Red Dead Redemption 2 will be the first title from Rockstar
Games to ship since the highly-successful Grand Theft Auto V launched in 2013.
The open-world western prequel to the critically-acclaimed and fan-adored Red
Dead Redemption will hit store shelves and digital marketplaces on October
26th, 2018, and since the launch of Grand Theft Auto V almost five years ago,
Rockstar Games has made several advancements in its RAGE engine technology, and
the result of this will be the developer’s most ambitious and living open-world
yet in Red Dead Redemption 2.
With the world’s first-ever previews and impressions for Red
Dead Redemption 2 hitting the internet this week, we’ve been given an in-depth
look at the natural and organic western-set open-world of Rockstar’s next
title, and it’s safe to say it all packs quite the punch. Red Dead Redemption 2
takes place in an ambitious reincarnation of the Wild West set the Heartland of
America. The year is 1899, and the supposed end of the Wild West, its cowboys
and outlaws, inches ever so closer.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has a sense of connection and purpose
like no other Rockstar title before it. People are alive, they exist, and have
work to do with schedules to adhere to. Whether you see it or not, the world of
Red Dead Redemption 2 is always alive and progressing. People also make their
own choices and decisions, too – and react to circumstances differently. Point
a revolver at a guy innocently sweeping his porch and he could either drop to
his knees – begging for his life, or he’ll draw a gun and retaliate.
There’s a deep-rooted connection between you, your actions
and the surrounding world of Red Dead Redemption 2. You don’t just play as
outlaw and protagonist Arthur Morgan. Instead, Rockstar Games wants you to live
as him – making choices that impact the gameplay, the narrative, and the world
around you. Being one of the senior members of Dutch’s Van der Linde gang, it’s
up to you to survive whilst in hiding as the authorities grow in both size and
After a bank robbery goes badly wrong in the western town of
Blackwater, our protagonist Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang are forced
to flee. With federal agents and the best bounty hunters in the nation massing
on their heels, the gang must rob, steal and fight their way across the rugged Heartland
of America in order to survive.
In a 45-minute demo shown to select media outlets, Rockstar
Games presented Morgan on the outskirts of Dutch’s camp – a makeshift base
comprised of tents and wagons. It’s the foundation on which the gang is built,
and a place where Dutch, Arthur, and the other desperados of the group, such as
Bill Williamson, Javier Escuella, Micha Bell, John Marston, and Sadie Adler can
relax after a day’s work, reflect on the events gone by, and plan for whatever
This camp isn’t just a base or a headquarters. It’s a living
community – a place hidden from the prying eyes of the law and bounty hunters
by thick, brush and towering trees, which have more a lush, alpine feel in
comparison to the first Red Dead Redemption. The people of the camp bring it to
life, but it’s also constantly changing and adapting. The world has been
painstakingly crafted with every detail brought to life with exquisite
standards by the developers. The sky is reflected in muddy puddles as they
gleam in the sunshine, tall grass and trees sway in the light breeze. Small
holes can be seen in Arthur’s tattered shirt, and his shoulder bag is shaken
with every movement he makes.
The following scene presented shows Arthur looking out over
the wilderness on the edge of camp. It’s eerily quiet as the world hasn’t quite
woken up yet. After a period of player inactivity, Arthur drops to his haunches
to contemplate the horizon in a moment that feels both natural, but also
intimate. The Wild West in Red Dead Redemption 2 has been made authentic,
reactive, and feels lived-in. He soon walks towards camp, exploring the woods
and streams nearby that showcase the variety in the vistas and the level of
detail on offer before pausing to fill a cup from his satchel with coffee. Arthur
runs into some of the other gang members, including Sean McGuire – a cheery
Irish joker who enjoys telling stories with endless enthusiasm around the
Then we have Uncle, a beloved character from Red Dead
Redemption. He’s a bearded, hungover wreck. You’ll usually find him slumped
against a barrel dressed only in his underwear, muttering some gibberish as you
walk past him. Others are chopping firewood, whilst another is plunging strings
on their guitar as they pick out a tune. Meanwhile, the rest of the camp will
be either deep in conversation – such as the compatriots boasting their past adventures
or going about their daily business. It’s a working camp at the end of the day,
and everyone has their jobs to fulfil.
