Redfall review: A vampiric open-world shooter with a bad case of anaemia

Redfall's 30 FPS drama seems a bit silly now.

Redfall Review
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Windows Central Verdict

Redfall is a serviceable first-person open-world shooter with perhaps the most needless "RPG layer" in the history of always-online games. Tools that might make the sandbox more fun are arbitrarily spread across four separate playable class characters. Weapons you enjoy using will lose effectiveness as you "level up" with the game's pointless progression system, which only hinders the otherwise interesting campaign. There are far too many similar shooters out there that simply do almost everything Redfall is trying to do, only far better. Redfall struggles to grasp an identity of its own in a very noisy market. While embers of fun do exist in Redfall, it's maddening that this is the product of the legendary studio that gave us Prey. Arkane is very clearly out of its depth with Redfall.

Pros

  • +

    Shades of great atmospherics, writing, and art direction

  • +

    Interior locations can be interesting to explore

  • +

    FPS combat is serviceable, with some cool weapon designs and satisfying vampire stake-take-downs

  • +

    The overarching story has some great moments

Cons

  • -

    A collection of irritants like phantom enemies, stuck textures, glitchy UI, and occasional hard crashes on Xbox

  • -

    While pretty, the open world too often feels lifeless

  • -

    "RPG" layers are underbaked, with mountains of copy-pasted items, arbitrary "stats," and a currency system with nothing to buy

  • -

    Design decisions to encourage multiplayer undermine the entire experience

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Redfall is the first Xbox exclusive from Arkane, known for Dishonored, Deathloop, and Prey. Since Microsoft acquired ZeniMax a couple of years ago, the studios under the ZeniMax brand have been under something of a microscope. Truth be told, ZeniMax is still a separate entity, completing its slate of games that have been in development since long before the merger. One of those games is Redfall.

Redfall has been described as Arkane's take on Far Cry by those who previewed the title a few weeks ago. It has the elements of similar games; a wide-open world, soft RPG mechanics with "lootable" weapons with randomized stats, and 4-player co-op complete with role-specific heroes. 

I've been playing Redfall for a few dozen hours this past week, powering through the story, exploring the game's sizeable world, and building my very own mountain out of vanquished vampire ash. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Redfall right now is that this review wasn't a chore. I had fun with my time in Redfall, but it's a far cry from Far Cry. I can't help but feel like Arkane's talents have been wasted on what is essentially an imitation-brand open-world shooter that has no business being a 2023 "service" game. Arkane is capable of far better. 

Redfall Review: Art, Setting, and Performance

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Perhaps my favorite part of Redfall is the world itself. Arkane has been producing vivid, stylized worlds since its inception, but Redfall feels like an art-tech step up for the studio.

Redfall is set on an eponymous fictional island in Massachusetts, U.S. The game takes place during the fall, giving Arkane a natural canvas of thematic reds to work with. Arkane does so to great effect, buoyed by stunning lighting techniques and meticulously dense world design. The coastline of Redfall is flanked by thick coniferous forests, which dance with golden sun rays during waking hours and choke with spooky mist at night. Indeed, lighting is a key aspect of Redfall's gameplay. UV lights are an important weapon against vampires, after all, and the game's day and night cycle dramatically impacts the game's mood. Stalking a graveyard at night, with the game's eerie sound effects and atmospheric soundtrack produces genuinely creepy notes. On a clear day, the game's incredible draw distance makes creates the perfect conditions for extreme-range sniping — which I suspect many of you will be doing a lot. 

A few weeks ago, a large drama erupted on social media when it was revealed Redfall would be 30 FPS on Xbox Series X, despite being advertised as 60 FPS. The game's retail box even lists 60 FPS as a feature, and it's unknown whether or not this was a miscommunication, or the result of slipped milestones. In any case, 30 FPS is largely "fine" for Redfall, I found. This isn't a competitive shooter, and it's fairly clear where the devs placed some of that overhead.

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I mentioned the draw distance already, but the game also features heavy use of volumetric mist, complete with light dispersion. Link all of this with 4-player untethered co-op, and I can at least understand why 60 FPS has been sacrificed on Xbox consoles (although, it is planned to arrive later). Redfall's art direction is top-notch too, and fans of the studio's paranormal leanings will relish some of the set-pieces and sequences Arkane has put together for this game. These aren't just vampires, but psychic vampires, and you're often called into wild, deranged physically-manifested mindscapes as part of the game's story delivery. More on that shortly. 

