Redfall One Year Later – Is Arkane’s Disastrous Shooter Any Better Now?

I am of the strong opinion that Dishonored, Dishonored 2, and Prey (2017) are three of the greatest games ever made. While Deathloop wasn’t my Game of the Year in 2021, I still loved it and was thoroughly impressed by how fun it was to play. In fact, just over a year ago, I would have sworn up and down Arkane Studios could do no wrong, that they were the most talented studio in the world. On May 2, 2023, I was proven terribly, terribly wrong.

Many of you likely remember the disastrous launch of Arkane Austin’s co-op shooter Redfall last year. With just two gameplay showcases and a concept trailer, and lots of questions floating around about what kind of game Redfall actually was, I held my breath, hoping that Arkane had pulled off something amazing. I remember thinking during the announcement in 2021 “how could an immersive sim possibly work in co-op?” The answer, unfortunately, was “it doesn’t.”

Redfall 2
Arkane has always excelled at art design, and now that the game isn’t crashing every 20 minutes I can really admire it.

After firing up Redfall on launch day (which mercifully launched on PC Game Pass), I made it just about three hours in before clicking uninstall and crawling into bed. I could not believe what I had experienced. Although Redfall was full of game-breaking bugs, glitchy to Pokemon levels, and crashing constantly, none of that stuff was what hurt me as a diehard fan of Arkane Studios and their trademark immersive sims. What hurt me so deeply is that there was no trace of personality to be found in Redfall, Massachusetts. My brain absolutely short-circuited. This was the most uninspired, mediocre, cobbled together shooter I had ever played. It’s certainly not the worst AAA game I’ve ever touched, or really even close. It’s just… blah.

 How did the same team that made Prey, one of the most incredible, unique games ever, and subsequently Mooncrash, the best DLC of all time, spend five years creating this thing in front of me? Something any for-hire developer in the world could have crapped out in two years? Industry insider Jason Schreier has the full answer, but I’ll sum it up here: awful mismanagement trends and a toxic work environment from both Arkane Austin execs and studio owner Zenimax Media led to over 70% of the staff that made Prey departing the studio early in Redfall‘s development. The answer was simple. How did the same team that made Prey make the most uninspired, derivative, half-assed live-service schlock I’d seen in years? They didn’t.

Redfall 1
Character designs are somewhere between the style of Dishonored and Deathloop, and while they look great none of the characters are memorable.

While there have been other huge success stories of games that launched in a ludicrously bad state, such as Cyberpunk 2077, No Man’s Sky, and most recently Fallout 76, I immediately knew just a few hours in that Redfall was not worth saving. Sure, they could spend a year or two polishing it up, working out the numerous bugs, adding the 60 FPS mode to consoles and improving PC performance. But to what end? The problem Redfall suffered was deeper than its many technical issues: there was no part of it that was fun to play. There was no amount of patches, DLC characters, and hotfixes that would change that.

So, it’s a year later. We’re all a year older and wiser, maybe a little more wary of pre-orders. Probably not. Well, you can go ahead and send me your Thank-You cards, because I logged into Redfall today to replay the first three hours of the game and see how it compares to what I experienced one year ago. Redfall has indeed undergone numerous fixes and patches and overhauls, with tons of new weapons and items over the past year. In fact, it runs great. Lots of options of PC, feels great to control, looks beautiful. On ultra settings in 1440p 60 FPS on an RTX 4070 and an i9-12900K CPU, it’s smooth as butter.  Unfortunately, now I know I was correct. Redfall was not worth saving.

Redfall 4
The coloration is gorgeous, and the lighting systems are great at showcasing this empty, boring world.

It was hard to describe what kind of game Redfall was a year ago, and it’s equally as difficult now. It can be played only online, even in single player, which I very much take issue with. You can log into each session either solo or with up to three friends, each controlling one of four heroes, each with a different personality, set of powers, and playstyle. Layla is a playful grad student with supernatural powers somewhat reminiscent of Arkane’s other games; Jacob is a no-nonsense veteran who can control a spectral raven; Devinder is a goofy cryptozoologist with a slew of wacky inventions; and Remi is a one track-minded Navy officer who loves making things explode.

On the surface, these characters sound fun, and they sound like they should work. They do, sometimes. Unfortunately there really aren’t any NPCs wandering the world outside of cultists and vampires that are immediately hostile. Back at the Fire Station, which serves as home base between missions, there are a few characters to get to know and through them the player characters get a few moments to shine. But those moments are few and far between. While Redfall features excellent voice acting all around, it just brings the biggest issue to the forefront: this world is empty, quiet, and dead in the worst ways. If you don’t play with a group, these characters never interact with each other, and seeing as there’s currently 45 people playing on Steam, I don’t see that being a common occurrence.

Redfall 3
Come on Terrence, where do you keep the good stuff?

Wandering around the massive and beautiful town of Redfall, MA, there are basically two ways to interact with the world. First, kill some vampires or cultists. Second, walk around. That’s about all. There are pockets of vampires and cultists scattered around, and you can either sneak by them or engage in combat. There’s no way to stealthily kill, so you’re engaging in open combat whether you sneak or not. This kind of makes sneaking pointless, which is even more criminal coming from the makers of Dishonored. There are a few giant red barrels of TNT around, so you can blow things up from a distance, but that’s about as close to an immersive sim as Redfall gets. This game is nothing more and nothing less than an open world shooter devoid of anything but combat. Imagine if Far Cry had next to no NPCs, no stealth, and no charismatic villain taunting you over the radio – now you have Redfall. But hey, the music is actually pretty great. I’d call it Halloween Hip-Hop if I had to lock it into a genre.

I suppose that now that the technical issues are all fixed, the mediocre design of Redfall really has a chance to shine. It is an okay first-person shooter with repetitive quests, an empty world,  good gunplay, beautiful artwork, a lack of interesting characters, and no sense of progression. The skill upgrades and XP do little to make the player feel like they’re actually doing anything, and the barebones story that is intended to be held up by playing with friends isn’t very engaging solo.  The world doesn’t feel like it is reacting in any way to what you do. The shooting feels nice now, but the quests themselves are just… lacking any personality. There is no heart in this game, no vision, and no soul. This was a game made by demand from corporate executives, not because a group of artists wanted to create it. Similar AAA games with giant development teams and executive committees such as Borderlands, Halo Infinite, or Far Cry have at least some heart behind them.

Sure, you could play Redfall now. It’s perfectly fine. And it’s on Game Pass, so why not? But I have to ask the very upsetting question: when we only have so many hours on this earth, and with dozens of better games in this same genre with real artistry fueling them – why would you?


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