Redfall Hands-on & Q&A – Harvey Smith Talks Length, Open World Challenges, and Differences with Previous Games


Arkane Studios is quite the unique game developer in the triple-A development scene. They’ve been known to make critically acclaimed games in niche genres like immersive simulations and continue on this path even though the sales are perhaps not as high as they would like (and as the games would deserve, I might add).

With their next game, Redfall, the Austin-based Texan branch is once again dipping its toes into something new, even though the direction is certainly a popular one these days. This will be their first open world and their first co-op multiplayer game.

I had the chance to play the game for around ninety minutes earlier this month during a preview event hosted by Bethesda in London. Let’s clarify something right away: there have been discussions on various forums and social media where Redfall was compared to games such as Left 4 Dead, Back 4 Blood, and the like.

While the preview session was limited to solo play and co-op play with three or four players will be more chaotic, as admitted by Harvey Smith himself during our one-on-one Q&A (the entire transcript of which is available below), I’m confident to say that Redfall is very different from those games. Whereas those co-op focused titles include AI bots and have only the skeleton of a narrative, Arkane’s game played solo is very immersive and strongly based on taking in all of the storytelling that the developers have disseminated throughout the island, whether of the environmental or traditional kind.

Beyond this important distinction, while playing by myself, I could definitely see that the Arkane DNA is clear in this game, albeit with a few differences. First of all, the atmosphere is top-notch, and it’s one of the reasons why I believe this game will be best enjoyed solo for the first playthrough. This may be one of the creepier games made by Arkane to date, particularly when played in a pitch-black room with headphones as we were set up in Bethesda’s headquarters.

The vampires in Redfall are not the sexy, glamorous ones seen in Twilight and countless other adaptations of vampire lore in recent years. They’re ugly, they’re nasty, and they’re terrifying in how they appear and disappear, not to mention the deranged whispers they make. Of course, that’s not to say Redfall is a horror game, but it can have a bit of that vibe when you’re sneaking through a dark mansion full of these vampires.

The game was at its best during the story mission which saw the player character entering the former house of The Hollow Man. From the looks of it, it was The Hollow Man’s experiments that turned a few power-hungry humans into vampire demigods. The mission provided a lot of insight into his motivations and the tragic story of his family.

It also served as a good reminder that the developer’s famed level design is largely retained even in this open world setting. There were many ways and paths to complete the missions, although the stealth options are a bit more limited in Redfall compared to Dishonored or Deathloop.


During the preview, we were also able to explore the world as we saw fit. Arkane wasn’t kidding about Redfall being their biggest game yet, as the game seems to include a lot more content than any of their previous titles. There are several types of side content, such as vampire nests and safe house missions where you need to unlock the safe house and then secure it in a number of ways, in addition to just the random open world encounters.

There’s also a system where if you kill too many vampires too quickly, an in-game notice reveals that the vampire gods are watching you, and an elite vampire could be sent on your heels. Those are pretty tough fights, especially as vampires cannot be simply finished off with normal rounds – you either need a special weapon or, after taking down their health, quickly drive a stake through their heart to avoid their regeneration.

When it comes to the gunplay, the game felt solid, though I missed the adaptive triggers featured in Arkane’s previous game Deathloop, which made each weapon feel unique. That’s an unfortunate downside of Bethesda’s titles now being exclusive to Xbox, whose controller doesn’t have any of those features.

For my character choice, I went with cryptozoologist Devinder Crousley, who comes with interesting tools like the Translocate device (kind of like Dishonored’s Blink, albeit more clunky) and the incredibly useful Ultraviolet light that stuns and shatters petrified vampires. Also, I should mention that Redfall has RPG elements like character levels, full-fledged skill trees, and various rarities of loot.

The preview session took place on PC (the specs of which were not shared by Bethesda). The build didn’t exactly shine on the optimization front, but there’s no telling how old it was, so it’s hard to imagine how the game will fare at launch. On PC, GeForce RTX 40 owners will be able to activate DLSS 3 at launch, though ray tracing won’t be available until some time after the release.

As mentioned above, right after the preview session, I also spoke with Arkane Austin’s Harvey Smith, the renowned game director and writer behind Deus Ex, Thief, Dishonored, Prey, and more. Smith, the creative director for Redfall, was all too happy to discuss the game at length.

