Redfall Review – Vapid Vampire Vanquishing

Lacking life!

Redfall on Xbox Series X

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Redfall is very clearly supposed to be a co-op multiplayer experience. From the way its four characters have abilities so clearly suited to complementing roles in a multiplayer party, through to its drop-in-drop-out mission structure, there’s a sense that the open-world is more of a Vampire-riddled sandbox for you and your friends to let loose against the forces of evil with as little friction as possible, than anything more immersive. But, what if, like me, you didn’t have anyone to play Redfall with? Does the gameplay stand up in single-player? That’s what I’ll aim to answer for you in this review, but in short, it’s a blood-tinged cocktail of hits and largely misses.

The story goes a little something like this. You pick one of four main characters as you try and get to the bottom of the vampiric uprising in the city of Redfall. The sun has been blocked out and the Vampire Gods now rule over the rural lands. Standard vampires float in the air, on the lookout for the next unknowing blood-filled civilian to be sucked dry, and the Bellwether security corporation has been dropped in to fight the vampires and the human cultists that have sworn allegiance to them. As such, it’s down to you to go about the world, piecing together exactly how these vampire gods came to be and taking them down one by one.

In order to achieve this, you’ll need to figure out who their former selves were before they became blood-sucking beasties, and obtain a relic of their past. This largely forms the basis of most of the main missions, but alongside those you’ll need to take down the Vampire Underbosses by claiming safehouses dotted throughout the world, completing a preliminary mission to help clear the neighborhood of the vampiric threat, and then putting the stake right through the heart of their dastardly plans by killing the underboss themselves. Slay the big bad of the area and you’ll claim their skull. Gather three of these, and the aforementioned Vampire God relic and you’ll be all set to take them on in an epic boss battle.

The main story of Redfall is told through comic-book-like screenshots, compiled together to make short but sweet cutscenes as you begin each mission from your main HQ. These ooze style, but they also left me a little underwhelmed. Missions start by choosing one from the mission board, and end abruptly, clearly in order to accommodate drop-in-drop-out multiplayer sessions. But this is supposed to be one of Microsoft’s major first-party exclusives for 2023, and the presentation and the lackluster focus on story resulted in the whole experience feel a fair few steps behind Sony’s wealth of epic blockbuster exclusives. Even if it is intended, I’d found myself hoping for a little more.

While I found myself struggling to care for the moment-to-moment story in Redfall for the most part, the backstories of each Vampire God are interesting enough. In fact, I found myself wanting a little more from them. These are some seriously corrupt and cruel people, and their backstories are largely summed up in a few ‘spirit echoes’ — outlines of past conversations taking place within a spiritual world. Each of these echoes only last a few minutes, and so a whole person’s motives for succumbing to the bloodthirst that plagues Redfall is more or less surmised in less than 10 minutes. These are the big bads who have made major life choices to forego the life of a mere mortal to become corrupt, albeit all-powerful vampires. A little more screen time would have really helped to bring them to life, before you ended it for good.

Image Source: Bethesda Softworks

As you progress through the story, various NPCs hurled up in your HQ will occasionally ask you to do them rather menial side quests that are rarely anything more than dressed-up fetch quests. The issue is that the safehouse missions — which you’ll need to complete at least nine of to get enough Underboss Skulls to take on the bosses — end up being the same three mission types recycled over and over again. This is a pretty persistent issue in Redfall. It may have been due to the short amount of time I’ve had with the game in order to play through it prior to the review embargo, but everything got a little samey towards the end and I found myself desperate for a new challenge to help break up the monotony.

It doesn’t help that there’s just not a whole lot going on in the world. I mean, sure, there’s a vampiric takeover of the place, but the world feels incredibly empty for the most part. Aside from the safehouses and a few key locations, a large percentage of the buildings that line the streets can’t be entered, and other than the handful of side quests from the NPCs hiding in your HQs there’s little else to do within the world. The buildings that you can explore the interior of, though, are littered with relics of a bygone era. A simpler, less blood-fueled time, while notes and letters left on tables, beds and kitchen counters help flesh out the lore of the world, detailing the desperate final moments of the occupants.

