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Xbox boss raises eyebrows with claim Microsoft expected Redfall reviews to be "double digits" higher

"Microsoft needs some new mock reviewers."

Promotional artwork for Redfall showing a vampire emerging from a pit with his back to the camera. Four heroes gather in the distance ready to fight.
Image credit: Arkane Studios/Bethesda/Microsoft

As the fallout from Redfall's release continues, Xbox boss Phil Spencer has raised eyebrows with his claim that Microsoft expected the game to score much better in critics' reviews.

During a wide-ranging interview with Kinda Funny, Spencer said Xbox had planned for Redfall to land with an average review score "double digits" higher than the one it actually got.

"We do mock reviews for every game we launch, and this is double digits lower than we thought we would be with this game," Spencer said. "That's one of the disappointing things. We would never strive to launch a game that we thought was going to review in the low-60s. It's not part of our goals."

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At the same time, Spencer also spoke at length on the reasons why Redfall would likely not have been improved by further delay, despite some issues with bugs at launch, and that Microsoft had been too hands-off with its development.

Specifically, the Xbox boss said Redfall had fallen short as it hadn't delivered on Arkane Austin's own creative vision.

"A fundamental piece of feedback that we get [is] that the game isn't realising the creative vision it had for its players," Spencer continued. "That doesn't feel like a hey, just delay it. That feels like the game had a goal to do one thing and when players are actually playing they're not feeling that thing, they're not feeling the creative execution of the team."

Video game publishers typically invite consultants to review a near-final build of the game to set expectations internally on how it will be scored. Additionally, consultants are often employed throughout a game's development to provide an external perspective on its progress, with early impressions helping identify and correct issues as they arise.

The fact Microsoft expected much better from Redfall reviews has raised eyebrows, including from those who are part of the video game consultancy process.

"It's certainly very strange," video game consultant Nathan Brown, author of the Hit Points newsletter, told Eurogamer. "While mock reviewers will typically overlook bugs, or minor technical or performance issues - you know the game is still being worked on, and can assume in good faith they're being fixed - those are not the reason Redfall has reviewed so poorly.

"The emptiness of the world, the enemy AI, the storytelling: all of those would have been obvious while the game was in development and should have been called out. If we are to take Phil Spencer at his word, clearly Microsoft needs some new mock reviewers."

Redfall launched this week, on Tuesday 2nd May. A little unusually, reviews for the game were embargoed right up until the day of its release.

"What I find even stranger is the suggestion that Xbox management had no reason to dispute the mock reviews' findings," Brown continued. "I've done dozens of mock reviews and I don't think I've ever told a developer or publisher something they didn’t already know; more often than not I'm helping confirm suspicions they already hold internally. Did Spencer and his team really have no idea of the shape, and state, that Redfall was in in the run-up to release? I find that very hard to believe, though I suppose it would explain a lot."

"Arkane's vampire thriller is muddled and deeply compromised, but has moments of real charm," Chris Donlan wrote in Eurogamer's Redfall review.