The lighting coupled with the mist effects can be incredibly impressive, sometimes, though, it's a little too impressive. When you execute vampiric enemies, they explode in a Blade-like plume of embers and ash. Some explosive weapons can execute several vampires at once. But beware, if you're standing too close to them, though, it'll chew up the frame rate. Additionally, there was one particular boss fight that used volumetric mist as a combat mechanic, which while awesome, absolutely murdered my Xbox's frame rate. I've never seen the Xbox Series X struggle like it did on that fight, easily dipping below 20 FPS as the fog spread around the arena. On the flip side, the boss battles have some stunning art and design work behind them. I don't want to spoil anything, some of the boss arenas look absolutely spectacular and really exemplify Arkane's affinity for dramatic, arresting 3D art scapes.

Beyond that specific instance with the fog, Redfall was generally performant frame rate-wise, maintaining its targets well. Sadly, I suffered multiple, albeit infrequent crashes while playing. At one point, I crashed out to the Xbox dashboard during a boss battle, which added needless frustration to proceedings. 

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There's a range of small, nagging issues like this in Redfall, sadly. I've had the UI get stuck, I've had the crouch button glitch out, and I've seen non-interactive phantom enemies floating around. The texture pop-in is also quite bad, with many 2D textures like explosion effects, graffiti, and even sniper cross-hairs getting stuck in a pixellated state.

Perhaps the most worrying "glitch" I've had is being disconnected from ArkNet, which I suppose is the system Redfall is using for its needless "always online" requirement. Twice I was disconnected while playing, and that was before the servers are full of users trying out the game via Xbox Game Pass. I will be surprised if there aren't some kind of server problems on day one, although it's hard to say one way or another during this review period. For what it's worth, cooperative play worked well without any issues.

Overall, Redfall both looks and sounds great, with good character design work, great environmental direction, and generally stable performance. Whether or not you're a fan of Arkane's signature style is ultimately subjective, but the way the studio weaved modern lighting techniques into the mix helps elevate their presentation. While nothing in Redfall (on Xbox) is what I would consider game-breaking, I suspect there will be a sizeable amount of patch work done post-launch. 

Redfall Review: Story

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Redfall's story is a mixed bag, with some great ideas that speak to Arkane's unique pedigree, wrapped in a delivery that is sorely lacking in some areas. 

It's hard to describe the story without straying into spoiler territory (and that's something I certainly won't be doing here), but the box summary is essentially this: Redfall is an island taken over by vampires, and it's your job to fix it. How exactly Redfall ended up the way it did is a fairly complex tale that is delivered by and large through text notes, audio logs, and slide-show cutscenes that are frankly cheap-looking and dull. It's made all the more painful by the game's opening cutscene, which is grisly and well-animated, showcasing the game's mysterious prime evil antagonist. This is the only fully-animated scene in the entire game. Arkane is known for letting its setpieces and world-building do the storytelling in past games, but Redfall's half-way measure with its 3D PowerPoint vignettes detract heavily from what is otherwise a fairly interesting plot. 

Arkane has mentioned in a previous interview that the game is inspired by the Theranos saga in part, with wider themes of depthless, vampiric capitalist greed. Theranos was a pharmaceutical start-up that claimed to have built a bloodwork machine that could produce diagnoses from a single drop of blood. Its founder Elizabeth Holmes was hailed as a prodigy in the tech press, compared to Steve Jobs and other visionaries. That same founder is due to serve a lengthy prison sentence now, since Theranos' machine was barely more than a prototype, despite draining billions of dollars' of investor money. 

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Redfall's story carries some similar elements to that sordid tale of white-collar crime, albeit with gallons of blood and an exponentially higher body count. Elizabeth Holmes allegory, the Beck twins, team up with a group of scientists of various disciplines to unlock the secrets of eternal youth. Or at least, so they thought. Maddened by mysterious whispers, haunted visions, and an unquenchable thirst for blood, it took only a few short weeks for Redfall to transform from an idyllic countryside port town to a blood-slaked vampire haven.  

You select one of four heroes who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, some of whom are now endowed with mysterious supernatural powers as a result of the psionic energy now streaming through Redfall's autumnal climbs. 

Irritatingly, Redfall doesn't seem too bothered with explaining some of the reasons why the world is the way it is. It puts the user in the position of, "should I take the story seriously or not?" which undoubtedly reduces the impact of some of the game's story beats. Arkane is usually very good at world-building, which is why I was disappointed by the volume of unanswered questions I had when the credits finally rolled. 

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That being said, the delivery of the game's villains and the reasons Redfall gives you to hunt them down is very strong. Arkane pulls no punches while making its antagonists truly hateable, and peeling back the layers of their individual depravities motivated me go get through the entire game in a couple of sittings. 

