Redfall preview: an open world vampire shooter with character

Redfall preview

Filled with supernatural vampire-hunting action, Redfall promises to be riotous multiplayer fun, even though its open world trappings make solo adventuring somewhat lonely.

As part of a recent preview event hosted by Bethesda ANZ, local media and content creators recently experienced firsthand a snippet of Arkane’s latest game. Less an immersive sim you’ve come to expect from the studio, and more of an open world first-person shooter RPG, Redfall refreshingly subverts some genre conventions with its hero-based gameplay. However, it doesn’t appear to be entirely free of open world bloat.

Albeit playing a pre-release build – and a small section, at that – the preview showed enough to get excited for. Its moment-to-moment gameplay feels great, off the back of diverse character abilities and Dishonored-like freedom to improvise. Even from just playing as one of the four available characters, it’s clear that teaming up with others will net the most enjoyment. Other than banishing vampires back to the shadow realm, Redfall is a game about complementing abilities and weapon loadouts to cause the most carnage.

Setting the scene

Made by Arkane Austin, Redfall takes place in a fictional Massachusetts island town where vampires have blocked out the sun. In the process, the menacing beings of the night locked down the island – no one can get in or out. As if things weren’t bad enough, vampire-worshipping cultists also make life miserable for survivors. Fortunately for you, among these survivors are several talented individuals capable of taking down the ghouls that threaten humanity’s existence.

Playable entirely in single-player or cooperatively with up to four players online, Redfall gives you four heroes to choose from. Each character possesses unique abilities unlocked by levelling up as you complete missions and kill vampires. Unfortunately, this 90-minute preview session only included single-player, so no teaming up for multiplayer mayhem.

During the preview, I played as Remedios “Remi” De La Rosa, a combat engineer who wields C4 explosives and a robot companion to destroy and distract foes. Even without playing as any of the other three heroes, I could see plenty of variety on offer: the telekinesis user Layla Ellison is high on my list the next time I play.

Redfall preview Remi
Image: Bethesda.

As part of the vertical slice presented in the preview, I started roughly a third of the way through the game at a fire station repurposed to be a base of operations for survivors. This serves as a hub where you check in with other characters, restock supplies, and obtain quests. At this stage, Remi was level seven, with multiple abilities and upgrades ready to experiment with. From here, I was directed to Addison Mansion, where a scientist experimented on himself, transforming into a powerful monster. Outside of the main quest mission, I was free to explore a decent section of Redfall’s large map.

Vampire hunting

After only a few minutes of gameplay, it’s readily apparent that you’re playing an open world game. There are plenty of enemies deliberately spaced out at regular intervals, side missions quickly rack up, and there’s no shortage of loot to collect and fast-travel safehouses to unlock – fairly standard fare. What matters is how Redfall uses these well-worn elements to create an interesting experience.

Fortunately, Arkane Austin’s take on a more expansive world is, at first glance, highly engaging. With Remi, I quickly grew fond of using her robot’s siren ability to lure enemies away, and then sneaking up to meet them from behind with a shotgun. Or an explosive C4 charge. Both seemed to work equally well. Making the combat more interesting is the degree of verticality in the level design – a signature Arkane trait. You can clamber over rooftops, fight your way through multi-storey buildings, and approach encounters from multiple angles to suit your playstyle.

Redfall preview stake attack
There are plenty of opportunities to drive a metaphorical and literal stake through the heart of Redfall’s vampires. Image: supplied.

Enemy variety also keeps you on your toes; in just over an hour, I encountered vampires, gun-toting cultists, and plenty of other putrid opponents. One such disgusting creature came in the form of Bloodbags. As its name suggests, they’re swollen, pulsating, gross bags of meat that explode into a bloody mess of viscera, damaging a wide area. Most of the vampire variants are fast, agile adversaries, forcing you to regularly readjust your positioning. On more than one occasion, I dodged several vamps, only to march directly into the not-so-warm embrace of a Bloodbag. I hate those things with a passion.

