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I recently attended an event at a Microsoft space in San Francisco, and I walked out with a cookie that said “Bite Back” on it.
That’s precisely what you’re supposed to do in Redfall, the anti-vampire game coming on May 2 from Microsoft’s Bethesda division and Arkane Austin. It’s story-driven shooter set in the open world of an island town called Redfall, Massachusetts.
An evil company called Aevum did some research on matters it shouldn’t have, and now vampires who are more like gods are terrorizing the once-sleepy town, which has been cut off from the mainland and must rescue itself.
Microsoft recently launched its story trailer and it let the press get a preview of the gameplay in the open world. I played the game and then interviewed Ricardo Barre, co-creative director at Arkane Austin, about the game.
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Redfall is coming out May 2 on the Xbox Series X/S and the PC. Players can pre-order now or play day one with Game Pass.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: It’s an ambitious project. When you were conceiving this, what did you want to deliver in the experience?
Ricardo Barre: If you look at the trajectory of the games that we’ve been making at Arkane for a while now, we try to stretch ourselves a little bit more with each game. We try to do something a bit different each time. You can look at Dishonored and see it’s very stealth-focused. It has a more traditional mission structure. But then you go to something like Prey and it’s not as stealth-focused. It has crazy physics in it. It’s one big space station. Even though those games are different from each other, they have the same creative core.
Also Read : How Redfall blends open-world action and vampire horror
The same is true of Redfall. It’s dedicated to our creative values – deep world-building, expressive game mechanics – but we wanted to stretch ourselves again and try something different. A lot of us have wanted to do a true open-world game for a while. This was a chance to do that. But a lot of us were also saying, “I want to play the kind of game we would make, but I want to play it with my friends.” That was the thinking behind it, or some of it anyway.
GamesBeat: Did the lore come in from any particular direction? I haven’t seen a game that looks like this.
Barre: There are two things going on there. One is the setting itself. We decided to go with something–normally we pick something a little wild, like a space station or a steampunk city. Then we try to make it familiar to the player. This time we flipped that script. We picked something familiar, something that people recognize instantly, a small town in New England. It’s very tied to American folklore around horror stories. It’s the location of the Salem witch trials. It’s very Halloween. Second, we love vampires. I think they’re a universally popular–they never really go out of style. People constantly reinvent them. Our thinking was to do our spin, Arkane’s take on vampires.
GamesBeat: How deadly did you decide to make them compared to ordinary humans?
Barre: Part of that depends on what difficulty setting you put it on. But we definitely wanted it to feel different, fighting vampires versus humans. The humans are obviously way easier to take down. The thing that makes vampires special, as opposed to just any other old monster, is that they have special rules around what can kill them. You can’t just drop them with bullets. You have to stake them in the heart. You have to hit them with sunlight or UV light. You have to light them on fire. They don’t go down easily. But you can freeze them with the UV beam and then just walk up and hit them. They basically turn into statues that you have to shatter. If you don’t they’ll slowly un-freeze and turn back into flesh.
GamesBeat: When you’re running into the bosses, how are they more powerful?
Barre: We basically created a whole ecology, a vampire hierarchy that exists on the island. At the very top you have the vampire gods, like the Hollow Man. That’s who the mission was about. Directly under them you have special vampires, which are almost like underbosses. I don’t know if you ran into one of those or not. They have unique abilities. Some of them can drain your blood from a distance. Some can turn invisible and grab you.
Under them you have your regular rank-and-file vampires. You probably fought a bunch of them. But the vampires do some crazy stuff with their blood. They can create creatures to serve them. There are these things called Watchers, kind of like gargoyles, that are lookouts for the vampires. There are Blood Bags, sort of like if a cow was full of blood instead of milk. The vampires use them to drink blood. And then they also have cults of humans that worship them. There’s a whole structure of different creatures related to the vampires.
GamesBeat: It reminded me of the orcs in Shadow of Mordor.
Barre: A little bit, in the sense that there are tiers, yeah.
GamesBeat: This has taken a long time. Was there anything especially tough about getting it done?
Barre: Oh my God. The team has overcome so many obstacles and adversities just to get here. The rest of the world was put through the same things, basically, with COVID and working from home. A lot of our studio – not everybody, but a lot – is in Texas, and we had that winter where everything froze for about two months. We’ve had a lot of uphill battles to get this game out, which is why we’re so excited to finally get it done.
GamesBeat: What do you gain from being inside Microsoft now?
Barre: We’re hugely excited to be a title on Game Pass. We have a really amazing fanbase. The opportunity to be on Game Pass gives us a chance to have an even bigger audience, potentially, that plays our game. On top of that it’s going to be–even if you’re not on Game Pass, if you’re on PC or Steam or Epic or whatever you can cross-play. Everybody can play together.
GamesBeat: What kind of narrative can people expect? Do you have a lot of twists in mind for players?
Barre: The storytelling in this game is a bit different from some of our other games. In those games, typically we just had one protagonist, whether it was Corvo or Morgan in Prey. As a result, the story could be very focused on them. It could be about that person’s journey. This time we decided to focus more on the setting and the vampires, since there are four heroes to play as.
However, it is very true to Arkane in the sense that a lot of the story is actually embedded in the things you discover in the world. Environmental storytelling scenes, spying on people and overhearing their conversations, or just exploring the environment. A lot of the story comes through that. That part is still very much like an Arkane game.
GamesBeat: Is there a way you can avoid it being too familiar to people who’ve played games like, say, Left 4 Dead?
Barre: Looking at the poster and the four heroes, I think people get that impression. But actually playing the game, it’s nothing like it at all. It’s an open-world game. There’s no loading into a mission or whatever. You just run out into the world and explore and play.
GamesBeat: How does working with the whole team balance with that?
Barre: Like I said before, we wanted you to be able to play co-op if you wanted to. If you play co-op, it’s not a special mode. It’s not different content. It’s literally the same content. It’s just that your friend is in the game with you now. We don’t force you to stick together. You can run around anywhere you want on the map. However, if you do that, you’re taking your life in your hands. The game will scale in difficulty to account for the fact that there are two or three or four players in the world. Sticking together is a better strategy.
We have this cool system where if you play co-op, you can see – it’s called the trust system. It has two sides to it. It has a story side, where as you play the game, the more the characters hang out together, they’ll start to know each other better. When there’s a quiet moment they’ll have a little conversation. That’s fun. But then there’s also a gameplay side to it. The more trust you build, there’s a team buff, basically. If you’re close to each other you get these bonuses, but if you separate, you lose them.
GamesBeat: How far did you go with the Salem location? Are the area and the history important in a lot of ways?
Barre: Oh, yeah. We invented Redfall from the ground up. It’s an invented island off the coast of Massachusetts. But it’s very much inspired by that region. You have the beautiful fall trees. You have the rowhouses and the gas stations and the kind of stores that you find up there. It all has a very spooky, Halloween vibe to it, though.
GamesBeat: How long do you expect the game to take for people?
Barre: It’s always hard to answer that question, because it depends a lot on how you play the game. Are you the kind of player who likes to collect everything, or do you like to race through the main story? I’ve spent anywhere from – I’ve beaten it in 16-20 hours, but I’ve also spent 40 hours playing very thoroughly. It just depends. But also, since we have four heroes, you can start over with the same hero on higher difficulty and have access to all your powers. Or you can start with a new hero. Since every hero has their own unique set of powers, that changes the way the game feels.