Some of the duties in camp include cleaning clothes so
they’re fresh to wear, gathering wood for the fire, collecting clean drinking
water from the river, and of course, hunting down food to cook and eat. Each
member of the gang has their own role and unique duties to complete, and if you
take a moment to look around, you’ll notice that everyone is doing whatever
task they need to be doing.
Arthur has an important role in the upkeep of the gang, and
that’s not just in terms of supplies, but also the overall morale of the camp.
For example, if there’s plenty of food and resources to go around everyone,
then spirits are high. It’s reflected in the mood of the camp, too. You’ll
notice people drinking, singing and dancing, and they’ll greet you with cheer.
If the food runs low, however, they’ll mutter angrily about where their next
meal is coming from and when it’ll arrive. The overall mood will be far more
sedate than usual. It’s also an organic community of members that can grow and
shrink depending on who leaves and who stays.
Arthur is rewarded for hunting and buying supplies, but
don’t feel pressured that you must constantly provide for the entire group.
This isn’t a survival or base building simulator at the end of the day. It’s an
open-world action-adventure experience, and camp will continue regardless of
your input. It’s important to balance responsibilities in camp with having fun.
Sometimes when you walk by the camp cook – a role assumed by Pearson, Arthur will
be told that the meet supply is running low, but instead of triggering a
cutscene that leads into a mission, it plays out as Morgan walks along, sipping
This is also the case with most interactions in Red Dead
Redemption 2. The camera doesn’t cut away from the action or force you into
constant cut-scenes. Instead, you’re always in control of Arthur with these
interactions being triggered automatically based on your proximity of other
characters. It’ll be up to your whether you wish to choose to continue the
conversation or just proceed about with your day. Morgan can choose to ignore
Pearson in the above scenario, or he can agree to help and head out into the
wilderness to hunt down some animals.
These scenarios have been designed to blur together real
missions with side quests, and these are varied based on different factors,
such as the time of day, where you are and who you’re with. Choices are
presented to you throughout Red Dead Redemption 2, and Arthur will often
stumble into other people outside camp. Like reality, it can be a mixed bunch,
but you’ll have complete control over how Arthur acts in this world thanks to
the use of a unique interaction system, represented by a few choices displayed
in the bottom right of the screen.
These include options such as ‘Greet’ or ‘Antagonise,’ and
will dynamically change based on certain factors, such as who you’re talking to
and the choices you’ve made previously in that interaction with the character.
It sounds very similar to the system used by CD Projekt Red in The Witcher 3:
Wild Hunt, and that isn’t a bad thing at all. This sophisticated system allowed
players to truly feel like they were crafting their own protagonist and forming
their own rich, deep storyline, and it looks like Rockstar Games may have taken
inspiration from this when creating the interaction system in Red Dead
Redemption 2. Because of this, there will be no character switch system as
found in Grand Theft Auto V. Instead, Rockstar Games believes it has “pretty
convincing reasons” to stay with Arthur Morgan and see how his relationships
with others change over time. At the end of the day, this is his story.
If Arthur travels with his gun holstered, folks are likely
to give him a warm reaction. However, if you carry it in your hand, then passers-by
will react more severely. This is due to the unpredictability of your actions
and what might be about to occur. Bandits and lawmen will retaliate
aggressively, challenging Arthur and even drawing their own weapons. Ordinary
citizens might simply cower, with the braver of the bunch asking you to put
your weapon away. If you point a pistol or a repeater in someone’s face, then
expect a more extreme reaction – and potentially a surprise shootout.
Other factors can also impact the responses received by
civilians in the world of America’s Heartland. For example, a farmer who
doesn’t take to kindly to Arthur riding close to his land will tell him to move
on, whilst a lone traveller resting by a fallen tree trunk will be wary as your
trot past at dusk. The fisherman out by the edge of the river will be less
aware of your presence, and in some circumstances, might be so transfixed on
landing a haul, he won’t notice if Arthur rides up to his tent and takes the
meat hanging by the fire, as well as whatever he can find in his lockbox.