Initially, there is a sense of tension as you wander the lonely streets. You’ll hear the screams and mutterings of vampires, the squelching of flesh as they feast on their latest victim. But once I took on the Rook — an absolute tank of a vampire summoned by the Gods after you’ve suitably pissed them off enough — and acquired an insanely powerful weapon, most encounters became a breeze.

It was at this moment that the gameplay took a bit of a turn. Challenging encounters with vampires largely became a walk in the park. Enemies are just too sparsely distributed throughout the world, and with little of interest to distract you from the beaten path, you’ll likely find yourself making a beeline from objective to objective, and making very liberal use of the fast travel points you unlock as you explore the world.

Vampire Nests pop up from time to time which task you with entering an otherworldly place, destroying the enormous heart inside, looting it of any weapons tucked away within its various chambers and escaping before time runs out, but even these get tiresome to take care of. And if you don’t, their area of influence in the open world will grow, causing all vampires inside them to be even more powerful which makes getting around the world that little bit trickier.

But herein lies the key issue I faced during my time playing through Redfall solo. Despite being playable in both single and multiplayer, it feels as though it’s an experience very much skewed towards the latter. Vampire Nests wouldn’t feel as much of a chore when you’ve got a few other friends helping you blast through them. The emptiness of the world wouldn’t be as problematic if you were chatting away with your friends. The co-op specific abilities for each character wouldn’t be absolutely pointless unlocking. The game’s bizarre choice to assign your ‘heal’ to holding down on the d-pad wouldn’t be as infuriating if you had teammates gunning down the vampires chasing after you, so you’re not weirdly crossing your hands over to keep moving as you heal. And even then, the speed you move while healing isn’t enough to escape the sprightly, bloodthirsty buggers.

Image Source: Bethesda Softworks

Despite these gripes with repetitive mission structure, I’ve still had some fun in the 20 hours it’s taken me to complete Redfall, and that’s all thanks to the combat. Arkane Studios know how to create a satisfying shooter, and that prowess is certainly on show here. Each weapon type at your disposal feels unique and lends itself to specific combat scenarios. From the perfectly punchy-feeling Stake Launcher that can tear through vampires in a single shot, down to the epic Assault Rifle that carried me through most of the story, I always felt suitably equipped to take on whatever fanged foe the game threw at me.

There’s plenty of them, too. Watchers perch themselves on the corners of building rooftops, constantly on the lookout for you, and can deal huge amounts of damage with sniper-like shots. Shrouds surround you with a dark veil, preventing you from seeing more than a couple of meters in each direction, creating the perfect environment for its allies to ambush you as you try and hunt it down. Anglers harpoon you, dragging you in before sinking their fangs into you and taking enormous chunks out of your health bar, and the aforementioned Rook will charge you down relentlessly until you’re nothing more than a bloody pulp on the floor.

As such, it’s important to make good use of the various weapons in your arsenal to your advantage. Keeping your distance from Anglers and Watchers tends to be best practice, so a Sniper or Stake Launcher is the order of the day. Standard Vampires that sprint towards you to slash at you up close and personal can be frozen where they stand with a blast from your UV Beam. Managing all of these weapons can be a bit of a nuisance, though. You can only have three selected to rotate between at a time, meaning that during longer missions with various combat scenarios you’ll be frantically hopping into menus to change them up. This wouldn’t be a problem, if opening the menus paused the gameplay, but this is an always-online game… even if you’re playing solo, so good luck with that.

There’s also only 40 slots in your inventory, and a ton of weapons littered throughout the world for you to add to your collection, so you’ll frequently be spending time salvaging old, low level weapons you no longer need in order to make room for shiny new ones.

Accompanying your guns are the supernatural abilities of each character. I’d opted for Jacob in my playthrough, a sneaky, recon-focused fella with a glowing-eyed Raven — endearingly referred to as Shithead — who could scout out enemies in my surroundings, and a cloaking ability for sneaking past enemies unnoticed. He can also summon a ghostly rifle referred to as Heartstopper. This beastly weapon automatically locks onto enemies and deals heavy damage from all ranges. For a solo run, this gave me a nice, even spread of abilities regardless of the way I wanted to approach each mission.

