Meet The Fans Still Playing The Worst Xbox Exclusive Of The Year

Meet The Fans Still Playing The Worst Xbox Exclusive Of The Year

Earlier this year, Arkane Austin’s Redfall entered the pantheon of terrible game launches. Taking up its place alongside Cyberpunk 2077, Fallout 76, No Man’s Sky, and many more, the long-awaited Xbox exclusive struggled with performance, felt incomplete, and was full of opposing ideas that just didn’t quite come together. The vampire shooter has shed tons of players since its Game Pass debut, but not everyone has given up on it. Some fans found things to love beneath the flaws and disappointment, and they hope one day others might too.

Loving Redfall in spite of everything

“I was excited for Redfall like most people,” a Reddit user called eh_stev3 told Kotaku. They said they played Deathloop, made by sister-studio Arkane Lyon, to death, even joining other players in hunting down glitches and secrets like a Vampire trinket that requires shooting clones in cutscenes to unlock. Eh_stev3 bought the $US100 ($139) Bite Back edition of Redfall on release day, played it for an hour on Steam, and then refunded it. It wasn’t until they returned a week later via Game Pass that they started actually enjoying it.

Redfall reminds me a lot of playing New Game+ on, say, Borderlands or similar,” eh_stev3 said. “You don’t care about the story beats so much, [you’re] just there to grind enemies, gain levels and unlock new gear. And in fairness that part of Redfall’s loop is solid.”

Most fans are used to hearing pushback from naysayers when they talk like this, even within their Redfall play groups. “It’s very mixed,” said Luke Lohr, host of the Xbox Expansion Pass podcast. “Those that played it are finding the fun quite well as there IS something there. Outside of that, though, most are dismissive and respond with a snort or a huff of disappointment. Mostly though, Redfall feels forgotten.”

Arkane Austin’s live-service shooter revolves around a New England town isolated from the rest of the world after a science experiment gone wrong unleashes gangs of vampires on the streets and the armed cultists who worship them. You play as one of a varied cast of hunters with paranormal abilities tasked with unravelling the mystery of what happened and why, all while shooting and looting a large open map with small flourishes of the curated worldbuilding Arkane became known for from Prey and its work on the Dishonored games.

Image: Arkane Austin / Bethesda
Image: Arkane Austin / Bethesda

Microsoft revealed Redfall with a big splash at E3 2021 after closing its acquisition of the game’s publisher, Bethesda Software. A sleek cinematic trailer was bursting with style and personality, and a big pre-release marketing push promoted the always-online multiplayer game as Xbox’s first blockbuster exclusive of 2023 after a dearth of games the previous year. Instead, the game launched to brutal reviews and a backlash among hyped fans. “This is shockingly bad,” read one post with nearly 1,000 upvotes on the game’s subreddit. “Redfall isn’t a bad game or a failure, it’s an insult for the whole industry,” read another.

“I’m genuinely surprised by the vitriolic reception,” user hey_its_mojo, one of Redfall’s staunchest defenders on the Arkane Discord, told Kotaku. “There are plenty of legitimate complaints about the game — many elements felt as though they needed more time and attention to be considered a polished experience — however, there are far too few four-player narrative co-op games, and Redfall actually stacks up against them quite well.”

Mojo has played through the game multiple times with multiple groups of people, sometimes searching for new bits of lore and world-building and other times finishing particular Xbox achievements. They point to the “A Cry in the Dark” achievement as a perfect example of what keeps them coming back. “What’s really cool about this achievement is that it’s not a secret achievement,” they said. The clues for how to unlock it are there for anyone willing to take a closer look. It just encourages players to pay attention to the world, requiring them to sleuth around a trailer park where they’ll find a telescope pointed up at a hill with a monument on it. Visit the distant location glimpsed in the telescope and players find the backstory for an NPC who’s long gone but instrumental in providing a certain mood and texture missing in most other multiplayer shooters.

“You find a flare gun and flares,” Mojo said. “You also find a lore item diary that has just a delightful progression of entries. [It] tells you about how the owner of the trailer had been using the flare gun to call forth this vampire to provide nourishment in hopes of becoming a vamp himself. So all the clues are there in the game for players to figure out how to get the achievement. Not enough games do that.”

Image: Arkane Austin / Bethesda
Image: Arkane Austin / Bethesda

Moments like that have kept some players coming back searching for more, but many bailed shortly after release. While not an indication of the audience on Xbox or PC Game Pass, the Steam concurrent player count for Redfall averages just 70 people at this point, down from its initial all-time peak of roughly 1,500. For comparison, Obsidian Entertainment’s Grounded, a single-player survival game released nearly a year ago, averages almost 10,000 concurrent Steam users. Even Deathloop, released back in 2021, still has over 300 on any given day.

“I think the conversation surrounding [Redfall] is very hyperbolic,” Reddit user Illustrious_Dig_2520 told Kotaku. “It’s an easy game to pick up and play with my wife. I do enjoy the looter aspect of the game as well. At this point, my wife and I have moved onto Diablo IV, so we don’t play particularly often.” They said that when they do still play, they mostly cruise through the story segments to just get to hunting vampire nests for better Legendary gear.

Will Redfall ever have a Cyberpunk 2077 moment?

There comes a time in every botched online multiplayer game’s life when the question is whether it will get killed prematurely or go on a redemption tour thanks to frequent patches, seasonal content updates, and eventual expansions. Final Fantasy XIV was so bad the first time that Square Enix shut the game down and rebooted it as A Realm Reborn. Now fans often expect other bigger-budget live-service games to pull off similar feats. Some like Fallout 76 do. Others like Anthem don’t.

The jury’s still out on whether Arkane Austin, Bethesda, and Microsoft will double-down on Redfall or quickly move on. But progress has happened. The game’s received two major patches since May addressing bugs and rebalancing encounters lampooned by players for being too easy. A promised 60fps performance mode for Xbox Series X/S is still MIA, but Redfall hasn’t been abandoned yet. “Overall the game does feel in a better place,” Eh_stev3 said.

Image: Arkane Austin / Bethesda
Image: Arkane Austin / Bethesda

If it can eventually get to a good place is a separate matter. Redfall currently only tracks story progress for the host player, a big problem for a multiplayer game. There’s also no way to travel between its two open-world maps, forcing players to start over if they want to go back to explore the first location more. “One true complaint that I have is the pop-up that you can’t deactivate when you complete a mission that tells you you have completed it and that you can either fast travel or esc,” Reddit user PrincessOfCrazyPpl, who plays most nights with their partner, told Kotaku. It’s a real pain when you still have bad guys coming at you and you have a pop-up that takes up half the screen. This is literally the one thing that frustrates me the most.”

Microsoft didn’t mention Redfall at all during its big summer 2023 Xbox showcase, and the game doesn’t currently have a content roadmap, now a staple of most always-online games. Who knows if new story missions, modes, or cosmetics — the game’s main collectibles — could win over new players. But it would certainly make those who have already poured dozens of hours into Redfall feel rewarded for their unlikely devotion.

“I continue playing the game and am working through levelling up all the characters and knocking out all the single player achievements,” Ellery Parker told Kotaku. “This has given me a deeper understanding of the lore which has been awesome. For instance, getting all the Gravelocks consecutively really painted a cohesive backstory I missed in my first playthrough. I have even bought the [$US100] Bite Back edition after playing the game for 30+ hours. I hope Microsoft and Arkane can make a Cyberpunk-esque comeback because the game has an awesome framework to build and improve upon. Here’s to hoping for DLC in the future.”

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