Xbox Game Studios Spotlight: Arkane Studios

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,
This Xbox Game Studio Spotlight is about the Arkane Studios in Lyon, France, and Austin, Texas, that have been making a unique brand of game under Bethesda. See how the dev ranks, its history, projects, and how many achievements you've unlocked!

This is the dev panel. It helps you keep track of all the games made by the developer, and exactly how many achievements you have unlocked in total. How many developers can you complete?

Arkane Studios overview

arkane studios carousel image

Bethesda Softworks’ Arkane Studios is comprised of two teams: Arkane Lyon and Arkane Austin. The first, and original, is situated in Lyon, France and was started in 1999, with a clear goal of trying to create a second sequel to Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss. The action RPG is set in a fantasy world that you explore in first-person — a USP for the developer that would become a hallmark. In 2002, a fresh-faced team had managed to put together the original Xbox game, named Arx Fatalis, but not without serious publishing trouble. One deal fell through, and though Arkane had a second publisher sorted, on release the game struggled financially in spite of good reviews. However, the team were clearly incredibly proud — it is still heavily featured on their website and would come to be a vital touchstone for future successes.

A major success, beyond staying afloat — which is quite an achievement in the industry — would take many years to realise. That being said, the 2002 to 2007 period was very fraught and full of odd happenings. It appears that the studio was kept afloat for a few years by slotting in with Valve for a source engine project thanks to some legacy Arx Fatalis love from the PC behemoths. It is a relationship that would purr in the background for years to come, resulting in a failed Half-Life spin-off called Ravenholm during 2006 and 2007. The project went over budget and over deadline, while other concepts fell through entirely.

arkane studios xbox bethesda ranked rated pollArkane Studios — Arx Fatalis (2002)

Ubisoft made an approach in between the Valve work, seeing the talent at the studio. The result was the Xbox 360 title Dark Messiah: Might and Magic in late 2006. While on PC it was well regarded, on 360 it took a major critical hit. With technical issues exaggerated, simplified mechanics, and horrible graphical quality, it was hardly the version of the game Arkane could be happy with. Oddly, even on PC, there was a critical divide. The Metacritic score of 72 is made up of some strong 80s and a large amount of 40–70 scores, with little in between. Arkane’s first-person mechanics needed a bit of refining.

During the time Dark Messiah was in the final push, founder Raphael Colantonio made the move to Austin, Texas and formed an auxiliary studio under the Arkane name. As identified in a fantastic Noclip documentary, the studio back in Lyon had to do the bulk of heavy development work because production was cheaper. Austin was left to form relationships with studios and publishers, a smart move given its US location. It also gave the Austin team time to hire a team of developers that would eventually be capable of producing exceptional games.

the crossingCREDIT: Polygon (Arkane Studios — The Crossing)

Arkane entered something of a dead zone for several years. A $15 million game called The Crossing, which used Valve's Source Engine, was an incredibly ambitious “cross-player” title set in Paris that was being developed from 2007. A mix of AI and online players would compete across a vertical map in a shared space. It was ambitious, but that made it a tricky sell for a studio that had yet to truly establish itself. Deals fell through over and over again, and PS3 ports of the game were going to make publishing an expensive chore for the team. In addition, the budgets being offered by publishers were becoming minuscule, so the project had to be shuttered leading to it being known as the "ex-girlfriend" — a passionate love affair best left in the past — by project leads and studio founders Raphael Colantonio and Viktor Antonov. Apparently, the game demo sat around the office for years after development had ceased. Seriously, check out this amazing interview with Blake Hester for Polygon if you are interested further in The Crossing, it is a fascinating read!

