video games

Hands-on with Bethesda’s first triple-A Xbox, PC exclusive ‘Redfall’: A stake through the heart 

Gelo Gonzales
Hands-on with Bethesda’s first triple-A Xbox, PC exclusive ‘Redfall’: A stake through the heart 

Layla finishes off a vampire in Redfall with a stake attack

Image from Microsoft/Bethesda

The next big game from the studio behind 'Dishonored' and 'Prey' will have you trying to finish off vampires with a stake before they resurrect themselves

MANILA, Philippines – For a long while now, zombies have been the enemy of choice of many a videogame, pretty much overshadowing a whole host of other iconic ghouls and creatures. 

But developer Arkane Studios Austin (Dishonored, Prey) is set to shake up the monster mix this year as they and publisher Bethesda Softworks prepare to launch Redfall, an open world first-person shooter with co-op modes that has you shooting down fast-moving, bloodthirsty vampires. 

The game, launching on May 2, is huge for Microsoft as it’s the first triple-A Xbox and PC exclusive from Bethesda, since the company acquired Bethesda parent Zenimax Media back in March 2021, and maybe since Elder Scrolls III (and the lesser known Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth) came out exclusively for the original Xbox. Redfall follows Bethesda’s first game this year, the non-triple-A but critically adored Hi-Fi Rush.

It will also be a first day drop on Microsoft’s PC Game Pass in the Philippines, the company’s game subscription service priced at P119 per month, which the company had noted is one of the lowest rates for the service worldwide. 

Certainly, Microsoft is looking at Redfall as a game that would attract more PC Game Pass subscribers, as they battle it out with other platforms such as the PlayStation 5 and Steam. Talking to Rappler, the company has said that the service has been successful in the country, building a solid base of subscribers since its launch in April 2022, although they did not disclose figures. They emphasized the service is aimed at making games, including triple-A titles, more accessible cost-wise – especially at a time when a single current generation console game could cost at least P3,500. 

Redfall comes a little over a year after the service’s launch. How is it shaping up? Microsoft recently took a number of Southeast Asian journalists to Bethesda’s Asia-Pacific HQ in Sydney, Australia, for a 90-minute hands-on with the game. 

Liberation campaign
The cultists were pretty much regular joes before they fell into a YouTube rabbit hole filled with the pro-vampire propaganda. Probably. Image from Microsoft/Bethesda

Unlike the trippy time-busting adventures in Deathloop by Arkane Lyon, a different Arkane team, the premise of Arkane Austin’s Redfall takes on, at its core, a simpler goal for our heroes: vampires have taken over the fictional, island town of Redfall in Massachusetts, USA; defeat said vampires, and free the island from the vampire gods. 

And to do so, it requires taking back territory a small region at a time, by clearing safehouses in the area, from which you can respawn and resupply in case you die from a nearby mission spot. 

Without setting up the safehouses, death will be a painful experience as you’ll have to backtrack much longer for another shot at the mission. In my playthrough, the toughest parts so far are managing your ammo, as ammo seems scarce, and figuring out a way to deal with the special vampires, coming down to trial and error. 

Other than following the main mission, another challenge for players is clearing so-called vampire nests that throw waves of vampires at you as you try to find and destroy the nest’s giant vampire heart. Once you do, it’s a mad dash to find an escape before the nest collapses. 

Clear enough missions in an area, and you eventually get to fight a vampire Underboss. Defeat enough Underbosses and you eventually get a crack at one of the four Vampire Gods. 

The premise looks simpler than the more experimental structure and narrative of Deathloop, which, in a way, made it easier for me to get into the game. You’re a freedom fighter in a liberation campaign against literally bloodthirsty oppressors, in an open-world setting, which means that it’s up to you as to which areas you’ll attempt to free first. 

Finish him

My favorite gameplay dynamic is that you need to finish off vampire enemies by driving a stake through them once you whittle down their health to zero. They’ll be stunned for maybe 10 or 15 seconds, and if you aren’t able to finish them off, they’ll be back in fighting form with full health. I’ve only faced off with about 3 of them at a time, but you can see how this dynamic would make for some exciting moments if you have to deal with larger groups. 

This creates a sense of action as you try to finish them off. When you are dealing with a few other enemies simultaneously, it can get tough to finish off a vampire successfully. There’s also the option of finishing them off from a longer range with some sort of flare gun that burns them up. 

One thing that’s a little annoying is that you have to manually switch to your stake weapon when finishing them off. It might be more seamless if there’s a contextual button for those moments that automatically make you do the stake attack without having to switch weapons first. 