There are a handful of side quests to explore, but sadly none of them are too memorable or interesting when compared to the main story. The game does have a variety of narrative-driven secrets to uncover, which lean on classic Arkane-style exploration and deduction. I found a house with three locked doors, armed only with a strange blood-splattered map as to where the keys were. After some detective work, I was rewarded with a pretty neat mini-story and a powerful legendary item at the end. I'm sure more of these mini stories exist within Redfall's world, but this was the only one I found within my thirty-or-so hours actively exploring the game. The lack of interesting narrative content like this feels like a betrayal of what Arkane fans will likely expect from the game, and likely the result of ambitions not meeting budgets. 

The overarching narrative Redfall presents is strong, with some great moments, truly hateable villains, and some epic art scenes. The slide show cutscenes that follow the game's strong, fully-animated intro cut scene feel like a rug pull, and the dense narrative world-building Arkane is known for in previous games feels sparse when spread out over such a large landmass. I ended up liking Redfall's story for what it was by the end, but it felt like it would have been served better as part of a more traditional Arkane game. 

In fact, pretty much every aspect of Redfall would have been better if it was part of a more traditional Arkane game. Redfall makes it utterly clear that multiplayer service games are definitively not Arkane's forte. 

Redfall Review: Gameplay

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As I write this, I literally just completed the game. I put around thirty hours into the main story, its side missions, with a decent amount of exploration. Upon completing the game, you'll be thrown into new game+, keeping all of your items and unlocks, with a tease of upcoming additional content. However, I doubt I'll be returning to the game any time soon. This "service" game, with its always-online requirement, and stat-based "loot" feels more like the mockery of a service game — owing to some of the weakest itemization I've seen in a game of this type, and baffling gameplay decisions that speak to either lack of iteration or lack of budget. Gameplay-wise, Redfall did little to earn my interest in continued play, and I suspect that will be case for many. 

Redfall is designed as a multiplayer "looter," riffing on titles like Borderlands and Destiny, only it suffers from an utterly anaemic spread of items that makes me wonder why they ever opted for this genre in the first place. The leaked pictures of Redfall's now-absent microtransactions makes me think that at some point, ZeniMax had Arkane pivot away from trying to build a full-blown Destiny clone, and instead opted for this quasi-loot shooter which barely has any loot, RPG mechanics, or in-game economies. 

Redfall's handful of guns run across standard archetypes, including sniper rifles, pistols, machine guns, and so on. Some of the more interesting weapons like the stake launcher, UV lamp, or flare gun help you deal with vampiric threats, who are vastly more powerful than the aggressively dumb human cultists who have been indoctrinated by the game's Big Bads. The problem is that, with only three weapon slots, the game forces you to mess around in your inventory screen frequently, breaking up the flow of combat. Sometimes, I've found myself turning a corner into a situation where I have pointless weapons, forcing me to fumble around mid-combat with the game's joystick-cursor inventory. And hey, since Redfall is always-online, there is no pause button. 

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The lack of a pause button isn't exactly a big deal, though, because there's quite literally no penalty for dying. If you die, you simply respawn somewhere nearby. The enemies you killed won't respawn, and the mini-boss you half-killed won't regenerate its health. The stakes (heh, stakes) in Redfall are fairly low, as a result, and it does drain some of the thrill out of the combat. After a while, I stopped trying to be stealthy and careful because there was simply no point. Avoiding enemies is a negative in Redfall, since it's killing that grant you EXP and progression. 

Redfall doesn't really want you to stealth, anyway. There are no stealth takedowns, for example. A swift elbow to the back of the knee is all you need to insta-kill a fully armored human — this is despite the fact most weapons come with a stake attached for executing vampires. You can only use this stake for executing vampires, for some reason. Your character inexplicably prefers to punch with his fist than use the bayonet on his rifle, which is aggressively weird. The game doesn't tell you which weapons are silenced either, forcing you to deduce via trial and error. The stake launcher does seem to be silenced, despite the loud (and admittedly satisfying) noise it makes. I found a sniper rifle that had a silencer too, which I enjoyed using immensely — until the game told me I was no longer allowed to use it. 

You see, Redfall has some of the worst itemization in the history of soft-RPG shooters. It's not just the lack of interesting items, which I can chalk up to time running out or budgets running thin. It is fundamentally broken at its core, which speaks to incompetence. 

