The company behind the Dishonored games, Bethesda subsidiary Arkane Austin, is currently working away on Redfall. This is a brand-new intellectual property — the game takes place on an island beset with violent vampires, where players can work together in groups of up to four players to take them down (or you can go solo if you'd prefer).


Recently, popped along to a Redfall preview event in London, where we were able to get hands on with the game for the first time. We played for over an hour, solo, taking control of a tech-savvy character named Devinder (one of the four playable heroes you get to choose from when jumping into the game).

Redfall feels familiar and different at the same time. Just as you could in the Dishonored games, you can still approach scenarios in a number of ways, from careful stealth to outright carnage, and Devinder even has a teleport ability that will feel very comfortable for fans of previous Arkane games.

The main difference is the vast open world, which feels bigger and way more varied than previous Arkane creations (even the ambitious environs of Arkane Lyon's Deathloop). The world of Redfall is littered with all sorts of different challenges and things to find, from safe houses and roaming enemies to punishing underground dungeons (where you can take on powerful foes in the hope of nabbing some strong loot).

Stepping into this world felt a little overwhelming at first, but gradually we got a feel for it, helped along by the increasingly potent weapons we kept finding. Eventually, we fought our way towards a main story mission — a linear quest to unravel a multilayered mystery in a creepy old mansion.

As we explored the house, clearing out some enemies and gradually piecing together the present-day storyline with flashbacks to the past, it began to feel like we were playing another gripping original story — the sort of thing that Arkane always tends to deliver. Any fears that this was a mindless multiplayer shooter seem to have been unfounded, as Redfall feels like a traditional Arkane experience writ large in a cool new way.

After our play session, we were able to sit down with Redfall's creative director, Harvey Smith, who worked on a number of Deus Ex games in the Noughties and came to this project after focusing primarily on Dishonored for quite some time.

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Smith explained: "I just worked on eight straight years of Dishonored — Dishonored one, Knife of Dunwall, Brigmore Witches, Dishonored 2, Death of the Outsider. So a lot of Dishonored, you know? In the same setting, same time period, etc."

After that, Smith "just needed something very different". He said: "And Ricardo [Bare, Smith's joint creative director] and I always talked about open world. And we thought it might be fun from a narrative standpoint to have different heroes. That if you play alone, it's like an Arkane game; if you play together, it's like an Arkane game multiplayer."

As the vision came together for an open-world vampire game with co-op elements, "We were like, let's do haunted spooky New England. It's a little bit Stranger Things, it's a little bit Stephen King, it's a little bit Salem's Lot but it's modernised."

And in terms of the story set-up, the team acknowledged that "monsters are always metaphors, and so there's a tiny upper class preying on everyone else" in the game's world — that's even before the fantastical elements take shape and experiments go awry, unleashing "scientific-based" vampires on unsuspecting locals.

Digging into those dark inspirations, Smith added later: "We had just gone through years of ... populism, and, you know, laws that favour the upper class, the billionaire class, where they're just running the country at this point."

Remembering not to put all his eggs in that grim basket, Smith continued: "And at some level, it's a spooky action shooter. It's just a fun vampire game, also. Characters that are quippy, but there's always that undercurrent of like, 'What's this game about?' in the same way [that meaningful themes were pervasive] with Deus Ex or Dishonored."

And what has it been like trying to create a new property, after playing in established sandboxes for so long? Smith told "I've had the fortune of working on a lot of new IP and new IP is way harder [than returning to an existing franchise]."

When it comes to making a new IP, he explained that "you have to figure everything out", such as how ladders will work, how fast travel will work, and what the tone of the game is.

"Early on in this project, people would make all these assumptions," he explained. "'Oh, it's a dark, dismal horror game, where you're just depressed and sad all the time'. Or like, 'Oh, it's like a zombie game where everything's falling apart, and people have turned on each other'.

Or the other big one was, 'Oh it's really funny. It's constantly comical'. Or 'it has the run and gun feel of Doom' or whatever. And it's like, all of those are wrong.

"This is not a dark, dismal game. It's spooky in a fun way, like a haunted house ride or something, we think. Sometimes it does get a little creepy. The characters have comic moments, but generally the tone is serious. It's not overly militaristic. It's about civilians coming together to protect their community.

"There's a reason why we chose for your bases around the world, things like fire stations or the maritime centre, instead of like, you know... whatever else, people would choose, a prison or whatever."

After all this hard work on inventing, explaining and actually making Redfall as a new IP, does Smith think he would return to any of his pre-existing franchises in future? Would he want to go back to more familiar pastures after this? Smith said "yes" before then elaborating.

"You know, if tomorrow, I had the extreme pleasure of ever working on Deus Ex, again [...] I would know, day one, what a Deus Ex game is," he said. "And there may be quibbles about, 'Is it more like the original or is it more like the reboot?' Probably a little of both, you know, but you're in a range now. Right?

"Whereas if you say, 'We're making Farglegoop', [people are like,] what's that? 'I don't know, let's do it together.' And it's just like, good luck figuring every single thing out. And every single person on your 100-person team is going to have a question every day about like everything.

"Like animations: are our animations very serious, like where we literally put an athlete in a mo-cap suit, or are they flouncy like in Fortnite or Into the Spider-Verse or whatever? How stylised are the animations, you know?

"So yeah, we've had the fortune of working on new IP, because it's exhilarating to come up with the story and the setting and the tone and the feature set and everything but it's also really hard, you know.

"And as much as I've worked on eight years of Dishonored, and it was like, 'I need something new', it would be refreshing at this point to go back to something, you know, that would be comfortable and familiar, a little less challenging." Once we've banished these upper-class vampires, then, who knows what the future could hold for Arkane.

Redfall launches Tuesday 2nd May 2023 for Xbox Series X/S and PC via Xbox Game Pass.

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