Red Dead Redemption 2 Is Rockstar’s Most Ambitious, Organic Open-World Yet
Red Dead Redemption 2 will be the first title from Rockstar Games to ship since the highly commercially-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. Since the launch of Grand Theft Auto V almost five years ago, Rockstar Games has made several advancements in its RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) engine technology. The result of which will be the developer’s most ambitious and living open-world yet, the world of Red Dead Redemption 2.
With the world’s first-ever previews and impressions of Red Dead Redemption 2hitting 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 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 game world is always alive and progressing, with people also make their own choices and decisions, even reacting to circumstances differently. Point a revolver at someone 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 the 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 strength.
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.
Dutch’s Camp – A Makeshift Base With A Living Community
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 is next.
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 the 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 campfire.
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 fulfill.
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.
You Make Arthur’s Decisions and Live With The Consequences
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 meat supply is running low, but instead of triggering a cutscene that leads into a mission, it plays out as Morgan walks along, sipping his coffee.
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 to other characters. It’ll be up to you 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 the 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 to 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 since players have a great deal of control over Arthur’s behaviour and how the world and its inhabitants react to him.
Exploring New Hanover, Discovering Flora and Fauna
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 moments.
The whole ambiance 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 finished house.
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 of 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.
Horses – Not Just A Disposable Transportation Method Anymore
Speaking of horses, this is one aspect of Red Dead Redemption 2 that Rockstar Games has doubled down 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 you’ve hunted.
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.
Arthur Morgan – A Skilled Huntsman
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. 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 camp.
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 over time 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 and scavengers.
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 Valentine’s Bank Heist
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 is 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 spilled out all over the railroad.
A Small Piece of The Dying Wild West
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 New England.
In terms of Red Dead Redemption2, 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 man-of-the-mountain.
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 are no details beyond that quote at this moment in time. For now, the team is 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 FullThrottleMedia.co.uk.