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Slot Rich Life Pull Tabs — Game Review

Redfall review: multiplayer sucks the life out of a promising vampire shooter

Tomas Franzese

Two delicately crafted moments early on in Redfall made a strong first impression on me. The first was when I exited a shipwrecked boat and gazed out at a massive wave frozen mid-crest as vampires had parted the sea. Shortly after, I saw the sun turn black and two helicopters struck down by lighting right in front of me. These are the kind of arresting visual moments that Arkane Studios has made a name for itself with in games like Dishonored and Deathloop.


  • Yet another open world
  • Between worlds
  • Not fun in multiplayer
  • Struggling to come together

That’s why it’s a shame that these are two of the only scenes in which Redfall captures that magic.

Redfall is conflicted about what it wants to be. It’s trying to be an intense, emotional, and political immersive sim about vampires, but also an endlessly replayable co-op, open-world shooter. The ideas don’t mesh well; design caveats made to accommodate multiplayer suck the blood out of Redfall’s single-player experience. And while multiplayer is inherently more fun, lots of little annoyances stack up to make it an inferior choice compared to much better co-op shooters on the market.

Redfall’s writing and gunplay are competent and build upon Arkane’s expertise. Despite that, a design identity crisis and a bevy of technical issues make this a surprising disappointment from a development team that’s capable of so much more.

Yet another open world

In Redfall, a group of big pharma billionaires have turned into vampires and taken over a small Massachusetts fishing town. Players fight back as one of four superpowered individuals, each of which has unique powers. I played as Layla, a college student with magical powers that include spawning an umbrella to block bullets and deflect their energy back, creating an elevator that will boost her into the air, and summoning her vampire ex-boyfriend to help her fight.

Layla shields herself with a spectral umbrella in Redfall.

These powers, as well as Redfall’s variety of guns, all feel great to use. With this and Deathloop, Arkane has proven it has fine-tuned the first-person shooter genre when it comes to game feel. It’s not as good at making open-world games, though. While Redfall’s northeastern U.S. aesthetic setting stands out, its world design is much less inspired as I joylessly explore my surroundings to follow objective markers, fight bullet-spongey enemies in empty open spaces built for multiplayer, and am forced to do repetitive side missions to progress the main story.

Loot and a deep skill tree give a constant feeling of progression, but the enemies never feel that tough. AI struggles to spot me and aim correctly, even in single-player (Layla’s umbrella ability felt useless at times because enemies right in front of me would just stare at me and not shoot when I had it active). Various classes of vampires shake fights up by teleporting and striking with more powerful melee attacks, but my playthrough was a disappointing breeze on the game’s default difficulty setting.

Arkane is barely playing to its strengths in Redfall.

Arkane hasn’t advertised Redfall as an immersive sim as much as its previous games, and I can see why. Immersive sims — a subgenre that puts an emphasis on player choice and freedom — are all about interaction. The only real interaction I ever had with Redfall’s world was pointing and shooting. This became clear when one mission stood out from the pack by asking me to infiltrate a cult’s camp, not just kill a target or collect something. There weren’t any clever stealth or secret world interactions to accomplish this goal, though; I simply had to walk around and not shoot anyone until the game told me to.

This isn’t unusual for open-world games, but it demonstrates that Arkane is barely playing to its strengths in Redfall. Enjoyable combat only goes so far, as open-world contemporaries like Far Cry 6 feel like they have more going on from a world design perspective. That’s a shame, too, as Redfall is stronger narratively.

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Between worlds

At times, Redfall dives into striking narrative territory thanks to some strong writing and mission premises. Some missions — like one where a haunted mansion is explored through two different eras — have stuck with me since playing them. The story isn’t afraid to get a bit political and call out the ultrarich elite who make the world a worse place for their own benefit, although it’s more focused on demonizing the people rather than the system that creates them.

A glimpse at the town of Redfall in Redfall.

Environmental storytelling is top-notch especially, and there are a wealth of well-written notes scattered around locations that paint pictures of blissful ignorance or paranoia in the days before an apocalyptic event. That deeper storytelling pokes through in the gameplay, too. For instance, some vampires drop wedding rings as loot after death, serving as a sobering reminder that they were once human. Details like that are why Arkane is one of the gaming’s most celebrated studios.

Unfortunately, none of this is benefited by Redfall’s multiplayer component. Cutscenes are glorified slideshows so the game can easily slot the character being played in and out of the images, and a lot of dialogue is delivered in a soulless, NPC-like fashion that’s typical of a lot of multiplayer games. As a result, Redfall feels like a significantly less polished and less delicately crafted single-player experience than any of Arkane’s previous titles despite some strong writing. That’s a shame, because Redfall’s narrative strengths don’t work as well in multiplayer.

