'Redfall' review: Good enough for Game Pass
This isn't early access, but it sure feels like it.
Redfall is not fit for public consumption. It may not give you salmonella, but Arkane Austin’s vampire-infused world is unpolished, underpopulated and littered with glitches. From the jump, there are signs the game would’ve benefited from another delay before launch day. That’s not to say Redfall is a bad game filled with terrible ideas, but in its current form, it’s difficult to see the brilliance among the bugs.
Redfall is an open-world first-person loot shooter in the vein of Borderlands, but with a bunch of vampires and cultists instead of bandits, and set in a picturesque fictional town off the coast of Massachusetts rather than an arid wasteland. It has four playable characters, each with a magical skill set powered by pesky local pharmaceutical experiments.
The characters represent a bright spot in the game, so let’s start with the good stuff. I primarily played as Layla, a student whose special abilities include a glowing purple umbrella that soaks up bullets and a psychic elevator that propels friends and foes into the sky. Her final ability summons her former boyfriend, a ghostly vampire who shows up to pull focus and deal damage (typical ex behavior). I also spent some time with Remi, a support-class character with an adorable robot dog. Each character has a skill tree with a few dozen upgrade slots, plus a backpack that can be stuffed full of firearms, and three guns equipped at any time.
Running in Redfall is incredibly satisfying, and this is crucial, considering a large portion of the game is spent exploring neighborhoods on foot. The run mechanic feels like gliding, providing a significant and immediate speed boost that never feels too slow.
The actual town of Redfall is charming. The campaign is spread across two maps, a suburban center and a historic district, each with a distinct vibe. While this is definitely not Prey or Dishonored, Arkane’s DNA runs through Redfall, and the map contains a variety of locales sprinkled with world-building lore — abandoned churches and homes, lootable shops, spooky mansions, hiking trails, farmland, an amusement park.
Missions are structured to slowly reveal new areas of the map, and along the way there are safe houses to unlock, side stories to uncover and special vampires to vanquish. A highlight is clearing vampire nests, which teleport you to twisted versions of the town, providing a welcome break from the idyllic landscapes. All told, Redfall is a neat place to explore. I just wish it didn’t feel so empty.
Here’s where things start to fall apart. Redfall’s entire world feels dead, and not in the on-brand, reanimated corpse type of way. There are long stretches of road and entire neighborhoods without enemies or points of interest, and groups of cultists and vampires are often incredibly easy to spot. Combine this with shockingly dumb enemy AI and an oppressive amount of aim assist, and most basic encounters end after a smattering of bullets and little tension. There are always plenty of shinies to collect, at least.
I played on an Xbox Series S and PC, and experienced numerous bugs and crashes, particularly on the Xbox version. The game is limited to 30 fps at launch on both Series S and X, and suffers immensely because of it, with heavy-handed motion blur barely smoothing out the judders. Playing with a gamepad on Xbox is especially jarring — hefty aim assist mixes with a significant dead zone to create an unpleasant, weirdly imprecise shooting experience. I was able to tweak things to make it bearable, but basic gunplay in Redfall feels bad.
And then there are the bugs. Prompts to talk to people or read notes often fail; environments pop in with half-loaded textures; framerate drops result in stop-motion animations; sniper rifle scopes break completely; the game fully crashes. In 15 hours with Redfall, my game crashed three times. Arkane says it’s addressing a handful of known crash areas with the game’s day 0 patch, so hopefully these are cleared up for prime time.
While you can technically tackle Redfall solo, the game was clearly designed to be played with a team. Characters’ abilities dovetail cleanly, and wandering the town is way more fun with a teammate. Once I started playing with a friend, the game made more sense, with strategy talk and shared curiosity filling those long, empty stretches of road, adding intrigue to easy shots. However, co-op also introduced fresh glitches, including floating character models and choppy collision physics.
As a feature-complete AAA experience with a price tag of $70, Redfall is a massive disappointment. However, that’s not how most people are going to play — Arkane is a subsidiary of Xbox Game Studios, and Redfall will be available to Game Pass subscribers on PC and console, day-one and at no extra charge. The barrier to entering Redfall is low and this might be its saving grace, allowing developers to continually update the game while thousands of playtesters provide live feedback. Hell, that might even be the plan.
Right now, Redfall makes sense as an early access game. It’s a mess, but it’s still largely playable; Redfall’s core loop is actually thrilling when all the mechanics line up correctly, but the details need attention. The early access process is a crucial tool for developers, especially when it comes to online experiences, and there are pipelines for works in progress on every major platform, including Xbox. Redfall feels like a work-in-progress.
But in reality, Arkane and Xbox aren’t pitching Redfall as an early access game. They’re calling it a finished product and they’re charging $70 — or at least one month of Game Pass, set to automatically renew — for the privilege of playing its glitchy, imprecise missions.
It’s all reminiscent of Sea of Thieves, the original “day one on Game Pass” title. When it came out in 2018, Sea of Thieves was roundly criticized for feeling unfinished, lacking direction and being light on actual content. With years of updates and a consistent presence on Game Pass, Sea of Thieves stabilized, nurtured its player base, and eventually picked up a BAFTA award in the evolving game category in 2021. Its ninth season rolled out in March.
Redfall could easily follow a similar path. The game has good bones, and it could evolve into an engaging co-op shooter with plenty of room for replayability and expansions — Left 4 Dead for the Twilight generation; Borderlands meets What We Do in the Shadows; small-scale Destiny with a Stranger Things typeface. There’s room for Redfall, but only if Microsoft gives Arkane the runway to save it.
Redfall is less ambitious than Sea of Thieves, and it really shouldn’t be in this poor shape: Arkane Austin has plenty of experience crafting AAA first-person shooters, and Redfall is a traditional loot shooter with online play. Nothing in this game falls outside of Arkane’s or Xbox’s capabilities, and personally, I’m interested to see how it shapes up over time.
That doesn't make Redfall's launch state feel any less shady. If Xbox plans to use Game Pass as an early access hub, then the terms need to be clear. And if Xbox wants to release games that aren't ready for retail, then potential players deserve to know when they're spending $70 on potential, and potential alone.