But what if that same fisherman has a dog who starts barking
once alerted to your presence? Then he’ll investigate and is bound to catch
Arthur attempting to steal his belongings. He’ll shout at Arthur to stop, but
obviously, this poor man is no match for the outlaw. Arthur could listen to
him, turn around and flee, or he could attempt a more forceful approach and
push him onto the ground. If it works, the fisherman will scramble to his feet
and bolt, but Arthur could also attempt to diffuse the situation peacefully. However,
that might lead to the fisherman retaliating more aggressively – potentially
gunning him down there and then. It’s these types of decisions that you – the
player, will be forced to make for Arthur in his adventures across the Wild
West in the Heartland of America.
Red Dead Redemption 2 also has an ‘Honour System’ like its
predecessor, and this can affect Arthur’s standing with his fellow campmates.
It’s up to the player to decide how honourable he is in daily activities and
actions. This will also impact how friendly townsfolk are likely to be with
him, but the more famous he becomes, the most likely the inhabitants of each
town, village, and settlement will treat him well. The world can be as hostile
or as friendly as you make it to be as players have a great deal of control
over Arthur’s behaviour and how the world and its inhabitants reacts to him.
One of the best ways to provide for the camp is to scavenge
for food and loot, and this is where hunting comes into play. The demo area
shown to media was New Hanover – and it’s certainly not short of wildlife. In
fact, it’s a place where people mostly live from livestock. Birds will scatter
as you gallop past, deer prance across the rolling hillsides, and the hum of
fireflies provided the backdrop to some of Red Dead Redemption 2’s more quieter
The whole ambience is impressive with breath-taking sceneries
and panoramas – all full of detail, and we’ve seen this from the shots taken in
the trailers for Red Dead Redemption 2, as well as the official screenshots. Other
animals include wolves and pumas around the forests, foxes whizzing through the
undergrowth, frogs leaping around the riverbank with alligators to be wary of,
ducks fluttering by the air, bats flying across a ruined house, and of course, roars
on the river bank as a Grizzly bear attacks Arthur, an encounter he barely
escaped in the demo shown to press.
Red Dead Redemption featured 38 species of animals, but it’s
fair to say that Red Dead Redemption 2 will clearly outshine this. The fauna is
not only more diverse in the open-world, but it also interacts with each other
more naturally and organically. For example, predators can be seen hunting or
scavengers – such as vultures, can be found plunging into the remains of dead
animals. As Arthur rides on his horse, other animals can also be spotted,
including a flock of sheep herded by their shepherd and his dog as you travel
through pine-forests and along rock outcroppings that offer beautiful views with
sun-bleached fields of green grass that stretch beyond the scorched earth.
There’s also “hand-crafted” locations, such as a burnt forest and an abandoned
settlement. One scene showed workers putting up the walls of a new ranch, which
Rob Nelson, co-studio head of Rockstar North, says could eventually turn into a
Red Dead Redemption 2 is undoubtedly set to be a beautiful
game and players can experience it in a truly cinematic fashion by disabling
the HUD. In fact, it’s completely customizable by the player. You can remove
every trace of in-game help, including the circular map at the bottom if the
screen if you wish. This not only results in a more immersive experience, but
also a more visually-spectacular and authentic one too, in which Red Dead
Redemption 2 can truly shine and flourish across all the different nuances of
its graphical beauty and open-world showpiece.
Impressively, this demo was running on a base PS4 system, but
Red Dead Redemption 2 also takes advantage of the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4
Pro consoles, but details on the enhancements on offer for these systems has
yet to be revealed, though one can expect 4K resolution and additional visual flourishes
to be key highlights here. Red Dead Redemption 2’s assets have all been
showcased in 1080p so far – and they’re already pure visual eye-candy with beautiful
animation works, stunning atmospheric lighting effects and highly-detailed
character models and environments. It’s backed by an engaging soundscape with ambient
sounds and a dynamic soundtrack which adapts to the situation and builds
excitement when leading up to tense set-piece moments.