It quickly becomes apparent that single-player isn’t the best way to experience this game.

When I tried multiplayer, I skipped reading notes to avoid falling behind my teammates. I couldn’t pay attention to much dialogue that diegetically played because a friend was talking in my headset. Meanwhile, side content like Vampire Nests look stunning with their twisted, otherworldly distortions of the real world, but because they are repeatable world events that players can fight through together, these visually inspired bits forgo any narrative significance.

When playing through Redfall alone, it quickly becomes apparent that single-player isn’t the best way to experience this game. Even when I found morsels to savor in Redfall, I’d think about how it’d probably be even better in a solely single-player, offline adventure. Because so many sacrifices were made for the sake of multiplayer, one would hope that experience is near flawless. That’s far from the reality.

Not fun in multiplayer

In an attempt to make content that appeals to both single-player and multiplayer, Redfall fails to excel at either. Right off the bat, it’s impossible to switch characters mid-campaign, and each character levels up independently, so you’re likely to be underpowered when visiting an experienced player’s world or overpowered when visiting a newbie’s. I assume it’s set up like this so players are encouraged to play through the game four times, but that comes at a frustrating cost.

Redfall hasn’t cracked the case on how to make a multiplayer immersive sim.

Story mission completion in someone else’s session isn’t carried over to your own, so you’ll have to go back and repeat missions in your own campaign, even if you’ve already played through them with others. Thankfully, progression does carry over, and so do supplies, the game’s primary currency. which becomes a shared resource whenever you enter multiplayer. Spend a lot of supplies in your friend’s campaign, then be prepared to dismantle a lot of weapons and grind for supplies once you return to your world.

More minor issues are equally embarrassing for this studio’s first co-op outing. For example, a ping system seems helpful, but every player’s ping is the same color, so it’s impossible to tell what’s what unless you aim your reticle directly at it. Animations often break, so it looks like your co-op companions are just sliding around. It’s impossible to matchmake with random players around your level; you’ll need to throw out your progress and play as a brand new character, be very overpowered in a friend’s world, or deal with them being vastly underpowered in your campaign.

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Of course, there is something that’s always inherently fun about playing a game with others. I enjoyed finding unique ways to help each other with our characters’ powers and there was less pressure when several vampires attacked at once. Unfortunately, a flurry of smaller issues all stack up to make this a subpar multiplayer experience. Redfall hasn’t cracked the case on how to make a multiplayer immersive sim.

A Redfall squad fights through the streets.

It doesn’t feel like it does anything much better than the plethora of other cooperative games already out there. Those looking for a new co-op shooter to play with friends will likely be able to enjoy Redfall for a time, but I doubt it will draw anyone away from Destiny 2 or one of the other better-designed multiplayer experiences already capturing their attention.

Struggling to come together

On top of everything I’ve mentioned, Redfall is a technical mess in its current state. It only runs at 30 frames per second on Xbox Series X/S right now and struggles to keep that consistent. The PC version doesn’t fare much better. I suffered multiple game crashes and several server disconnects while playing in single-player. One late-game boss fight felt nearly unplayable due to lag. Enemy character models and lighting often glitched on me. Audio would occasionally get choppy. Kill animations would miss their targets. Aiming down sights and using powers would sometimes not work correctly. My list of gripes goes on and on, and I’m not confident they can all get ironed out in the game’s lifetime.

A squad attacks cultists in Redfall.

Redfall is a mess in almost every way. Yes, there’s a fairly basic open-world shooter here that plays well. But whether you’re playing alone or with friends, design and technical issues will frequently pop up to actively worsen the experience. Any promise from the game’s earliest moments quickly dissipated into a subpar adventure that feels misguided at its core.

It’s OK for a studio like Arkane to want to take risks and make something that feels different from the rest of its catalog, but the game that results from that still needs to feel coherent and run properly. Redfall most certainly does not and feels conflicted no matter how you try to play it.

Redfall was reviewed on Xbox Series X.

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Age of Wonders 4 review

A toad wizard in Age of Wonders 4

A flavourful and inventive 4X full of incredible spells and engaging empire management.

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Need to know

What is it? A fantasy 4X with a fantastic magic system.

Release date May 2, 2023

Expect to pay £42/$50

Developer Triumph Studios

Publisher Paradox Interactive

Reviewed on GeForce RTX 1080Ti, Intel i7-8086K, 16GB RAM

Steam Deck Playable

Link Official site (opens in new tab)

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Magic is rarely wondrous in its frequent videogame appearances. It harms, it heals and if you’re lucky it maybe transforms enemies into sheep or frogs. Not so in Age of Wonders 4, however, where it drives every component of this arcane 4X, dramatically transforming worlds, cities and the creatures that inhabit them. With your expansive collection of magical tomes, you can dabble with god-like powers to your heart’s content.

