Those who are eagerly awaiting Red Dead Redemption 2 have had a hard time so far. Except for a few trailers, you can see the latest story trailer right here. As well as a few isolated screenshots there was hardly any information about the eagerly awaited open-world game of Rockstar Games so far. The fact that the title is so quiet is already seen by some as an indicator of a renewed shift. But you can rest assured. The release date in October is true.
At Rockstar North in Edinburgh, we were able to take an exclusive look at the game well before the release of RDR2 and also chat with the co-studio head of Rockstar North, Rob Nelson. The goal of Nelson and his team is quite ambitious. For Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar is planning nothing less than the best open-world in studio history. Not an easy task, as the GTA 5 phenomenon overshadows RDR2, so we took a first look at this Open World on site, absorbing all the information and impressions.
Storyline focused on the gang
The time of the “Wild West” is drawing to a close, outlaw gangs are being mercilessly persecuted. We slip into the role of Arthur Morgan, member of one of these remaining gangs under the leadership of the charismatic Dutch van der Linde. At the core of the gang are Arthur, Bill Williamson, and John Marston, whom some of you might know as the main character from Red Dead Redemption. Pursued by the government and bounty hunters, the group is on the run through the country and settles in new places again and again with their camp, from where they plan further action and start raids.
In the course of the game, new people will join the troop again and again. However, we cannot recruit members freely in the game world, because according to Rob Nelson this would not guarantee the “degree of relationship with the persons.” After all, the hero should build a bond with each gang mate, which would be difficult with random NPCs in the game world. Nor is it possible to slip into other people, because unlike in GTA V, Arthur Morgan is the only playable character in RDR2. Arthur Morgan’s story is accordingly in focus. But it is also closely linked to the development of the Van der Linde gang and their internal conflicts.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s gameplay presentation starts with a close-up of Arthur’s face. The camera pans around and opens up a breathtaking panoramic view. From the high cliff, on which the gang has camped, we have a great look into the distance. It gives us directly an impression of the vastness of the game world. An entirely different width than, for example, in GTA 5, because here our eyes are not distracted by concrete colossuses or other modern buildings, in RDR 2 nature is the bright star. A glistening river meanders through the valley at the bottom, the smoke from a campfire curls up into the sky in woodland next to it, snow-capped mountains tower on the horizon. Our gaze sticks to this western idyll and can only tear itself away when Arthur turns towards the bandit camp.
The camp serves in the game as a permanent retreat and seems in the demo, here we also get a first impression of the immense richness of detail of the game. While one of our outlaw buddies plays the guitar around the campfire, others talk about their last raid. At the push of a button we can theoretically chat with everyone in the camp. But first, with the Pearson, the camp chef, who tells us that he still needs a little meat.
In addition to the traditional primary and secondary missions, RDR2 also focuses on supplying the group. That repeatedly drives Arthur on exploration tours for money, objects and natural objects in the immediate vicinity. Seeing colleagues only on side missions and otherwise traveling around the world alone would be harmful to the story approach so that Arthur can interact with the other bandits at any time in the camp. It opens up possibilities for smaller side activities such as fishing or raids.
Of course, Arthur’s horse is at least as necessary as his gang mates. It is even more essential in Red Dead Redemption 2 than in its predecessor. He serves as a kind of mini-hub in addition to faster locomotion. For example, you can store weapons on the horse and killed animals. In the finished game, there will be different races, each with different personalities, and everyday experiences of humans and animals will also affect character values such as endurance and speed. Arthur gets in the saddle and rides off to get some meat for the group.
Into the game world, which according to Rob Nelson is much bigger than in its predecessor. Unfortunately, we can’t elicit any more details. But, New Hanover is a name we know it will take place in the game, where people live mainly from cattle breeding. And the little town where a bank robbery later takes place called “Valentine.” There will be also swamps, snow-covered mountain regions, and the obligatory prairies.
The fact that the game world of RDR2 is not only significant but also incredibly engaging in the first few minutes is mainly due to its liveliness and the almost infinite attention to detail. For example, a flock of sheep with shepherd and dog crosses his path quite early on Arthur’s ride. The sky reflects in muddy puddles, and tall grass and cracking trees sway in the light wind. And as Arthur slowly rides down a rocky slope, the horse’s hooves first create a few sliding pebbles. Then he takes a few boulders with them in a kind of mini avalanche. In Arthur’s tattered shirt, there are many small holes. A shoulder bag rocks up and down with every movement. The horse’s gait adapts to the ground such as mud, water or snow. Almost every second there is something stunning and worth of our attention.
Arthur rides on through a burned forest and an abandoned settlement. As Rob Nelson says, they are uniquely designed and not copied indiscriminately into the landscape. It also increases the credibility and immersion of the game world. Of course, you can explore it to your heart’s content. On the riverbank, Arthur discovers the camp of an angler. He takes the contents of a small box and two shot ducks away. Besides, there are several dynamic elements and events in the game world. At one point, for example, we see a couple of workers pulling up the walls of a new ranch. Upon request, Rob Nelson confirms to us that there may well be a finished house in the future.
The absolute highlight of the demo is the animal world. During Arthur’s ride through the game world, we see foxes running through the undergrowth. Frogs are jumping around on the river bank. Ducks are fluttering as we ride past. A swarm of bats coming towards us from a charred house ruin, and as a crowning glory a grizzly roars down on the river bank. 38 animal species existed in the predecessor. Red Dead Redemption 2 will once again undoubtedly top this, among others with alligators in the marshes of the game. However, the fauna is not only more diverse but also interacts with each other much more mature.