In situations like these, it’s easy to die if you’re not prepared. I died several times after underestimating squads of enemies or not using Remi’s abilities strategically. Curious as to whether playing with more people made Redfall easier or harder, I asked the developers what their approach was. In response, they clarified that three factors influence the multiplayer difficulty: the difficulty level selected in the game options, the host player’s character level, and the number of players in the party. So, the more players and the deeper into the game you are, it’ll make things more challenging in return.

How spooky is Redfall?

I’ll be honest: I have a low tolerance for horror. I frighten easily and detest jump scares, so many games in the genre aren’t for me, unfortunately. I’m glad to report that while Redfall has spooky vibes out of the wazoo, it’s not a scare-filled game, per se. Its excellent sound design builds up tension and makes you squirm thanks to all sorts of unholy sounds made by the abominations you face. This is only to unnerve you, however, not to spook you into a new pair of underwear.

One surprising sensation I did experience during the Redfall preview was loneliness. As a single-player experience, there are moments of sparseness between objectives and points of interest. A few enemies here, an abandoned building there: not every moment is heart-pounding action or intriguing narrative reveals. Thematically, it’s appropriate for the narrative, given that vampires have wiped countless people out and scared nearly everyone else into hiding. It does seemingly highlight how much Redfall is made for multiplayer. Aside from teaming up and keeping each other alive, the company of friends would undoubtedly get you through momentary lulls.

Another slight area of concern surrounds some of the RPG and looting mechanics. Loot is everywhere you look, ranging from health pickups and supplies to weapons with different stats. Although you can regularly swap out weapons to optimise your build based on what has marginally better numbers, it’s fortunately not as big of a focus as dedicated looter shooters like Destiny and The Division. This comes down to the powerful and diverse abilities each character wields, meaning you spend more time actually playing than rifling through inventory menus. It’s something I’ll watch closely the next opportunity I get to play, as not every game needs – or is enhanced by – arbitrary RPG numbers-go-up gameplay.

Is Redfall worth getting excited about?

Considering my enjoyment of the preview far outweighed my reservations, I’m absolutely eager to play more. If nothing else, the single-player experience has made me more excited about multiplayer. Knowing how deep each character’s ability tree is, I want to see how different combinations of heroes interact to mow down hordes of vampires.

I’m also excited about the potential for meaningful replayability. Another point I clarified with the Arkane Austin team was about how character levelling works. As it turns out, when you choose to play as a character in Redfall, that constitutes a single save slot. If you want to play as another character, you need to start a new campaign because each hero levels up independently. Additionally, when you play online co-op with others, the character you play as retains any gained experience points and loot. I’m not normally tempted by multiple playthroughs, but the chance to play as characters that use tangibly different abilities – and hang out with friends online – sounds tantalising.

Redfall preview character abilities
Even from a limited-time single-player preview build, it’s obvious that Redfall will shine when pairing abilities together in co-op. Image: supplied.

Confirmed to launch on Xbox Game Pass, Redfall will be a brilliant game for the subscription service. I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment, either; some Game Pass titles you only dive into by virtue of not having to pay full price. In Redfall’s case, it will make it far easier to play with others from launch day onwards, which promises to be the best possible way to experience it.

The true test of this vampire shooter’s staying power will be its multiplayer action. At best, Redfall could do to open world games that the likes of Overwatch, Siege, Apex Legends, and Valorant have all done for competitive shooters. Your loadout is one thing, but what really matters is how you use each hero’s unique abilities. Instead of generic characters only personified by their equipment, Redfall wants you to connect with its cast through both gameplay and narrative.

At worst? Redfall will still be a totally competent open world shooter where you get to hit some nasties in the face.

Redfall is out on Xbox Series X|S consoles and PC on 2 May 2023.

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Chris Button travelled to a preview session in Sydney as a guest of Bethesda ANZ.