This is a bit of a change for you in that you’re going towards something new. Redfall is the first open world game and the first co-op game for Arkane. How does that feel, and why is it the right time to get into this?

Well, I would say we love those games as much as you do. We love the single player, we love the immersive sim, we love the approach of tools, not weapons. We love the sort of narrative-rich environment, explore and play the game creatively, and find a different path. All of that we love, and we tried to put all of that into this game. You can play it single player as much as you can play it co-op. As much time went into the single player as when into the coop. That said, I think in the future, we would go back to basics. Actually, the next thing I’ll work on is likely to be a single player immersive sim. But for this, we had just worked on Dishonored games for eight years straight, worked on Dishonored, the Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches DLCs, Dishonored 2, and Death of the Outsider. It’s eight years in the same fiction, the same setting. After a while your brain just goes like ‘I need something else’ you know.

Ricardo (Bare, the co-director of Redfall) and I always talked about open world and how would the Arkane values work with open world design. Would they work well? Would it be a struggle? Would it be too much work? If I had a whiteboard, I would draw it. If you imagine a Dishonored level, you start here, you go to the end of the street. There’s an encounter. You can go this way, Granny Rags is throwing some stuff out of an apartment, you can explore, talk to her, you can go down here, you can get on the rooftop. That’s like eight points that you have to build stuff for a path, an encounter, environmental story-telling, but all the space around the city around it you don’t have to do. As soon as you go open world like that, instead of eight points, it becomes 50 points, and it’s a lot of work.

We tried to do that across Redfall and it was indeed a lot of work. But we needed a change, we needed to take the immersive and stretch it in some way. Dishonored goes deep on stealth; Prey goes deep on physics. Deathloop tries an interesting multiplayer mode and has a repeat time loop. Mooncrash has a repeat time loop. We’re always taking this formula and doing something different to it.

With Redfall, the idea was: what if we drop it into an open world? And then what if we add multiplayer? As we said, you can play single player and I think the experience is close to the one you love. You can play with one other person and it’s still close to that, like you and a friend, playing carefully, being stealthy, exploring, staying together, talking, it’s a pretty good experience. With three or four people, it’s a different experience, it’s fast, and it’s loud. Some people love that. They love to co-op together through Borderlands or whatever. Redfall is not exactly like that. It’s story-based, it’s got missions. You saw the campaign missions. But I think, more than anything, it was about keeping your creativity fresh and going.

You’ve mentioned stealth, which was of course a big part of Dishonored, but I think you could also sneak up on people in Prey. I didn’t see any of that in the Redfall preview session. Can you sneak up on people and stab them in this game?

You can sneak up on them and attack them, but we don’t have the synced assassination, so stealth is still a matter of you getting by encounters without fighting them, as long as they don’t hear you or see you, and whether you have a silencer on your gun matters. Some people play through the whole game, only hitting the points where they really have to fight. But stealth is less of a focus in Redfall, for sure.

Can you lure enemies in some ways?

If you set off an alarm or you fire a shot, you can often get enemies to come into an area. There’s also powers, like Bribón (Remi’s robot) has a power where he draws all the enemies to him. But yeah, you can’t throw a rock or whatever. That’s the way in which it’s stealth-lite. Redfall is not a full stealth game, for sure, because you’re missing some of the stealth tools basically.

You could, though, lure the enemies near environmental hazards and blow them up at the right time.

Yes, and wait for their patrol to get near the hazard and blow it up. All of those things work. And avoiding conflict is fine. You can sneak past people. Perhaps you see a group of Bellwether guys, you know it’s going to be a hard fight and your health is low, so you just slip past them. You wait till the guy turns the other way, and you go past.

Was there any version of Redfall where you had support for AI bots when playing solo?

From minute one, we knew that was not the focus because we wanted to make the single player game as important as the co-op version, and so as soon as you have the AI bots with you, it doesn’t feel the same. It would feel like Left for Dead, which is a great game. I love it, but for single player, you really want to be alone.


Absolutely, but when you do have other players with you in the match, can they heal you? Are there any powers to heal other players?

You can help each other when downed. If you’re downed I can rescue you, pull you up. And then some characters have the power, like Remy has a power called Rally – I think it’s called Rally – where it spreads out in a big circle and everybody inside the circle heals. You can heal each other and then some people have powers like add it to your blood remnant, where if you stake a vampire, all your allies within 15 feet heal a little bit. We have things like that scattered through where you going to aid each other.