Arkane Studios needed solid money after being absent from major development for a few years, despite continued strong relations with Valve. Work for hire across Lyon and Austin were a given, but another major title also began production. EA was putting together a game with director Steven Spielberg at the time called LMNO. 1UP's Matt Leone wrote that the project was "a mix of first-person parkour movement with adventure/RPG objectives and escape-focused gameplay, all based around the player's relationship with an alien-looking character named Eve." Work on the game started as The Crossing was cancelled entirely. Russ Pitts, writing for Polygon, suggested that EA was even willing to pay Arkane monthly in order to ensure the studio could stay on track. However, entirely outside of Colantonio's control, EA cancelled the project because of its very experimental nature during a period when the industry was destabilised by the 2008 financial crisis.

arkane studios dishonoredArkane Studios — Dishonored 2 (2016)

Again, Arkane found itself with two studios needing work, so suddenly it became work for hire again. Activision got a hold of the team to work on Call of Duty: World at War for the multiplayer and 2K put Arkane Lyon on Bioshock 2. Across every article, documentary, and interview charting the history of Arkane, there is one recurring theme about this dark period for Arkane: experience. Over six years, the team found itself working on first-person projects that involved very specific movement styles and gameplay-incorporated level design over and over again.

When game designer Harvey Smith joined the studio, things finally began to click into place for the teams' first own game since Arx Fatalis back in 2002. Bethesda Games made a move for Arkane by approaching the Studios with a project that was very similar to a pitch that the Austin team had been working on. Bethesda, it turned out, had actually been interested in nabbing the studio back in 2002, but the Arkane had been changing direction so rapidly and consistently that Bethesda felt it had missed the boat. Then, the aim for a studio capable of making something first-person, that was immersive and had heavy fantasy leanings, brought the pair together. Bethesda thought Arkane was the only possible developer for the project. That project was Dishonored. A few months into development in 2010, Arkane was acquired by Zenimax and incorporated into Bethesda.

arkane studios ranked wikiArkane Studios — Prey (2017)

Dishonored was released in 2012 to critical acclaim. A weird steampunk fantasy London was matched with a stealth/action gameplay loop that begged to be noticed. Player choice through gameplay was the big draw, earning the title a massive 88 on Metacritic for Xbox 360. While both Lyon and Austin teams has been working on this title as a unit, after release the pair split attentions. The first team to release a game was Arkane Lyon's Dishonored 2 in 2016 to even more critical acclaim, with an outstanding 88 on Metacritic for Xbox One. Praise for the level design was a constant, with better developed and executed gameplay mechanics from the first title.

Meanwhile, Arkane Austin had been slaving away at 2017's Prey. This was a total reboot of the franchise, that was totally distinct from future Bethesda team Human Head Studios' failed Prey 2 project. Arkane Studios' Prey, though, was a very solid effort. The title landed at 84 on Metacritic for Xbox One. The setting and open-ended level design were highly praised alongside the strong story. Combat, though, was regarded as a bit of a letdown. Arkane Lyon also released Dishonored: Death of the Outsider standalone expansion in 2017, which was well-received, though it didn't quite match the consistent quality of Dishonored 2.

arkane studios ranked wikiArkane Studios — Deathloop (2021)

Work with another Bethesda studio, Machine Games, began. Arkane Lyon's product was Wolfenstein: Youngblood, a standalone expansion for New Colossus released in 2019. Though MachineGames' name is plastered all over the final product, it is generally believed that Arkane Lyon was the more heavily involved of the two studios. The game was not well received, with a 68 on Metacritic. Reviews primarily took issue with needless RPG elements and the co-op that made the experience a little too gimmicky. Arkane was also a co-developer on the VR title Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot, though that seems to have been primarily MachineGames back at the helm.

Arkane Lyon's next effort was to be Deathloop, the PS5 one-year console exclusive looper-shooter that received rave reviews on release in late 2021. After the Microsoft deal brought the Arkane team into the Xbox Game Studios portfolio, the first project of a new era is on the horizon. The team in Austin has been tasked with the Xbox-exclusive open-world action-adventure single-player or co-op vampire-slaying Redfall, set for mid-2022.

It is worth noting that founder Colantonio has stepped away from the company after Prey in 2017, and Arkane Studios is now run by Smith. Romuald Capron, an Arkane Lyon figurehead of 17 years, has also left as of 2021. The studio also presides over the "Void engine" that allows the Arkane teams to build denser worlds for its specific type of game design. This really is a unique jewel in the Xbox Game Studios crown!

