told Ars.
“We try to do something a little bit different each time, and this time we were like, ‘What if we took our creative values that we care about, deep world-building and expressive game mechanics, and let you play with a friend?’” Bare continued. “That part was very challenging for us to tackle. Plus, vampires are just cool. We wanted to do Arkane’s spin on vampires.”
What intrigued me most about Redfall‘s environments was the more open-ended and spacious take on Arkane’s “clockwork world” design. Dishonored, Prey, and Deathloop are all divided into highly compartmentalized and intricately designed levels and buildings. The different sandbox zones of Redfall, on the other hand, allow for more room to move around and explore.
I appreciated that Redfall evokes the vibes and aesthetic of the dread-filled towns in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot or It. During my preview event, I spent a lot of time getting the lay of the land, checking out the docks and downtown areas of Redfall to uncover vampire hives and secure safe zones. That exploration involved the requisite side quests and story missions (including one memorable task set in a haunted house guarded by vampires), but wandering also led me to break into secure areas of the town to find journals and hidden stashes of loot.
Exploring in Redfall blends elements of a stealth-action game with the pacing of a looter-shooter. You can use your character’s skills to sneak up on enemies and pick them off individually or stick with your arsenal to take out the vampires and cultists in hectic firefights. There’s no preset way to go about it, and I was impressed by the variety of opportunities.
Redfall is still identifiable as an Arkane game in its approach to uncovering narrative and gameplay tricks, though the story beats are often presented during active gameplay rather than as control-breaking cut scenes. But now there’s also the added pull of a game like Borderlands. That comparison extends to a wild set of weapons, including a stake thrower that provides an incredibly fun (if basic) way to tear through vampires. Hopefully, more complex gear and skills will reveal themselves further through the story.
Bare told Ars that Redfall was built from the ground up for cooperative play and that the developers “didn’t want co-op to feel like something that was tacked on.” That means there’s “no special [co-op] mode or anything like that; you’re literally able to experience the full story together with a friend, which is what we wanted.
“But that being said, if you’re playing single-player, you can take more time to invest yourself in the world, to read that note, and explore those areas as you want,” Bare continued. “If you are playing co-op, and with four players, you can just swarm across the map and everyone would be howling and having fun. It will support that faster pace, and the difficulty scales up.”