The Wizard Kings—would-be deities—have awoken in the Astral Sea and are ready to exert their influence over the multitude of worlds that exist in this magical realm. As one of these Wizard Kings, or a mortal champion, you must grow in power to dominate these worlds, using magic and warfare to put the competition in its place.

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Age of Wonders 4’s structure should be familiar: you start with a single city, erect new buildings, develop the surrounding provinces, recruit armies and explore the map to find treasure and new enemies. Resources like food, gold and mana must be managed, rival rulers can be engaged diplomatically or aggressively, and eventually you’ll start working towards one of the victory conditions, perhaps focusing on magic, or maybe just conquering everyone.

But the latest game in this long-running series is still distinct from its forebears. It makes this clear right away, when you pick the foundations of your magical empire. First, there’s the map. There’s an abundance of premade maps, including ones that are part of the story-driven campaign, but you can also spawn your own, selecting its traits. Maybe you want to conquer a frozen wasteland full of monsters, or a fiery hellscape split up by a molten sea, where the only safe route across is underground. There’s no dearth of compelling choices here, letting you make all sorts of exotic battlefields.

It’s in the creation of your prospective empire where things get really interesting, though. By selecting the physical form, traits, cultural leanings and societal quirks of your people, you’re able to create all sorts of unusual empires, from sinister mole-people with a penchant for cannibalism to industrious goblins who just want to build epic cities and make new friends. Through these choices you’ll determine your empire’s starting bonuses, alignment and magical affinities, establishing how you’ll influence the world.

Wizard builder

Nearly as important is the creation of your ruler. If you pick a mortal champion it will be from the same species you just created, while Wizard Kings can be from any species. Initially you’re just selecting their physical appearance and starting weapons, but over the course of the game you’ll find plenty of new gear and XP to bolster their power. Rulers, and the heroes you’ll recruit later, represent the most powerful units in the game, and while they can benefit your empire by governing cities, where they really shine is in the tactical battles.

Instead of a conventional research system, Age of Wonders 4 doles out tomes of magic, each containing a variety of spells. Tomes are connected to the game’s cosmic affinities, like order, chaos, nature and so on. There are five tiers of tomes, and for every affinity you get two possible tomes for each tier. In keeping with the game’s love of experimentation, there are no restrictions here. If you have an empire with a love of order, you can still pick whatever tomes you want, though these choices will start to change your affinity, and thus how other empires and free cities (unaligned city states who can be vassalised or conquered) view you, and how your empire develops as new affinity skills are unlocked in the separate empire development tree.

By researching spells from these tomes, and unlocking new tomes, you’ll rather quickly find yourself with a rich bounty of city enhancements, summons, transformations and enchantments, as well as all sorts of defensive and offensive spells. The impact these spells can have is gargantuan, especially when working in tandem. If you’ve transformed your species so that it’s faster when travelling through forests, for instance, then you’ll definitely want to select the spell that lets you create new forests, transforming the land itself so that you can better traverse it. Granted, series veterans will recognise a lot of the spells that crop up, but the way that magic evolves your empire, and the synergies these transformations create, is extremely novel.

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It’s genuinely exciting when you get the opportunity to grab a new spell, as you try to figure out how it fits into your repertoire and what role it will have in your conquest of the world. The tomes also let you unlock new buildings and recruitable units, so they aren’t exclusively a source of spells. Some units will have to be recruited at a city for gold, but others appear as magical summons, helping you out in a pinch. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been faced with an enemy that’s bound to squash me, far from any of my cities, and a summon has saved the day.

Magic still has its limitations. Spells require mana, and any enchanted or transformed units will chip away at your stockpile. And while you can use as many minor transformations as you want, the powerful major transformations are limited to one. But that limit is per species. Add members of another species to your empire, either through conquest or diplomacy, and you’ll be able to evolve them in completely different ways. This gives you tremendous flexibility and so many ways to counter obstacles.

Tomes are so much more than just a magical take on tech trees, and I’ve never had so much fun developing an empire before. Even in Stellaris, with its vast number of ways to evolve your species, I always feel like I’m making a lot of less engaging choices before I get to the good stuff. In Age of Wonders 4, I’m getting new toys to play with, new abilities and new ways to progress constantly.