Not only wolves and cougars hunt animals in the game world, of course, we can also indulge in chasing to our heart’s content. Two rabbits are the first victims of Arthur’s revolver. Now the outlaw has either the possibility to take the rabbit as a whole with him or to pull the fur off his body by rough abrasion animation. You can change the animal hair for the money at dealers. Two lumpy rabbits are of course not enough to fill the stomachs of an entire gang of bandits, which is why Arthur crawls into the undergrowth a short time later and creeps a few deer along the edge of a cliff.
In order not to destroy the fur of his prey with coarse shot or lead, Arthur uses a bow in RDR2 if desired. Arthur can now whistle at the push of a button to attract the attention of opponents – or even game. The targeted Roebuck looks astonishedly in our direction at the whistle and has an arrow between his ribs within fractions of a second.
But then the shock. The Roebuck is not dead but only wounded. While lying on the ground, he struggles pathetically screaming with his legs. The few seconds Arthur takes to free the dying animal with his knife seem eternal. Later in the interview, we want to know from Rob Nelson whether it is also possible to kill the animal quickly. Of course, it is, according to Rockstar North Co-Studio Head, but you have to deal with the animal and learn at which critical points you meet it best.
Surprised by the force of this scene, we watch with a queasy feeling as Arthur loads the buck onto his horse and rides back to camp. By the way, during the presentation, all HUD displays are switched off, in the finished game a display should then clearly signal when we have collected enough meat. Here, too, Rockstar pays close attention to details. For example, if we leave the dead Roebuck lying around too long, it starts to rot and attracts flies and scavengers. Moreover, the nag cannot be loaded indefinitely, because there is a limit for game and skins that Arthur can take with him.
The liveliness of the game world should set Red Dead Redemption 2 apart from many other Open World titles, but at least as great is Rockstar’s interaction with it. As in the first part, we can still theoretically shoot people we meet on the way out of the saddle, but RDR 2 further expands the possibilities of interaction, away from the binary “killing or riding on.” It is much more interesting, for example, to first talk to an NPC by pressing the left trigger, then pop up several dialog options. For example, the other party can be threatened or persuaded in some other way to give us his money or leave us his carriage.
Incidentally, this also works in the opposite direction if, for example, a sheriff first wants to convince us with warm words that he is not causing us any trouble. In the demo, it is awe-inspiring how NPCs and the game world react to Arthur. For example, a farm owner scares us off his property cursing, a fisherman’s dog barks at us as we search his tent. And a rider in the forest pays us respect when he sees the Roebuck we killed.
The bank robbery with options
Back in the camp, Arthur delivers the buck to Pearson and after a short talk joins Bill Williamson, Lenny Arthur and a woman named Karen. The bank in the small town of Valentine. The group climbs onto the horses and rides off, this time through a green landscape, through which a steam-snorting train also makes its way in the distance.
The railway lines connect some areas of the game world. In the course of the game Dutch and his gang will also attack one or the other train. During the ride the gang members talk a lot, we already know this from the first Red Dead Redemption. In any case, a large part of all conversations will take place during the current game, but of course, there are still classic cutscenes.
Karen plays the decoy and goes into the bank first, but the player can decide which distraction is chosen. We decide on the second variant and then move up with a drawn revolver. In the bank then intimidating screaming, a bank employee we beat into the back room to the safes. Here, too, we have the choice between a slow opening and fast opening. And it confirms once again the precise direction of the more significant variety of options, as Rob Nelson also confirms: “We want to give players as many options as possible, but within what makes sense.” We are quite sure that the decisions should not decisively influence the course and outcome of the bank mission, but the choice is still excellent.
Custom weapon gameplay
When Arthur has blown up the lockers and wants to run away together with his colleagues and the stolen goods, the law enforcement officers have already arrived outside. A wild shooting starts on the muddy streets of the small town, where Arthur shoots down several attackers with his colt. According to Rob Nelson, the original gun gameplay has been significantly refined, but is, of course, similar to its predecessor. Both the dead-eye system, which allows you to place multiple target crosses on your opponents in slow motion, and a cover system that will enable you to pinch yourself behind objects and obstacles, are back on board.
New is that you can now chase an entire cartridge drum into your targets in seconds at average game speed. Some shots are also captured by a slow-motion kill cam, similar to Max Payne 3‘s. Nelson adds that the primary weapon handling should feel even more sophisticated, mature and robust. Unfortunately, we cannot verify this during our visit, because even after our begging they do not want to give us the controller. During the presentation, we see Arthur’s revolver, a rifle, and a shotgun. You can select it via a ring menu as in the predecessor. We also take a look at the status displays of the weapons, which differ in specific attributes such as range and strength, as in the first part, you can also upgrade the shooting irons.
Of course, many questions remain unanswered during our visit. We don’t learn about the intricacies of the game mechanics. Nor about the mission types, the number of side tasks and much more. Nor about the online mode of the game. The short sneak peak doesn’t miss its effect, and after the end of the presentation, we want to return to this open-world, which is full of details. During the demo, the high farsightedness, the fantastic animations of people and animals, the atmospheric lighting effects and the stable framerate stand out.