The world’s topography in Red Dead Redemption 2 features
rivers, rock faces, and flora – and this dictates the kind of fauna discovered
by the player. The foliage has also been hand-crafted and hand-placed, allowing
each location and wide area to have a sense of its own unique identity whilst
ensuring each area seamless blends with those that surround it as Arthur rides
from place to place whilst mounted on his horse. Some locations, such as
swampland and marshes feature barely-visible pathways taking the player to
rapidly modernizing towns and cities – observing those snow-capped mountains
way off to the distance on your travels as the hooves of your horse, meanwhile,
kick-up dust, spray snow, and squelch through the mud.
Speaking of horses, this is one aspect of Red Dead
Redemption 2 that Rockstar Games has doubled down on and improved drastically
in comparison to its predecessor. Your horse is now a companion instead of a
disposable transportation method. You’ll build up a bond with your mount as you
spend more time with it, calming it whenever it’s agitated, grooming it to make
it stronger and more reliable, whilst feeding it to keep it alive and ticking
well with plenty of stamina.
Horses you have a strong bond with will be calmer in
firefights, whilst the reaction of an untrained mount can be unpredictable.
Because you’ll form a meaningful bond with your horse, when they die, they don’t
magically respawn when you whistle. In this circumstance, you’ll have to find a
new companion and retrain them while reforming the bond that you had with your
past mount. If your horse is injured in a firefight and you have the right tools
for the job with you, you can recover it using medicine. Death isn’t instantaneous,
and you will have time to save your companion, but in this world, things must
cost something to mean something – and ensuring the survival of your loyal
companion is one of those core mechanics that adds the realism of the
relationships formed by Arthur Morgan and their emotional attachment.
Another change to horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 occurs
when you dismount it. Your mount will simply stay where it is, and whilst you
can call it with a whistle as usual, this will now only work if it’s nearby.
Your horse now not only gets you from one point to another, but it also carries
most of your supplies and larger weapons, as well as the carcasses of animals
This means you’ll always want to be aware of where it is.
Horses also have different personalities based on their breed, and an
attention-to-detail is shown from Rockstar Games from their mannerisms to how
they’re animated. Different breeds of horses will react differently to terrain,
water, and stressful situations. Horses also react as an intelligent animal
would, and because they’re smart, horses won’t jump off a cliff – even if you
try and force them to.
Hunting is obviously a key component to Red Dead Redemption
2’s gameplay, and when hunting smaller animals – say a rabbit or cougar, Arthur
can either tie them to his horse or skin them first, the latter of which was
the default in Red Dead Redemption.
It’s also a gruesome display of Arthur’s skills as a
huntsman, ripping the skin clean off in some swift move before its accompanied
by the squelch. Yuck. Deer is another popular animal in Red Dead Redemption 2’s
vast open-world, and using a bow-and-arrow, you can easily pick one off. Simply
whistle to draw its attention, and then hit it. Once you’ve found where the
buck has collapsed, you can plunge a knife into the animal’s heart.
In Red Dead Redemption 2, hunting with a bow rather than a
gun will result in a cleaner kill, which makes the hunted animal more valuable.
Striking an arrow in its leg will see the animal cry in pain and attempt to run
in what’s essentially a brutal, bloody, and an extremely unpleasant job, but it
will result in the cleanest and best meat to either sell or take back home to the
In the case of a buck, it’ll most likely be still alive but
kicking its legs as it screeches in agony on the ground before Arthur finishes
the job. This is the bit where some of us will be looking away from the screen
briefly whilst Arthur does what needs to be done – and brings back a large buck
that can feed the camp for days.
Arthur will then need to pick his up prey – throwing it over
his shoulders and bringing it back to his mount. It’s heavy, and Arthur will
look noticeably debilitated whilst carrying the animal, however, that’s not the
only thing he needs to worry about. Dead animals will decay overtime in Red
Dead Redemption 2 as they do in the real-world, and while small prey can be wrapped
and stashed into your satchel to prolong their use, the carcass of a deer in
the scorching mid-day sun will soon turn it rotten – which in turn attracts flies
Bringing the buck back to Pearson at the camp is therefore a
priority, and this also applies if you’re were going to bring it to a nearby
butcher for profit. The better the condition of the meat, the greater your pay.
An animal riddled with buckshot will attract less of a reward than a clean kill
with a single arrow to the leg.