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I've seen many soft RPGs fall into this trap, but few as prolifically as Redfall. And it's the fact that the game's entire leveling progression layer does nothing to improve the game whatsoever. There's no sense of progression since there's no endgame —  there are no bosses that require a higher level, or better gear, since everything scales to your level, arbitrarily. There's no loot to chase, and there's very little you can do to customize or tailor your playstyle beyond that initial hero character choice. You will need certain weapons to fight certain enemies. And you will need to drop your preferred weapons for more powerful, less fun weapons as a result of the scaling. 

The only interactions I've had with these systems have been negative.  About halfway through the game, my silenced sniper rifle was no longer powerful enough to use effectively. Through the last 15 hours of the game, I for some reason was unable to find that specific type of silenced sniper rifle ever again, despite suffering through the game's dull "nest" mini-dungeons repeatedly — which is the only place where you seem likely to get higher-end items.

This dumb scaling meant I could no longer play stealthily, and instead just ran around shotgunning everything, since that was the most powerful random weapon I had, coupled with the fact there's no real risk to dying anyway. Other games like Outriders solved this problem by letting you level up weapons you might have enjoyed using to keep them scaled up with the other enemies out there, but Redfall didn't get the memo apparently. 

Redfall is the ultimate example of "RPG layer for the sake of it," and should be used in university courses as an example of what not to do in game design.

Redfall offers absolutely no incentive to hunt down good items. There are no special events that require co-ordinated team play. There's no real need to tailor your "stats" or make a "build," since the stats are utterly meaningless. And regardless, the game ends before you'll even find any decent items for the most part. As a result, Redfall is the ultimate example of "RPG layer for the sake of it," and should be used in university courses as an example of what not to do in game design.

Redfall shines most when shades of classic Arkane manage to cut through the thick layers of half-hearted RPG systems slathered on top of what might otherwise be a capable open-world shooter.

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Sniping enemies from afar is always fun, especially when you set up traps using distraction tactics like the flare gun. The gunplay is solid for the most part too. If you hit an enemy close enough to a wall with the stake gun, they will get impaled, which is hilarious. Environmental hazards are powerful tools for luring in groups of roaming enemies too. Until the game told me my sniper rifle was useless, I was enjoying teleporting across rooftops to different sniper nests to pick off enemies. And, as odd as it is that you can't melee with the game's various stake-endowed rifles, it does feel spectacular and satisfying to execute the various vampiric archetypes this way. It's slightly maddening how underbaked the game's melee-range combat is, considering every vampire in the game rushes you down to engage in melee. There's no dodge button, and no parry button, so the best way to deal with vampires is to exploit their AI by circle strafing, which confuses them into a "repathing" turning-on-the-spot frozen stupor. 

The best way to deal with groups of angry melee-hungry vampires is to deploy an ultimate ability, generally. Each character also has their own signature "ultimate" ability, which can turn a nasty situation around in your favor quite quickly. Dev's UV pulse tripod can turn a whole crowd of vampires into stone, priming them for a swift shatter combo. This shatter combo is so powerful that it can be used to one-hit-kill mini-bosses, which I'm not sure is wholly intentional. It's a tad anticlimactic when you uncover a mini-boss or get into a Rook storm event, only to freeze them and then shatter them instantly with the stake gun. I'm not sure if having to fight a punchy bullet sponge that cannot be dodged or parried would be more fun, though.

When it comes to exploration, there are occasional compounds and interiors that reminisce of the likes of Prey and Dishonored, with varied infiltration opportunities and exploitable enemy patrols. But that's the thing, as soon as I start enjoying my time exploring an interior, it just ends, because most of them are fairly small. I was left wanting more of these brief glimpses into a more fully realized Arkane take on an open world, that feels mired in service game ambitions that didn't make sense from day zero. 

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While the shooter fundamentals are decent, Redfall's gameplay just offers very little variety. The activity loop at level 1 is virtually identical to that of level 20. Once you've played for around two hours, you've basically obtained every weapon type and experienced everything Redfall has to offer from a gameplay perspective. It's all a bit baffling, considering that this is the studio that gave us a restlessly complex and creative masterpiece like Prey.

In stark contrast to other similar open-world shooters, the sandbox just feels a little lifeless too. There aren't many dynamic open-world "events" you often see in similar games. There are no animals, no critters roaming around to give the world believability. There are no NPCs outside of safehouses, and the ones that do exist have very little to say. There are no hidden unique bosses anywhere, besides a few named variants of existing mobs. Arkane gave itself a supernatural license with Redfall, atop a large and quite gorgeous sandbox. The potential for wacky tools and weapons that could've had all sorts of crazy interactions seems quite clear. And they do exist, but they are locked behind multiplayer. 