Arkane Studios' last project: Deathloop (2021)

arkane studios ranked wiki

Deathloop saw Arkane Lyon swinging its massive game-dev talent fists on PS5 at the end of 2021. The looper-shooter is a puzzle box. You have several targets to kill in different zones, but only 24 in-game hours to do it while a madwoman — controlled by another player — tries to put a stop to you. If you die or you run out of time, everything resets. A first-person perspective, dense areas, and thoughtful RPG-like branching systems come together in that unique Arkane way. A deal struck with Sony has left the game stranded on PS5 for a year, making this an Xbox Game Studio title published exclusively on a Sony system, which is odd. The game was released to critical acclaim, with an 88 on Metacritic, but released to a less positive 6.3 fan reception. While the game design was generally praised, many took issue with the outdated look and the many underlying systems and menus that ground progress to a halt. An interesting dichotomy, this!

Arkane Studios' current project: Redfall (2022)


Arkane Austin's Redfall, was revealed at E3 2021, is an Xbox exclusive is set for 2022. It is an optional co-op, open-world, first-person shooter game that sees your bunch of misfit characters take on vampires on the island of Redfall. Since the reveal, images of the game have leaked online. It gave a whiff of looter-shooter, with strong hints of Destiny-like menus. Speaking to NME, co-creative director Ricardo Bare described that Arkane's "focus remains on deep world-building and inventive game mechanics" for Redfall.

Arkane Studios' in 2021

arkane studiosArkane Studios — Dishonoured (2012)

While Redfall was announced and Deathloop released in 2021, news pertaining to Arkane Studios has actually been fairly quiet. VGC reported that 17-year Arkane Lyon mainstay, Romuald Capron, stepped away from his role as head of the French team to "try something new" after releasing Deathloop. In his place slots Deathloop co-director Dinga Bakaba, according to VGC. Outside of that, only a job posting for a non-Redfall related FPS was reported by GameRanx. It is worth noting that Deathloop won best-game direction at The Game Awards.

How does Arkane Studios rank?

Arkane Studios might not have produced anything for a six-year span, but since 2012's release of Dishonored, Lyon and Austin have been on a tear (exempting Wolfenstein: Youngblood). How else would you describe a run of quality games like Dishonoured, Dishonored 2, Prey (2017), Death of the Outsider, and Deathloop? It's no less than great to us, and we are certain that for a few folks there is a favourite title in there. So, chitter-chattering away in the TA office, we were actually a little torn between giving the teams a ranking of A or S. Ultimately, we have gone for the A grade. We know! Heresy. But, we think this might be a little more satisfying than the perfect S. Not everyone loves Dishonored, Prey, and Deathloop — there is even a suggestion that the latter might have been a smidge overrated by critics. The dense mix of gameplay systems and worldbuilding can be a touch too small in scope for the tastes of some, and too bitty for others. That is okay, but we really want to see a smash hit (Redfall?) that nails without any reservation. We genuinely believe that the highest standard will be met by Arkane and generally hold the belief that this is one of the most underrated developers within the Xbox Game Studios label. This is why we included the "impress further" clause for the A grade description; we can't just hand it out our arbitrary, opinion-based top grades willy-nilly — that would rob us of the satisfaction of eventually giving out the best rankings! So, a fantastic A score from us at TA, with plenty of chance at an S in the future.

A Tier

A studio with a fantastic portfolio, and the talent to impress further

Of course, this is just our opinion! Get involved in the poll and in the comments to let us know what you think of Arkane Studios. We can't wait to have some civil conversations in the comments.
How would you rank Arkane Studios?
  • S — A world-class studio executing at an exceptional level
  • A — A studio with a fantastic portfolio, and the talent to impress further
  • B — A studio capable of greatness, but has more to offer
  • C — An up-and-coming studio, or one struggling to realise its potential
We've had 314 responses.
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Working across TrueTrophies and TrueAchievements, Kes writes news, reviews, and a variety of bespoke features. Kes left university after four years with a first-class MA in English Literature — a subject that required research, creativity, and lots of writing. He also has dabbled in teaching, farming, and building websites. Some days, he plays Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to pretend he is a pirate.
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