Despite playing and beating RockStar’s beloved Red Dead Redemption, I was that rare individual who found it unremarkable. Though I enjoyed my time with John Marston and found myself eager to see the harrowing finale of his tale, little else about the game really spoke to me. So, imagine my surprise when RockStar dropped the gameplay trailer for the long-awaited sequel today and I found myself staggered by the gorgeous, mind-blowing visuals, incredible level of detail, and seemingly endless amount of things to do. That’s not even mentioning the refined combat and voice acting, the parts of the original that I’d consider weakest.
Delivered in breathtaking 4k from a PS4 Pro, today’s gameplay reveal was downright game-changing. Unlike many open world games that seem barren and lifeless outside of a smattering of important locales, everything I saw in Red Dead Redemption 2‘s world seemed either immediately engaging or so ridiculously beautiful that it warranted staring at for an extended period. As someone who is well known for being critical of the aforementioned boring aspects of open worlds, something about RockStar’s vision for their newest game strikes me as a game aiming to change my mind about what this type of experience can be. Instead of the individual areas all being functionally identical with a new coat of paint like most games in the genre, each locale shown had a unique and gameplay-altering personality. Murky swamps require guiding your horse by foot through its perils, seemingly avoiding the dangerous wildlife surely to populate such a dark, dank environment. Cities seem rife with intriguing, talkative citizens with worthwhile information. Your gang camps seem equally filled with conversations and mini-games like cards, fishing, and in-depth hunting. None of the side content feels like tacked on busywork like most games of its ilk, but instead looks to be rich and rewarding aspects of the core gameplay loop.
Additionally, there appears to be a focus on player choice. A lot of games have offered this to varying degrees, but I’m rather impressed by RockStar’s attention to captivating options. These aren’t merely prompts offering moral or immoral decisions. They’re exciting interactive opportunities to do the right or wrong thing, and from the looks of it so far I can see it having an emotional payoff for most players. If you’re feeling like embracing outlaw life, you can murder and pillage, intimidate witnesses, and otherwise wreak havoc against those who stand in your way. If you’re feeling friendly, you can help wounded travelers, assist citizens with harassment by other outlaws, and keep your guns holstered to keep people feeling safe. You make a choice about what kind of person you want to be by the moment and reap the rewards or consequences.
The story, which focuses this time on a new character, Arthur Morgan, seems to be tackling a much stronger feeling of the wild, untamed west. This isn’t a strictly personal story. We’re joining Arthur and his outlaw gang as they flee from feds and bounty hunters after a botched robbery, so gang life seems to play an integral part in gameplay. Unlike John Marston’s singularly-focused revenge tale, there looks to be significantly more potential for a sweeping narrative about loyalty and morality within a larger group of men who have nothing to their names but what they can take and fight for. The relationships between these men appear fickle and emotionally unbalanced, so it will be exciting seeing what undoubtedly hard-hitting gut punches RockStar has lined up for us as it plays out. With the much-improved voice acting, which appears to have even been touched up since the last story trailer, I feel confident I’ll be itching for more time with Arthur and the gang, and something tells me I won’t be alone.
RockStar’s newest entry in their open world catalog is shaping up to be an undoubtedly enrapturing experience. Boasting improvements from the first game, exciting new gameplay mechanics, and phenomenal visuals, Red Dead Redemptions 2 is almost guaranteed to instantly hit the top of most Game of the Year lists when it lands. You can get your hands on it October 26 for PS4 and Xbox One.