The tools that would have made Redfall a far more enjoyable experience are spread across four different characters to support its forced-multiplayer focus. In Dishonored, Prey, and other Arkane games, I don't have to choose between the ability to mark enemies or teleport. I can do both on the same character. Is it more fun for the user that access to tools and active weapons are forcibly designed to be split between four players to artificially encourage interaction? I don't think it is, and I don't think Arkane ever asked itself these fundamental questions while designing Redfall. 

It might sound like a lot of my issues here boil down to the fact it isn't a single-player game, but Arkane itself describes Redfall as something that can be enjoyed solo — but it's a fact that that experience is utterly compromised due to multiplayer. And conversely, multiplayer isn't particularly fun either, owing to the weak itemization and the lack of actual stuff to do outside of the main story missions, which only progress for the host. The connected players get to keep their loot, but, who cares? The loot sucks anyway. 

Redfall's gameplay works best when it starts feeling like a classic Arkane single-player game again, but those moments are fleeting and brief. The gunplay and story were decent enough to keep my attention, though, and there are some truly great moments hidden in what is otherwise a fairly unthoughtful always-online shooter. 

Redfall Review: Conclusion

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I had some truly great experiences in Redfall, but part of me wonders just how much Prey nostalgia fed into that. I do wonder if my review will be among some of the more generous out there because Redfall just truly does so much wrong with its design direction. 

The RPG layers baked in actually harm the experience, locking you out of effective weapons you might enjoy as enemies scale arbitrarily as you move through the game. The lack of item variety, activity diversity, and playstyle customization also saps credibility from its "always online" service nature — which is a designation it wholly doesn't earn. The fact Redfall has no microtransactions or a battle pass suggests to me that Arkane knows it, too, particularly since they've pledged to remove the always-online requirement post-launch. 

The glimpses of Arkane greatness do exist in Redfall. The art direction is suitably creepy, masterfully riding an uncanny valley between SAT AM cartoons spliced with truly grim story beats. The haunting open world oozes atmosphere with its heady mists, great lighting, and impressive draw distances that dull its 30 FPS frame rate controversy. The gunplay works too, and staking vampires feels good. However, the overall result just feels like a step or three down from what the studio is typically capable of. 

There are far too many similar games out there that do what Redfall is trying to do, only better. The finished result is an aggressively average shooter that doesn't convincingly explain why it needs to exist as an always-online game. I desperately wanted to love Redfall, but I'll just have to settle for not totally hating it. On the plus side, it did get me to install Prey again (and you should play that instead.)

Redfall 

Redfall 

Redfall is an open-world shooter from the developers of Prey and Dishonored. Save the eponymous island from a plague of vampiric entities, armed with mysterious powers. 

Buy at: Microsoft | Amazon 

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • dennarai
    This is rough. I really dislike the loot mechanics. I feel like a much better way to do things would be “pick weapons and attach mods” sort of load out style.

    I got so many identical guns. Why am I getting so many identical guns?! D=

    I am actually struggling to find something to like about this game.

    Characters only get 2 abilities? Really? Even with the skill trees these abilities are pretty uninspired and bland.

    I wonder if they’re hiring QA because they clearly did not have any for this game.
    Reply
  • GraniteStateColin
    Great review. Extremely helpful. I did wonder though, was the 5-star rating intentional? The text of the review would seem to suggest it's not at that level.
    Reply
  • Jez Corden
    GraniteStateColin said:
    Great review. Extremely helpful. I did wonder though, was the 5-star rating intentional? The text of the review would seem to suggest it's not at that level.
    hmm yeha, i gave it 6/10 because i ultimately didn't hate it, and it was at least what id consider functional for the playstyle i engaged with mainly, which was sniping. ive played worse games. i got fun out of redfall, and some of the story beats really did engage me. some of the setpieces and artistic scenes are interesting, and the themes are good, and the bones of a solid game are present.

    thanks for reading!! glad it was helpful.
    Reply
  • Jez Corden
    dennarai said:
    This is rough. I really dislike the loot mechanics. I feel like a much better way to do things would be “pick weapons and attach mods” sort of load out style.

    I got so many identical guns. Why am I getting so many identical guns?! D=

    I am actually struggling to find something to like about this game.

    Characters only get 2 abilities? Really? Even with the skill trees these abilities are pretty uninspired and bland.

    I wonder if they’re hiring QA because they clearly did not have any for this game.
    I LITERALLY thought the same thing re: "pick weapons, then modify them" would've been WAY better in a game where they only had a few weapon types. i have no clue why they didn't come up with that idea, since its present in so many similar games.

    i have no idea what the QA process was for this game. it feels like the most dispassionate, under-budgeted title in bethesda's recent history.
    Reply