Usually, these co-op games designed for three or four players focus a lot on boss fights. Is that also a focus for Redfall, or perhaps not as much?

We have four boss fights in the game, but it’s not the focus. It’s not our style really, but they are very useful for chapter breaks. Like you’ve reached the end of the Hollow Man, so you got to fight the Hollow Man and move on. The real focus of the gameplay is wandering the open world. Yeah, we’ll do that, we’ll do boss fights.

I checked out a vampire nest, but there seemed to be no boss there.

That was the tutorial nest. Vampire nests have different mutators, so sometimes it’s a dark nest, sometimes it’s a nest on fire, and sometimes it’s a nest where everybody’s awake. There’s different variations of nests, but there are no bosses inside.

You mentioned procedural content. Is that just for vampire nests, or also in the open world?

In the open world, the encounters you have along the way are procedural, so those would be different every time. If you saw a group of guys set up where somebody’s got the bullhorn and goes ‘Everybody listen!’, that may not be there the next time. A group of people standing around a fire barrel with a checkpoint, that may not be there the next time, and so enemy placements, nests, but also how powerful the enemies are, because sometimes you roll the dice and you get an elite. So this vampire has a shield around it. Some of the cultist NPCs, the elites, have traits. Sometimes a cultist will have a trait called favored where if you kill this cultist, a vampire will teleport in and be like ‘This was my favorite human and I’m going to fight you now’. Each human or vampire can have a trait if they’re elite. And so that’s dynamic. Also, the loot that you find is dynamic, it’s procedural as well. But the vignettes are the main thing I would think you would notice. Like you walk down a street and one time there’s a fire and some guys are warming their hands around it. The next time there’s nothing there, the next time people have built a structure, and they’re standing on top of it yelling. The next time, maybe someone built a little shrine and the vampires are all dormant. They’re floating inside of it, resting, so each time you play there is something different like that.

Redfall also includes a day/night cycle. Do the enemies differ depending on the time of day?

Yeah. Vampires are usually dormant during the day, even though there is an eclipsed Sun so they don’t blow up or burn up, but they’re dormant more often. At night there’s different configurations.

If you sneak up on a dormant vampire, do you deal more damage?

Yes, any enemy you attack who’s unaware takes more damage. That’s why often if you move up behind them, you can just kill them outright. You can also upgrade those powers to be more effective against unaware enemies.

Does Redfall have character levels?

Yes, definitely. That’s one of the reasons why you’re always looking for a good gun, because you can always outlevel your gun and you then want to find a good gun that’s of your same level.

Is there a level cap?

Yes, it’s level 40. If you do one playthrough, you’ll probably get to level 12 or 15, which means you won’t have all the powers.

How long do you reckon it’ll take to finish the game?

It depends so widely. You may be able to finish Redfall in 20 hours if you race through, but for lots of people, it’s going to take more than that, especially if you do Safe Houses, Nests, exploring the whole world. There’s also this whole system called Grave Locks that allows you to upgrade some of your powers. I think the completionists will be happy. And then, of course, you could want to swap characters.

What you saw today was district one, Redfall Commons. It’s a pretty big space, but there’s actually two districts in the game. When you finish the first district, you transition to the second, Burial Point, which is another huge space. The first one is more urban, with tourist boats and the like, while the second is more rural, with farms, barns, and things like that.


What are your plans after the launch?

We try to be very clear that there are no microtransactions and there is no store in the game. If you find a costume in the game, then you can have it, as simple as that. Other than that, Redfall will be our most supported game post-launch. We went with a server model, so we can update the game constantly. If we see a lot of people falling from ladders and dying, we can update the ladder code. If we see that nobody is playing this character, we can tweak this character and make them more appealing. We have plans for additional guns, costumes, monsters, characters, and more that we can’t talk about right now. But we have a strong year of updates, and it’s all either in the current game or it will be DLC. We try to do it as fairly as possible for people.

Redfall runs on Unreal Engine instead of Arkane’s Void Engine, right?

Indeed. We’re using Unreal Engine 4. Halfway through the project, Epic came up with Unreal Engine 5, but the game is based on Unreal Engine 4.26. If we had more time, we would have probably gone with UE5, but it was a lot of work just upgrading to 4.26.

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