One thing that might rankle micromanagement fans is how streamlined this is compared to Age of Wonders: Planetfall, where every unit had a bunch of mod slots that let you enhance them at an individual level. Age of Wonders 4’s transformations and enhancements are much broader, so that moment-to-moment you’re making much more dramatic changes. Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, but there’s so much that’s already going on in Age of Wonders 4 that I found I appreciated the ability to make sweeping changes to my entire empire at the click of a button.

Take a hint

The result is a more approachable Age of Wonders, but it should be noted that streamlining is not the only way that Triumph has achieved this. There’s the helpful nested tooltips, a codex and a hint system that should make your life easier, but also mechanical improvements. Take your cities, for example. In Age of Wonders 3, you’d need to make a choice between recruiting units and constructing buildings, but here you can do both simultaneously thanks to the separate queues. Without the need to prioritise, you might expect to run out of stuff to build and recruit quite quickly, but the frequency with which you’ll unlock new units, and the wide range of construction projects, which in turn unlock even more projects, mean that even in a long game you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied.

Plenty of complexity remains, too. City borders can be pushed out by annexing provinces and developing improvements on top of them. At first it’s straightforward: if you need more food to grow your population, you’ll want to build some farms. If you’re near a gold deposit and need to fatten your bank account, build a gold mine. But to take advantage of these provinces you’ll need to make sure they aren’t occupied by monsters. And you’ve got your rivals and their claims to worry about. Annex a province that they’ve got a claim on and they’ll get a grievance against you, which can be used as an impetus for war.

Adding yet more wrinkles, but also opportunities, are unlockable special improvements that can be constructed at your city and then placed on provinces already in your border, removing the bonus that you’re currently receiving for something more esoteric, like a spelljammer or a teleporter. The latter is a real godsend, especially in the larger maps, because getting around can take an age, especially if you need to pass through areas where the terrain is rough. There’s a city cap (which can be increased), but outposts don’t contribute towards this, so I often find myself using them to create teleportation networks, allowing my armies to blink across the map and react to any crisis instantly.

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Not that there isn’t value in exploring the map on foot. Age of Wonders 4’s worlds are striking, incredibly detailed fantasy realms absolutely teeming with diversions. Ancient wonders full of treasure, monsters needing to be chased out of provinces, infestations that can spawn invasions and events that can crop up for all sorts of reasons—the only thing rulers don’t need to worry about is a life of peace and quiet.

Sieges, meanwhile, involve an extra layer, where the defender can utilise a variety of fortifications and tricks to win the day, while the attacker can undermine them by spending resources on siege projects prior to the battle. And depending on how you’ve built your species, you might be able to overcome some of these obstacles. If your army has evolved into angelic beings they can fly over walls, while astral armies can simply pass through them.

Outside of battle, there’s always something stopping you from leaving the game or hitting End Turn over and over again. Maybe you’ll be approached by some citizens who want your advice, potentially netting you rewards, an alignment change or giving your species a new trait. Another ruler might get in touch with a quest, sending you off on an adventure to some unexplored place. Or it could be as simple as an army you’re about to attack deciding that you’re way too tough for them, letting you decide their fate without a fight. Maybe you’ll recruit them to work in one of your cities, or join your army. Through these events a narrative forms: the story of your empire.

AoW4 also has a more explicit story, told through five missions. It’s conventional stuff, with two groups of Wizard Kings fighting over ancient power, but the missions themselves offer engaging objectives and special features. The third mission, for instance, gives you a spell that reveals sneaky ways to defeat your rivals, like buying a rival’s contract from their demonic master, allowing you to remove them from play without conquering their empire. Ultimately, though, the sandbox maps are just as deft at generating compelling tales and objectives through random chance.

With all the ways you can develop your empire, Age of Wonders 4 demands to be played over and over. But there’s also an overarching progression system, the Pantheon, that encourages you to hop back in. Founding cities, forging alliances, completing quests and countless more activities will net you Pantheon XP, which in turn unlocks points that can be spent on the Pantheon tree. Rewards include new cosmetics, icons and gear, which can be used in your next game. Through this system you’ll also automatically unlock new map types. Meanwhile, rulers you’ve created can join the Pantheon, allowing them to appear in future games as potential friends or adversaries. Conceptually, I’m a big fan, though I confess that I would have liked Triumph to do more with it. A new cape or hat doesn’t hold a whole lot of appeal.

Not that I need more excuses to keep coming back. Age of Wonders 4 scratches my itch for experimentation like few other strategy games, seducing me back in to try new tome combos and drag my empire in new, weird directions. And every time, I return from my fantasy foray with a sack full of anecdotes, like when I resurrected a rival ruler who had been plaguing me all game as an undead minion, forced to serve me for eternity. Magic just makes everything more fun.

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