Combat is only let down by the somewhat dumb AI. On countless occasions, human enemies would run into a random position, often out in the open, stand still, take a second to steady themselves before unloading their weapon in my general direction. Others, despite a full-on gunfight taking place mere meters away wouldn’t engage until I got right up close or shot in their direction. Given the actual gunplay is so darn fun, these moments can detract from the thrills and excitement of the action.

I will say that the streamlined materials and ‘crafting system’ — if it can even be called that — was quite refreshing. Instead of requiring you to get certain types of material to make more ammo or healing items, everything you collect — or you salvage from your inventory — just becomes currency which can be used to buy ammo, supplies and weapons. It does mean you’ll spend a lot of your time spamming the ‘X’ button as you explore the world to pick everything up, but it ensures you don’t ever end up scouring the world for hours for one particular material to make that all-important ammo.

Redfall
Image Source: Bethesda Softworks

My time playing Redfall ended in a way that summed up my solo player annoyances, though. About 12 hours before this review went live, Arkane appeared to roll out an update, which did not immediately go live on Xbox’s servers. This resulted in the servers booting me out and not allowing me to continue playing for… hours, despite no update being available. With a bit of luck, this won’t be a long-term issue, but it’s certainly frustrating to have your gameplay session interrupted with no immediate solution, especially when solo players don’t really need to have a persistent connection to the servers.

This wasn’t the only technical issue, though. The game hard crashed to the Xbox dashboard three times, and suffered horrendous framerate drops as I drove the stake through the hearts of the Shroud Vampire type and the Vampire Gods, too. On two separate occasions, enemy health bars disappeared altogether and didn’t reappear until I exited and reloaded the game. On another, a rather irritating sound repeatedly played every three seconds until I dropped out and reloaded, and a few times Vampires would stand, staring at me, unable to move and unwilling to engage in combat. There were also a few times where the game seemed to think an invisible message was still on-screen that I couldn’t close, preventing me from crouching or using the B or menu buttons at all.

All of that’s without mentioning the rather embarrassing issue of the game lacking a ‘Performance’ 60fps mode, forcing players to play in 4K at around 30fps. While I can’t say for sure, it did seem as though the game did run above 30fps on Xbox Series X at times, but it could be that I got used to this framerate after a while. Still, for a shooter not to launch with a 60fps mode on current-gen consoles is pretty disappointing. Combined with all of the technical issues noted above, I can’t help but feel like a couple more months in the oven might have given the game the level of polish Xbox fans rightly expect from the first major first-party exclusive from the publisher in quite some time.

Redfall feels like a victim of the great, Game Pass machine. A game with heaps of style and potential that ultimately falls short in core areas like story, mission variety and technical performance. I can’t help shake the feeling development may have been rushed in order to fill a gap in the subscription service’s exclusives release schedule. It’s fun in parts and its wider potential occasionally manages to shine through, but it ultimately serves as another reminder that Microsoft’s first-party offerings still lag behind the best the industry has to offer.

Redfall
Redfall feels like a victim of the great, Game Pass machine. A game with heaps of style and potential that ultimately falls short in core areas like story, mission variety and technical performance. I can't help shake the feeling development may have been rushed in order to fill a gap in the subscription service's exclusives release schedule. It's fun in parts and its wider potential occasionally manages to shine through, but it ultimately serves as another reminder that Microsoft's first-party offerings still lag behind the best the industry has to offer.
Pros
  • Gunplay is enjoyable, but gets a little too easy after a while.
  • Various vampire types help to keep things fresh.
  • Drop-in-drop-out format good for multiplayer.
Cons
  • World feels largely lifeless and empty.
  • Repetitive mission types.
  • Countless performance and technical issues.
  • Story feels a little lacking.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on Xbox Series X|S, PC.

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Author
Chris Jecks
Chris Jecks has been covering the games industry for over eight years. He typically covers new releases, FIFA, Fortnite, any good shooters, and loves nothing more than a good Pro Clubs session with the lads. Chris has a History degree from the University of Central Lancashire. He spends his days eagerly awaiting the release of BioShock 4.