Ever the straight-shooters, Rockstar Games just unloaded on us with an in-depth look at Red Dead Redemption 2. It was, in short, fan-fired fan-service for anybody interested in the criminally underloved Western film genre. RDR2 also represents a sizeable evolution of one of the finest open-world action adventures ever seen on a console. (And that’s still a sore point for many PC players today.)
What’s changing in Red Dead Redemption 2, beyond a visual overhaul that’ll put your jaw on the floor? Lots of things. Too many to mention here, to be honest. So we’ve whipped out our whittlin’ knife and shaved everything down to the absolute most exciting features of this serious GOTY contender…
We’re telling you slick, games don’t get niftier than bona fide horse AI. Your horse will no longer handle perfectly, every time, like some sort of emotion-less four-legged car. Not only will there be certain breeds bred for specific scenarios (read: war horses and clydesdale variants for hauling weight) it’s also clear that your mounts have affinity levels that must be maintained if you want your ride to perform.
A bond between man and beast is going to form. Gone are the days when you’ll swing off Mr Ed and cruelly use him as Team Equus Shield in a gun battle. Best case scenario: he’ll run off. Worst case: he’ll die and there goes all your hard work and improved performance earned from grooming moments. We also spotted a new “leading” system that lets you dismount and walk your horse through particularly spooky environments. Neat.
Superior Smoke Wagons
When it comes to violence in the Wild West you can’t be any geek off the street. Gotta be handy with the steel, if you know what we mean. Earn your keep. That said, gunplay in other Rockstar games has been a little hit and miss in recent times. Even after tons of post-launch updates Grand Theft Auto V is not celebrated for realistic and challenging shooting mechanics – heck, maxing your shooting skill in that title made recoil (arguably the most important ingredient in a firearm’s “flavour”) become almost non-existent.
Boot up 2010’s Red Dead Redemption and you’ll be amazed by how much better it feels compared. Mercifully, it seems as though Rockstar are building from that point, rather than the Max Payne 3 bastard child shooting that was GTA V. In RDR2 your freedom sticks will fire and reload realistically, plus they’ll have unique characteristics. We also noticed our anti-hero (Arthur Morgan) was using a scattergun in both the crook of his shoulder and from a hip-fire position.
Gunslingers will be thrilled to hear that Rockstar is enhancing the incredibly gratifying Dead Eye quick-draw system, too.
Flap Gums or Fire Guns?
One of the most frustrating parts of any action-filled game is that there’s a very sharp point of no return in most encounters. You’ll do something that triggers the AI (usually by pulling a literal trigger) and from that point on they’re your mortal enemy until either you run out of health or they do.
We love that RDR2 will offer the opportunity to target strangers and belligerents (via L2) in order to talk them down from an action that might ordinarily force us to turn their head into a canoe.
Alternatively, you can use the system to utter some harsh words, low, slow and deadly. You’ve got to wonder how defusing a blood bath via threats will play in the new morality system. Yes, you’re being anti-social, which is dishonourable, but it’s a damn sight nicer than ordering somebody a lead salad sandwich to go.
An even bigger question than that: will this system be trackable, like Mass Effect’s paragon/renegade stats, and will honourable choices result in an ending with happier trails?
The Gang’s All Here
Banditry in RDR2 isn’t about knocking off objectives – it’s about getting to know the dysfunctional family you’ve made for yourself. Hanging out at camp and ingratiating yourself with a loveable bunch of sociopaths will be a means to unlock more side content – and hey, who knows, you might form an emotional bond with these surly gits in the process.
That said, and much like the new horse affinity system, this has the potential to raise the emotional stakes higher than a bandito on lynchin’ day. If all goes to plan with Rockstar’s writing department, any gun battle that puts these people in the firing line will feel extra intense. At best, if you whip out your gun and can’t hit the broad side of a barn with it you might lose a mission-giver. At worst you’ll witness the permadeath of a buddy who owes you five bucks and you’ve gone fishing with for hours.
Honestly, we’re guessing there’ll be a lot of this going on. The overarching theme of RDR2 is that the old Wild West is being tamed, shrinking down to nothing. The Van der Linde gang are the last nails sticking out, set to be hammered back in by progress and a pissed off posse of Pinkertons. The narrator of the trailer even foreshadows their plight with the line “with each area the gang is chased out of”. We’re calling it now: this ain’t gonna end well, friend-o. We smell a blaze of glory.
Speaking of old friends and destruction, what we’re most excited about is catching up with John Marston again (the protagonist of the first game). Seeing how he interacts with a gang he’ll eventually come to hunt down shall be fascinating to watch. Heck, we’d just be happy to see an origin story that details how he meets his wife Abigail and how he got those bad-ass scars on his face. Our money is on a nose pick gone horribly wrong.
Whatever the case may be, the more that is revealed about Red Dead Redemption 2, the more excited we become. Assuming this isn’t haunted by the same bugs that plagued the early days of its progenitor, we could be eyeballin’ the game to beat in 2018. You’d have to be crazier than an bag full of raccoons not to saddle up for RDR2 come October 26.