By the time he’s brought the animal to Pearson, the sun has
set on New Hanover and the day’s duties are done. The mood is more relaxed, the
outlaw guarding the camp’s entrance has changed, and most are either
socializing with one another or have returned to their tents for the evening.
With food back in the camp – meat that will last them for
days, Arthur can now relax for some time and interact with his fellow
campmates. Some are enjoying a game of chess, whilst another is listening to
soothing opera on a gramophone, which shows once more how alive this world and
environment is. However, Arthur does find Bill Williamson, Lenny and Karen in
deep discussion, and they usher him over. There’s a bank they want to hit in a
nearby town of Valentine. Resistance is expected to be minimal, but they still
want Arthur to come along to be their muscle. He agrees to accompany them, and
then the screen fades to black.
The next morning, the four of them ride together towards the
town and get their plan detailed. Like the heists featured in Grand Theft Auto
V, each member of the gang pulling off the score will have various roles. Karen
will cause a distraction, before the other three make their move inside.
Valentine, where the bank is located, is a small place. There’s a church, a
handful of shops and traders, a saloon, a sheriff’s office, and a railroad that
runs along its edge.
Arthur and his gang tether their horses off the main road
before walking towards the bank. Karen asks Arthur the best method of
distraction. She can either play the part of a lost girl or the drunken harlot.
Arthur suggests the latter option as she staggers inside the bank and causes a
commotion with those in it.
As Karen does her thing, Bill, Lenny and Arthur soon
accompany her – pulling their neckerchiefs over their faces and going in with
weapons drawn. There’s only a handful of folks inside the bank, with some
already on the ground and held at gunpoint. Arthur forces the bank teller to
open the vault at gunpoint, but with time ticking away, he pressures him to
speed the process up. Moments later, it’s open and inside are five safes.
Time is running out, but Arthur has two options – he can
either attempt to crack the safes or blow them open. Wedging in a stick of
dynamic in the handle of each safe before taking cover behind a nearby desk,
Arthur remains calm as the door of each of them blow open. Each explosion also
causes the room to shake as they’re set off – one by one. Arthur hauls as much
loot as he can before he comes running back out front. However, he’s too late
and runs into the sheriff and his deputies, who are already on the scene. This
is Arthur’s chance to show off his shooting skills, and these have been “significantly
refined” over the first game.
Dead Eye is back in Red Dead Redemption 2. It works and
looks similar to how it did in its predecessor as the screen turns sepia and
the action slows down. This gives the player the chance to mark their targets
before shooting. The four lawmen hit the dirt as they’re each met with a hail
of gunfire before Arthur turns his focus to the deputies firing from on top of
the buildings. Arthur and the gang slowly make their way from one piece of
cover to the next before eventually getting back to their horses.
Just as Arthur is about to climb upon his mount, a bullet
slides past his head – knocking his hat clean off. This isn’t a prescribed
moment in the game but is instead something that can happen. Furthermore, if
you lose your hat, it won’t miraculously reappear in the next scene. Instead,
you’ll need to go back and get it if you’re willing to risk the heat of law
enforcement, or simply buy another whenever you get the chance.
Arthur and his gang flee the scene, but as they attempt to
escape the location, lawmen close in from every side. They head towards the
railroad in an effort to shake their pursuers, as Arthur manages to dispose of
two of them riding up from behind before he switches to his rifle to pick off
another riding along a nearby ridge as the target is flung off his horse. To
his unfortunate despair, his legs get caught in the reins and he’s dragged
along the ground as the horse gallops on. Ouch!
