When Red Dead Redemption was released way back in 2010, it was an instant classic. Transposing the free-form open-world formula pioneered by the 3D Grand Theft Auto games to a Wild West setting proved to be inspired, as did replacing that series’ traditional madcap crime capering with a surprisingly sombre and heartfelt tale of, well, redemption. We’d venture to say that Red Dead Redemption may actually be a better game than any of the titles which inspired it, including the Grand Theft Auto games and its predecessor, Red Dead Revolver.
With that in mind, demand for a sequel was completely understandable. As the years passed and Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V became what can underwhelmingly be described as a “runaway success”, hope that a followup to Red Dead Redemption would ever be released continued to fade. Then, in October 2016, Red Dead-themed teaser images began appearing on Rockstar’s social media platforms. Shortly thereafter, Red Dead Redemption 2 was announced, and the hype was deafening. The game will be released for PS4 and Xbox One in October, so now seems as good a time as any to separate the rumours from the truth and have a look at exactly what we currently know about Red Dead Redemption 2.
First off, the game is a prequel, set during original protagonist John Marston’s time running with Dutch Van der Linde’s gang in 1899. RDR2 will follow new protagonist Arthur Morgan, another member of Van der Linde’s posse. John Marston will also be making an appearance, although he won’t be playable (as far as we know). A robbery committed by the Van der Linde gang goes wrong, and they find themselves on the run, being pursued by federal agents and bounty hunters. Morgan must navigate the increasingly fractious divides within his own gang while also ensuring that he isn’t arrested by law enforcement or taken in by bounty hunters with dollar signs in their eyes. Narratively, the game seems to bear a passing resemblance to Grand Theft Auto IV’s The Lost and Damned DLC, which also focused on a gang member facing divides in their close-knit community and running from the law.
Morgan’s gang aren’t just narrative fodder, though. The Van der Linde gang is a living, breathing entity in Red Dead Redemption 2, one which will be affected by the choices the player makes throughout the course of the story. Morgan is his gang’s enforcer, so he needs to make sure they’re all kept flush. It’s not just the gang, either. Morgan’s interaction with the world around him shapes how that world regards him. The Honor system was an integral part of Red Dead Redemption; it shaped how people and communities viewed John Marston, seeing him either as a kind-hearted saviour or a no-good outlaw. This system has been expanded and placed into sharper focus in Red Dead Redemption 2. Morgan will encounter everyday moral dilemmas and arguments between townsfolk, and he can choose to step in and pass moral judgement or simply ignore the quarrel. The decision the player makes will have a significant impact on the way that community views them, which in turn will impact gameplay.
Gameplay-wise, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an expanded and improved version of its predecessor. The game will still be an open-world sandbox action-adventure title set in the Old West, but many of the mechanics its predecessor pioneered have been iterated upon. Horses, for example, are no longer something to be carelessly thrown off cliffs when bored (oh, come on, admit it). In a similar vein to 2017’s Nintendo Switch title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Arthur Morgan must build a lasting bond with his horse, ensuring that it’s a constant companion through some of the more dangerous moments Red Dead Redemption 2 will throw at the player. Too low a bond might mean that the horse bolts when the going gets tough, which obviously isn’t ideal when Morgan needs to make a quick getaway.
It’s not just horses that have been overhauled. The game’s entire wildlife ecosystem has been revamped to feel more realistic and organic, with animals engaging in their own behaviours regardless of whether Morgan is there to witness them or not. The ecosystem will play an important part in Morgan’s endeavours, especially when he’s out hunting; if Morgan is tracking prey, for example, and it’s eaten by another predator, then he suddenly has a completely different and more aggressive animal to deal with, changing the nature of his mission. The world in general will feel more lived-in and organic than that of the original Red Dead Redemption, with villagers having their own agendas and lives outside of Morgan’s influence.
Of course, Red Dead Redemption 2 still kills the old ways, too. There are train robberies, heist missions and ambient “stranger”-style quests to get stuck into, just like the original game, and there’s a plethora of ways to waste your time with cards and gambling, too. Add to this a robust online multiplayer mode which has been rumoured to take the form of a battle royale-style many-player bust-up (right on trend) and Red Dead Redemption 2 is looking like the complete package. We’ll know more in the runup to the game’s release, but for now, it’s safe to get excited.