The first time we visit the Firehouse—our first safehouse—in Arkane Studios’ Redfall, Reverend Eva Crescente (one of the game’s NPCs) has a text open on her bookstand. The book is a modern English translation of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. Redfall doesn’t give us the entire text, but rather a telling excerpt on love and pain. It reads:
“And for the tender love that our good Lord hath to all that shall be saved, He comforteth readily and sweetly, signifying thus: It is sooth that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner [of] thing shall be well. These words were said full tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any that shall be saved.”
The Julian quote feels like a bit of a wink to the player. Since its release, we now know that Redfall struggled in its development. Arkane even comments on that struggle in the game’s credits. There, the team notes that despite “the Pandemic, global upheaval, and a once in a century ice storm that shut down Austin, TX for a couple of weeks” the studio put its collective heart and soul into Redfall. Arkane Austin ends the statement: “We hope that you love REDFALL as much as we do.”
The emphasis on love—that of the developer and that of the desired players—makes the Julian quote from Eva’s bookstand even more resonant. Redfall is a product of pain, in pain. The quote pulled from Julian’s text within the world of Redfall carries a multitude of “pain”: the pain of disappointment, the pain of development during a global pandemic and climate catastrophe, and the pain that Redfall the town is suffering under a vampire infestation. The quote also feels like a bit of a promise for things to come.
A Painful Disappointment
To say Redfall was poorly received would be an understatement. The game is a marked low point in Arkane Studios’ incredible game catalog, which includes the genre-defining Dishonored series, the acclaimed Prey (2017), and the stylish Deathloop. Redfall’s critical reception, and the ongoing conversations, have not been kind.
In a way, the conversation has been a bit cruel to the developers and the game. Let’s get it out of the way now: Redfall is a flawed game. The gunplay is unremarkable, the tasks are repetitive, and the frame rate is rarely smooth. Yet for a live-service game, these flaws hardly seem unredeemable or even particularly remarkable. We only need look as far as Marvel’s Avengers, Anthem, or Babylon’s Fall—these games were also developed by studios with excellent single-player pedigrees. In this way, Redfall feels more like a disappointment for Arkane fans than an outright failure.
A Town Worth Loving….
Redfall’s shortcomings do not entirely take away from the experience. Arkane’s professed love for Redfall shines when players explore the nooks and crannies of the fictional Massachusetts town. The trees in Redfall glow bright autumn colors against the blue and gray sky. The town’s two semi-open world hubs are filled with sites that walk the line between the eerily dreaded atmosphere of Dishonored and the small New England coastal towns from which it draws its inspiration.
The local spaces in Redfall feel like they were once lovely places to live and visit. Not quite meant to be a tourist attraction, but a small town whose inhabitants very much loved and cared for their community. Walking the streets of Redfall, I find myself believing that the Overton Theatre was once an active cultural center just as I believe that its Maritime Center and Midnight Whale Brewery were once lively spaces. The parks, streets, and alleyways of Basswood, Sedgewick, and Shadetree Heights seem like they were once-filled everyday spaces.
….Not to Mention Vampires
That isn’t to say these spaces don’t come alive. The player will likely run into at least one of three primary inhabitants: Bellwether security guards, vampire cultists, or vampires (oh my!). Interactions with the first two are mostly by-the-book encounters. Vampire confrontations, however, range from nuisance to awe-inspiring.
This range in quality is due in no small part to Redfall’s inconsistent AI. Experiences that are unremarkable one moment can become exhilarating moments later.
During the game’s first vampire encounter in the Firehouse, I was only equipped with a couple of low-level weapons. Up to this point, I had stealthily avoided the game’s early vampire cultists as they spoke about local happenings and, well, vampires. Seeing the vampire was a nice change of pace—a moment of fulfilled anticipation. Its agility was surprising. Its ability to regenerate health, more so. Finding out that I had to stake the vampire to finish the job added a welcome layer of nuance, requiring me to close the otherwise safe distances I had maintained to that point.
After several subsequent moments like this, the formula grew tired. Glitches often gave me more frustration than joy. A quick shoulder button tap made my avatar invisible which meant that even the vampire AI would forget about me.
Then I used the game’s stake gun for the first time. My partner and I gasped on the couch as it turned a vampire into ash immediately on contact. Another silver lining had been found.
The Potential for Love
From staking vampires from afar to navigating vampire nests in Outsider-like spaces, Arkane’s shooter is filled with these little silver linings. Playing with friends enhances the narrative and play experience, as the four protagonists’ backstories are filled in via the game’s cooperative “trust” system. Their stories shed light on some of the loving touches Arkane has given the world of Redfall. Moments of joy mixed with pain amid moments of frustration and disappointment.
I’m sure in six months that our conversations around Redfall will be very different. Redfall will eventually become a polished looter shooter. Arkane Austin will continue pouring love and support into the little virtual town, its locales, and its tourists. I wouldn’t be surprised if Redfall eventually develops a kind of cult following of its own.
It’ll take time for players to love Redfall as much as Arkane, but there is joy to be found in its silver linings.
Redfall is currently available on Xbox Series X/S, Game Pass, and PC.