Up ahead, a train thunders across the railroads in the
plains, which gives Arthur and his gang an escape route. Arthur charges in
front of the speeding train, and cuts himself, Bill, Lenny, and Karen away from
their pursuers and the law enforcement behind. It’s the type of epic, set-piece
moment you’d come to expect from the end of a heist in a Rockstar title. Arthur
escaped in perfect timing, but if he was a split-second later, that train
would’ve been covered in blood with Arthur’s guts spilt out all over the
What Rockstar Games showed their selected media attendees in
March during a studio visit to Rockstar North in Edinburgh, Scotland, was only
a small part of the Red Dead Redemption 2 experience. More than 300 employees
work at the Rockstar North team, but this is a collaborative project between
multiple Rockstar Studios, including North, San Diego, New York, Toronto, and
In terms of Red Dead Redemption 2, New Hanover – which was
the focus of this press demo, is a small area in a much larger world. That
open-world is a huge landscape that encompasses the snowy wastelands of the
north to the swamps of the south with all the settlements and a sprawling city
in-between. There’s also a variety of camps as the outlaws on the run in the Van
der Linde gang will be forced to move on and find new settlements when the heat
from law enforcement and bounty hunters alike gets too much.
The narrative of Red Dead Redemption 2 will also feature
connections with the original game, which is expected considering it’s set 12
years prior to it and features some familiar faces – including John Marston,
the lead protagonist of Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar Games wants fans to think
of the storyline of Red Dead Redemption 2 as “a companion piece” to the
original game rather than a prequel as it tells the story of the gang that John
alludes to in the first game. Dutch was the main antagonist in Red Dead
Redemption, but in Red Dead Redemption 2, he’s a well-dressed man, replete with
a bowler-hat, watch chain and waistcoat which is in stark contrast to his
appearance in the first game, where he's depicted as a wild-haired
Outside of the narrative-driven single-player experience
that Rockstar Games has been focusing on in its reveals so far, multiplayer is
also poised to return in Red Dead Redemption 2 – which is no surprise after the
continued success of Grand Theft Auto Online. Rockstar Games claimed it will “create
a brand new open-world multiplayer experience” with the online component of Red
Dead Redemption 2, but there’s no details beyond that quote at this moment in
time. For now, the team are focused on the storyline of Arthur Morgan and his
adventures with the Van der Linde gang, as well as the epic, sprawling western
open-world set in the Heartland of America.
Rockstar Games is aiming to build a deep, expansive, and
immersive experience with Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s a story driven by the
ambition of all these factors like no other, and it never wants you to feel
like you’re being pushed into a certain direction or that you’re being guided
as you play. Instead, this is designed as an experience that feels like it’s
been impacted by you.
Every decision is yours and you must live by those, no
matter how good or bad they are as you survive the ruthlessness of true
frontier life. It’s also charming how many details are on offer in this
experience, and Rockstar Games aims to deliver depth whilst giving the player
as much space as possible. It starts with the story and continues across the
vastly-detailed world and the way you can react to its inhabitants.
From the organic, living wildlife to the sophistication of
the interaction system with your gang, outside strangers, and the world around
you, as well as the high-level of realism depicted from its landscape and
living open-world experience, Red Dead Redemption 2 is shaping up to be a game
experience like no other – one that’s been eight years in the making, ready to
perfect and reimagine the open-world gameplay experience.
Indeed, work began on Red Dead Redemption 2 as the team
wrapped up its development and production on the previous game – which shipped back
in May 2010. Since then, Rockstar has gradually consolidated all its studios
into a single team spanning the globe, and whereas previously it shipped games
by Rockstar North in the case of Grand Theft Auto V, or Rockstar San Diego in
the case of Red Dead Redemption, Red Dead Redemption 2 is being released as a ‘Rockstar
Games Production’ from Rockstar Studios – a global effort by all its teams,
working together as one. These teams have hand-crafted this detailed,
immersive, and interactive open-world as one for almost a decade.
With Red Dead Redemption 2, its highly-anticipated prequel
to a western blockbuster, it appears Rockstar Games has not only redefined the
genre and our expectations from games, but it looks to have another triumph on
its hands, one that’s ready to follow in the footsteps of John Marston in Red
Dead Redemption, and the critical and commercial success of Grand Theft Auto V.
But to bring this reality to life, Rockstar Games has had to rethink how it creates
its open-world experience and bring all its teams together to truly realize its
vision and potential.
This article uses information from this week’s Red Dead Redemption 2 Previews from various media outlets such as IGN, GamePro, and The Telegraph. This story has also been co-published on RockstarINTEL.com.
Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he delivers the latest in news stories, reviews, and feature articles to the website, as well as videos on his YouTube channel and livestreams over on Mixer.