Jacob’s raven can serve as a scout tagging enemies, making them more visible to the player with a red outline. Image from Microsoft/Bethesda

There are human enemies as well, split into two factions: cultists supporting the vampires, and a faction of paramilitary soldiers. These factions end up fighting one another at times, which you can take advantage of. 

It’s satisfying to land headshots on the human enemies, with a big red damage number popping up when you do so. 

On a technical note, I experienced a few crashes during my playthrough, but the other guys had a smooth time. They did note before our session that we were going to play an early preview build so there may be some technical glitches.

All throughout the game, there’s also a meter that fills up when you kill vampires, and a message saying that the Vampire Gods are watching you (perhaps when you reach a certain level in the meter). Fill it up, and the Gods send a special vampire called The Rook, a hulking beast, after you. I wasn’t able to fill up the meter though so I didn’t get to see him. It kind of reminds me of Resident Evil’s Tyrant. 

Small-town feel
The whole vampire situation was just a cover-up for the real criminal masterplan: stealing all the people’s TVs. Image from Microsoft/Bethesda

The setting of the game is suburban America – quaint houses and all, and the usual community buildings. It’s an intimate, more personal setting that makes you feel like you’re saving a community worth saving. You’ll encounter survivors throughout the game that provide sidequests – small-town requests, except not because hello, it’s vampires all the way down. 

The studio has stressed that they really wanted to go for a lived-in look for the community, and that applies to rooms, spaces, and buildings. Arkane games have always had a strong personality, so it would be interesting to see how this carries over in a setting that they’ve described as the biggest they’ve done. 

Like Deathloop though, part of the fun is solving and piecing together the mystery of what the hell is going on (or in this case, how the vampires came to be, and how they were able to block out the sun) through missions, and other objects like recordings and notes scattered throughout the game. 

Meet your ghostbusters 

Redfall has four heroes – a sniper that turns invisible, a paranormal investigator with a teleportation device, a combat engineer with a robot pal that can distract enemies, and a university student with a huge student debt who also happens to have the special ability of making magical elevators appear that can take her and her teammates to higher places. 

We’ve only been able to play one – Layla, the university student – but based on her, they’ve got some great personality…which means, witty quips here and there. They’re like the Ghostbusters, except it’s vampires they’re busting. And there’s that bit of an oddball flavor with the characters, which I noticed in Deathloop too, and somehow that makes them feel a little bit more real. It always cracks me up a little bit that promotional materials for the game harp on Layla being deep in student debt, as if that were extremely integral to the whole save-the-neighborhood-from-vampires jig.

A magic umbrella would certainly be handy during the rainy season. Image from Microsoft/Bethesda

At least two of the skills I saw reminded me of skills in Apex Legends – a game which I, for good or bad, reference endlessly: Layla’s elevator skill and Devinder the investigator’s teleportation.

There’s a co-op mode where up to 3 other players can join the host (we haven’t been able to try it out though), and help them out with missions. What’s great is that all the other players can spread out to any corner of the map without any sort of tethering to one another. So basically they can goof around and do mostly whatever they want, and then regroup when they want to do a mission together. 

What we’re looking forward to 

I would have loved to get to try out more of the guns, and the other characters as well, and their skills to see if they’ve made something cool and fresh. I want to see just how much of a threat the Rook is, and try out a vampire nest run myself. The designs of the Vampire Gods are looking gnarly as well, and story-wise, what’s intrigued me is how this whole vampire apocalypse started. We’re used to seeing how a zombie mess starts, but not often vampires. There’s some cult stuff and some science stuff going on, and it’ll be great to unpack that, as we get immersed in the quest to take back Redfall. 

It’s great to see this as a PC Game Pass release too, as that bodes well for building a solid player base for multiplayer. The more people that can play it, the better its chances of building a lively community – the lifeblood of multiplayer shooters. It’s especially interesting to see how Philippine gamers would receive it, considering we’re big on Valorant, which Microsoft said is among the top games played on PC Game Pass.

We’ll see how it all comes together on May 2 when the game comes out, and we’re looking out for just how Arkane’s signature storytelling, endearing characters and interesting villains mesh with open-world elements, squad shooting action, and a, so far, satisfying stake mechanic. I’ve been itching for a fairly unique shooter with multiplayer modes (I’ve exhausted myself with Apex, and haven’t been able to get into Valorant or Back 4 Blood) so this one is certainly making a big blip on my radar. –

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.