So far, I wouldn’t say Redfall is a “mess”. A mess, to me, implies an excess of things that become a horrible, overwhelming tangle. Having played the vampiric FPS for a clutch of hours now, I’d say it feels more like an “absence”. Arkane’s latest strikes me as an open world shooter with a few simple strands that never seem to go anywhere. Occasionally, there are flashes of a team that – as we all know – are capable of brilliance, but Redfall has me following a path of irritation, and feeling a slight sadness for what might’ve been.
Arkane weren’t lying when they said Redfall is more akin to Far Cry than it is Left 4 Dead, as its campaign is laid out like a fairly typical open world game. You pick missions from your base (a repurposed fire station) in an attempt to bite back against a vampiric army of bloodsuckers and cultists born from a less than mysterious family business. Here are your first two absences!
Missions are presented as a series of branches, implying that, yes, you can carve your own path. But no, you must follow the main story like everyone else, it’s just that the other branches are sort of optional missions that don’t seem to lead anywhere interesting? One had me drop a pocket watch off at a gravestone. All I had to do was open my map, wander over to my marker, shoot a vampire, then plop it down. I got 800XP for my efforts, which made a blue bar go up. Granted, the gravestone ‘saga’ led to another mission, except that – I’ll avoid the most mundane of spoilers – the end result was so abrupt, I was shocked at how empty the pay off felt. I remember thinking, “Arkane developed this game, Arcane“.
I did get a new shotgun from the pocket watch quest which made bigger numbers pop out of the vampires I fought from then on, which was nice, I suppose. The loot system, as you’d expect, is Destiny-fied or Gotham Knights-ified or Suicide Squad-ified, or – you get my drift. The live service levels and rarities in Redfall promote the same inventory churn of its counterparts, in the sense that you’re forever grinding less colorful colors and lower numbers into a currency paste. The currency being “Supplies”, which you can spend on new weapons or ammo restocks.
I’m finding that having bigger numbers and brighter colors in my inventory makes me happy, not because the guns are fun to use in and of themselves, but because they cut short situations where I need to fight vampires. The vampires I’ve encountered so far have some neat designs, in the way they flit to and fro, or sit hunched over streetlamps like little goblins. But man, they are beyond irritating to fight. Not simply because they’re bullet sponges, but because they shadow-step around you all the time. I wish I could wield a big garlic paddle and not a stupid gun that requires precision. They are pests, not enemies.
Combat aside, I’ve found Arkane’s magic has surfaced here and there. The preview event I attended not long ago captured an Ed who experienced a small slice of a Redfall set piece and fell under its spell. Again, entering the distorted reality of a vampire nest is quite something, as you step through a swirling blue portal, or as you approach the grandiose Addison manor and start unpicking its dark corridors for secrets. I am confident that Arkane’s brilliance sits in focus sometimes, amidst the vague murk of its open world, live service-y elements. I hope there’s more to come as I wade through however many more hours of its map.
From what I’ve played so far, though, I’m convinced that most of the set pieces lie locked behind the game’s main missions. I mean, I’m not going out of my way to find them. That’s the thing about the open world: I’m not exploring it! If I do, I find buildings or caves with lovely interiors, but with not a whole lot in them apart from maybe some loo roll or bleach that grant me yet more supplies.
The overwhelming feeling whenever I enter a new area – however gorgeous they might be – is a sense of power. It’s not power born from my epic rarity guns I’ve got equipped, or the skill points I’ve invested in my ghostly raven companion, but a power born from a hollowness in the heads of those you fight. The AI is colossally stupid. They are so stupid, they’ve lent almost all skirmishes a shade of nonchalance. So far, I haven’t had to think about breaking and entering an enemy compound because, well, they probably don’t know how to put up a fight, anyway.
And I can’t talk about Redfall without mentioning its woeful performance on PC. James will have more to say about this later in the week, but I’m playing it at 1080p with an RTX 2070 on Medium settings, and it looks very washed out with persistent frame rate drops. Here’s hoping some future patches hit it with some much-needed optimization, but yeah… the near seven-year old Dishonored 2 looks and handles better.
One thing I’ve yet to try is co-op, but Redfall doesn’t seem to play like a co-op game. Sure, I could tackle a lot of missions with friends in tow, but co-operation isn’t encouraged. Or at least, the only reason why I’d want more friends in tow is to make swatting away the vampires a bit easier. On the one hand it’s great you can play on your lonesome just fine, but on the other, friends probably won’t change the core experience.
I’ve still got a bit more Redfall to play, but so far, it’s an open world FPS which doesn’t feel fully formed. I don’t have much hope that my own fully formed opinions will differ, to be honest, but stay tuned for those. I better go back to it.