Redfall Hands-on Preview and chat with Arkane Austin

Posted on March 23, 2023

If there’s one thing developer Arkane always delivers, it would be a commitment to a unique concept driven by a lot of love and development prowess. This is why Redfall always excited me ever since we got our first glimpse. Coming to us by the Prey studio Arkane Austin, this cooperative, vampire shooter always struck me as a bit of a “play it to understand it” title. Thankfully I got to do one better, playing a generous 90-minute demo of the game followed by an amazing chat with Creative Director Ricardo Bare.

The first thing I noticed about Redfall was the world the game was creating. This isn’t a title that’s interested in rehashing old vampire foundations, instead, it creates its own lore utilising the concept of a vampire but putting it into a much more modern context. The creatures found in Redfall aren’t bloodsuckers who have been around for thousands of years. They are modern scientific creations that became too powerful, being compared to gods and worshipped by cultists. Their hunger for power emerges in physical disfiguration, a manifestation of greed.

Ricardo said it best when he said, “Monsters tend to be metaphors”. He pushed back against the typical idea of the vampire and spoke to how Redfall’s interpretation is different. “It’s not like zombies. It’s not like a disease that you can accidentally be infected with… Our monsters are more like a metamorphosis that they willingly undertake. They wanted to be what they are. They were already vampires on the inside, so to speak. They’re sort of like the 1%, right? Like I need all the power. I need all the wealth… I need to be a parasite… They came about as a result of, like, some exploitative form of scientific investigation.”

It’s true that Redfall’s vampires feel very different from those you may find in titles like DONTNOD’s Vampyr or anything related to the Vampire the Masquerade IP. It’s a shame because those universes are ripe with intrigue and fascination. Though the benefit here is it gives Arkane so much more freedom to tell their own stories, to write their own lore. And from where I’m sitting, they’re doing a pretty good job. In the demo we played, we got to see the exploration and destructive greed of a character known as The Hollow Man. Glimpses of another Vampire God blacking out the sun gives big Mr. Burns energy and I’m here for it.

Even with their own spin, some vampire tropes are still found, such as the need to stab a vampire through the heart with a stake. Ricardo pointed out that, “there’s a common thread… they have to have fangs, they have to drink blood, they have to hate the sun. If you change everything… they’re not really vampires anymore”.

“…like increased consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of very few. I mean, that’s basically what a vampire is, right?”

The characters who are tasked to bring down the Vampire Gods are all peculiar and novel in their own right. Jacob is a keen-eyed operative with his pet raven who flies out to scout for foes. Devinder is a paranormal investigator and inspiring inventor. His tech-minded approach allows for shocking combat benefits and instant translocation. Remi is a combat engineer whose robotic companion serves as a phenomenal distraction. Last but certainly not least is Layla, a telekinetic student who can conjure powerful tools to support her and her team, as well as a visit from her vampire ex-boyfriend.

The cast is fun but importantly their backstories and personalities match their gameplay styles. I spent most of my time with Jacob and I can say comfortably that his approach to sharpshooting, scouting, and stealth make for an incredible single-player experience. Whilst we were unable to test multiplayer, I can see immediately how his kit translates beautifully into that realm as well.

Ricardo went on to describe how the characters interact with one another, admitting that whilst playing solo, you are missing out on character development and narrative moments between the cast.

“…we have this thing called the trust system… as you play with other characters, the longer you play with them… their friendship will grow and so they’ll have deeper and deeper conversations with each other. But our intention from the beginning also was like, these people don’t know each other. Initially they are strangers to each other. They all are stranded on the island for different reasons. You know, some of them are from the island, like Layla, and some of them are outsiders, like Devinder and Jacob. But over time they become friends with each other.”

On the gameplay front, Redfall toes the line between a typical Arkane single-player action adventure and a more cooperative, open-world romp. You have these strong narrative motivations, cutscenes, and dialogue that hook you into the world. There are also these main quests that bring you through more structured areas of the Redfall world such as The Hollow Man’s Mansion which we got to experience in our demo. This gameplay sequence was full of narrative moments and set-pieces that you wouldn’t expect in a multiplayer game. Memories were unlocked, backstories were uncovered, and a rich tapestry of storytelling was explored. How that would work in multiplayer is still yet to be seen.

On the other end of the gameplay spectrum are the open-world and make-your-own fun aspects of Redfall’s design. Going out into the world to defeat vampire nests was engaging, taking safe-houses back under your control was rewarding, and certain side quests gave you incentives to further explore the world in front of you. How repetitive these sequences become may well make the differences between a competent open-world game and a genuinely great one. Whilst we were discussing the subject of balancing Redfall’s single-player and multiplayer elements, I naturally couldn’t help but to ask about the controversial decision to make Redfall online-only even for solo players. Ricardo had the following to say, “…we are completely sympathetic to the feedback and we plan on addressing that as fast as possible. So look forward to that.”

At a technical level, the gun play felt good, the powers you have access to feel cohesive and enjoyable, and the skill tree and weapon upgrades you uncover keep you feeling as though you’re constantly progressing and building your character towards your ideal build. 90-minutes in and I wasn’t ready to take my hands off the keyboard and stop playing. It’s a sign of really good things to come.

Redfall’s world is rich and it taps into that horror atmosphere without ever pushing too far into the scary territory. Ricardo likened it to Halloween. “Halloween is scary, but it’s fun at the same time. And that was kind of our our filter or lens… let’s make it feel like Halloween. So it could be scary, but mostly you’re having fun.”

A big thank you to Bethesda ANZ for allowing us to go hands-on with the game and of course to Creative Director Ricardo Bare for sharing further insights. Personally I walked away from the experience simply more intrigued and excited for what Redfall can bring. Are my hesitations completely alleviated? No. But there’s a faith in Arkane I’m expecting to be upheld once Redfall releases in full on May 2nd for PC and Xbox Series X|S.