Redfall Hands On Preview: Looter-Shooter Multiplayer Dishonored

Earlier this year, Bethesda finally announced that the upcoming game by Arkane Austin, Redfall, will be released on 2 May of this year. The announcement of said release date happened during the Xbox & Bethesda Developer_Direct stream, which also showed a 10-minute gameplay trailer. This was the trailer that showed a lot more clearly that the game was not going to be a horde survival shooter. I’ve since had the opportunity to try out an early build of the game at Bethesda’s Australia office in Sydney, and here are my thoughts on the game from the little that I’ve played.

Before I go into the details, it’s probably important to reiterate a few things that Bethesda told us who were there for the preview. To start, it’s an early build of the game. Bugs and glitches aside, this still means that there can be minor changes from the playtest session to the actual product that’s launching in May. The section we got to play was about 30% into the main story, according to the publisher, but the story bits aside, we were free to try all four of the playable characters, and were allowed a small degree of flexibility when it came to their early game skill builds.

Redfall Combat
Source: Bethesda.

We should also mention that Bethesda did not allow for any form of capture on our end. Instead, the publisher provided us with a few screenshots that would be more or less representative of our experience with the preview. With that out of the way, let’s start with what Redfall feels like to play.

Definitely Not A Horde Shooter

As per the title I’ve chosen, playing Redfall feels a bit like playing a looter-shooter multiplayer Dishonored. The aforementioned trailer has shown as much, and the game feeling this way is no real surprise considering the developer behind the game.

While there are a fair number of enemies scattered around the map, they definitely don’t come in hordes nor do they spawn out of nowhere. More often than not, you have the human enemies manning checkpoints along certain roads, with or without vampires sprinkled amongst them. If you’re hunting down vampires instead, you’re more likely to find them holed up in houses that they’ve turned into dens instead.

Source: Bethesda.

For the most part, unless it’s part of the story progression, or to lure out a specific boss, engagements are quite optional. Depending on the character you pick, you can either sneak around or straight past them.

Stealth Could Be So Much More

Which brings me to the first problem I have with Redfall: the state of the game when I played it. Stealth as a mechanic feels a bit underdeveloped. On one hand, it’s useful when the mechanic is used defensively, such as when you just want to get from one place to another without taking damage or wasting ammo. But on the flip side, you don’t get any offensive advantage from it. For instance, you don’t get to deal massive damage in a sneak attack if you creep your way up to an unsuspecting enemy.

Another issue that can be a bit disruptive to gameplay is the stake mechanic. As popular depictions of vampires dictate, vampires don’t really die unless you stab a stake through their hearts. And for that to happen, you’ll need to swap to the weapon which has the stake attached to it like a bayonet, and then hit the melee button. Doing just the melee button will see your character punch the enemy in front, which has its uses, but does absolutely nothing to an already downed vampire waiting for the finishing blow.

Redfall Layla stake attack
Source: Bethesda.

Despite these issues, the general gameplay loop is fun in ways that you expect a looter-shooter to be. The gunplay feels great and satisfying, from the sounds of the guns to their simulated recoil. Enemies deal pretty significant amounts of damage, but so do you, and most encounters are nothing you can’t deal with if you’re smart about taking cover. At least, this is true for the default difficulty setting.

During the playtest session I didn’t see any enemy drop new weapons, but there were a fair few tucked away in chests. And while we were provided a save file with each character being equipped with weapons that fit their archetype, there are no limitations as to who can wield what type of gun. So, you can always pick your favourite character and use your favourite gun class, whichever combination that may be.

On the technical side of things, the game appears to be in a pretty good state. While Bethesda has yet to provide us with the specs sheet of the rig that was running the early build of Redfall, the game ran smoothly in 4K. The fps counter was not on, and I struggle to tell the difference once it goes above 60 fps anyway, but I can say for sure that at no point did I experience any egregious frame dips, which is always a good sign. Details were fine for the art style that the game was going for, which is good enough for me.

Redfall Layla Umbrella
Source: Bethesda.

The playtest session was only 90 minutes, and we were only expected to clear that one story mission the save file progression was at. So that’s what I did, and used the remaining time I had to try out more characters. With that being the case, it’s difficult to judge the narrative quality of the game as a whole. The segment that I did get to play through was fine, and it gives the impression that it will be done better than other looter-shooters out there. That being said, it probably won’t be setting any new standards in video game storytelling.

Unfortunately, We Only Got The Solo Experience

Also, Bethesda set us up to play this early build of Redfall solo, so team mechanics were not something that we were able to explore. With that in mind, we get to the four playable characters.

The one I tried first to clear that story segment, and ended up spending the most time with, is Jacob Boyer. You’ll probably recognise him from the trailers as the sniper guy. His two skills are Raven and Cloak, with Heartstopper being his Ultimate. Cloak is self-explanatory, but can be upgraded with skill points to that he grants invisibility to the rest of the team, as well as making it so that attacks don’t immediately break invisibility. But because stealth is not offensively useful, this feels more like a panic button than an initiation tool when you’re playing alone. Things might be different in team play, but I can’t really comment on that yet.

Redfall Jacob Raven
Source: Bethesda.

The Raven serves as a scout that marks nearby enemies. Pressing the skill button sends it flying forward, but holding the skill down makes it perch on your arm for as long as you keep the button held down. Either way though, without upgrades, the marking radius is pretty small, and is really only useful for checking if there’s anyone behind the wall in front of you. The Heartstopper is a spectral sniper rifle that snaps to the nearest head when you aim. It’s powerful, but as with the regular sniper rifle in the game, ammo is limited. Honestly, you may as well spend them all, as when the duration of the ability runs out, all the ammo you have left is gone. Ultimates also seem to only recharge when killing vampires, so yeah, I was definitely using it wisely.

Next in line was Remedios “Remi” De La Rosa, another ex-military character, with her skills being C4 Charge, Siren and her Ultimate being Mobilise. Overall, her kit makes her the best character of them all for solo play, and a must-have for every party. C4 Charge is another self-explanatory skill, but Siren is really where Remi shines. With this skill, she commands her companion robot to a location, where it then attracts the attention of all enemies in the vicinity. This allows you to walk up to distracted enemies with impunity and do whatever you please. This skill can also be modified so that enemies attacking the Siren take bonus damage from all sources.

Despite the name, Mobilise has Remy drop a beacon on the ground, and allies within its range are healed. With skill point investments, this area of effect can also be extended to the Siren robot, albeit with half the AoE. In a game where the number of healing kits you have is limited, and using one doesn’t restore you to maximum HP, having another way to heal is immensely powerful.

Source: Bethesda.

The most fun I had while playing this early build of Redfall, though, was Devinder “Dev” Crousley. His first skill, Arc Javelin, does as the name suggests – Dev throws down a javelin which then arcs electricity to enemies within range, dealing damage over time. It’s also powerful enough to kill vampires without needing the stake. Translocate sees Dev tossing a device that not only lets him teleport short distances, but leaves a portal behind so that allies can make the same short jump. The Ultimate, Blacklight is a 360-degree UV spotlight that petrifies all vampires in range. This is the caster class of the four, for those who prefer to use skills a lot, and guns a little less.

Unfortunately, my time ran out when I was about to test Layla Ellison out. So beyond what you’ve already seen from the trailers, there’s nothing much that I can add.

All in all, and judging from the early build that we got access to, Redfall feels like it can be a fun game, especially if you have a group of friends to play with. That being said, I am cautiously optimistic for now, because, among other things, the stealth mechanic needs to do more than just allow you to sneak past enemy checkpoints. The process of vampire staking also needs a quality-of-life tweak. And it remains to be seen if there’s enough time for Arkane Austin to do all that plus the usual polish before the 2 May release date.

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