The open-world action/RPG genre has been the stage where some of the most ambitious and innovative games from this generation have showcased their stuff. The Witcher 3, Breath of the Wild, and Assassin’s Creed Origins are just a few games that come to mind that have all proceeded the highly anticipated Red Dead Redemption 2, and have done great things for the genre so far this generation.
Throwing your hat into that ring is a major commitment. One that is too risky for companies that don’t have the resources that publishers like Ubisoft and Nintendo do.
To anyone that pays even a little attention to the games industry, it goes without saying that Rockstar is the 10,000 pound pink elephant in the room. Fortunately for other companies, Rockstar has bided their time with Red Dead Redemption 2, spending most of the generation updating the still very popular Grand Theft Auto Online.
Other companies have seized that opportunity, and driven open-world games to new heights. Where in the past, open-world games were a rare treat, nowadays, excellent games like Horizon Zero Dawn turn up regularly.
However, Rockstar is finally leaving hibernation this month when Red Dead Redemption 2 releases on Oct. 26.
The expectations are sky high for Red Dead Redemption 2, and for a lot of games, I’d be worried that the hype would just blow up to unrealistic levels. I’ll admit that prior to playing it myself, at least a little part of me was worried that this could be the case.
Finally getting to play Red Dead Redemption 2 last week has erased any doubts about the game’s ability to meet their fans’ lofty aspirations, at least for its single-player campaign. Red Dead Online is still under wraps.
I got a taste of two separate experiences during my preview. I was walked through an early story mission, and then got to do whatever I wanted in the early game’s open world. Let’s run through the most noteworthy features.
Voice Acting and Dialogue
While there are a lot of sexier features like the game’s visuals, and updated gameplay, what impressed me the most during my time with Red Dead Redemption 2 was the writing, voice acting, and subsequent dialogue between characters in the game.
The dynamic between all characters in the game, whether it’s Arthur and his fellow gang members, or just random NPCs wandering around the game’s world, is so incredibly natural and realistic. Even in just a short two-hour session, there was a ton of conversation that I was privy to.
Whether I was experiencing the mission that was demoed for us, the train robbery led by Dutch van der Linde and Arthur, making idle conversation with camp goers, or running into someone at a bar, the conversations that were going on fully supported the immersion, and never ripped me from it.
The characters, if I closed my eyes, would just sound like they are real people right in front of me. That’s how well-written the dialogue I heard was. I never felt compelled to tune out, skip anything, or just not pay attention. I was learning so much about everyone I met by just listening to the very real sounding conversations that were going on between the characters that I met.
There was nothing that I experienced during my demo that was on the level of major, Mass Effect-like choices. But from what I gathered, that was kind of the point.
There’s going to be a lot of smaller scale choices that are made constantly while you’re playing. This includes how you interact with everyone you see in the game’s open world, and extends out to having some options when playing through story missions.
For example, once the train robbery that we were walked-through began, Arthur was able to make a few in the moment decisions that changed how the mission played out, such as taking the lead, or allowing someone else to. Nothing major, right? But little things like this are scattered throughout the game to offer a touch of agency and realism, instead of every scripted moment just being completely on-rails.
When you press L2/LT without your gun out, you’ll be able to interact with just about anyone in the game. It will open up an action menu that will give you the freedom to approach people as friendly, or hostile, as you’d like. Having the freedom to greet, threaten, or rob anyone you like, for the most part, is cool, but nothing that sounds particularly crazy. Grand Theft Auto has more or less offered that.
The big difference with Red Dead Redemption 2 is how the world reacts to you. It is far more realistic than I’ve ever seen in another open-world game. Everyone seems to have a distinct personality that will react to what you do in wholly different ways, and even remember your actions to bring them up if you meet again.
When I began my time with the game, whoever played it before me had apparently gotten into a brawl in a local town I showed up at. I passed by someone who saw the fight, and they scolded me for causing a ruckus. Then later on, I popped into a bar (maybe it was the same one) and someone sat next to me and told me how awesome that fight was.
Later, while walking around town, a fight spilled out in front of me. I try to be a good guy, so rather than just standing by and doing nothing, I fired a warning shot to try and get everyone’s attention and calm people down. It sort of worked? But like I said, everyone reacts differently. Some people were startled, others got defensive, and the lawmen went outside to investigate.
I didn’t hurt anyone. So it’s not like in Grand Theft Auto where firing a weapon inevitably gets you some wanted stars. Still, the lawmen didn’t like it.
I approached them amicably, and talked the situation down. We weren’t buddy buddy after that. They stared me down as I slowly made my way out of their line of sight, but they decided that I wasn’t worth the trouble that day.
I could have approached that differently, and had a completely different result.
Finally, the gameplay felt extremely familiar to Red Dead Redemption 1. Rockstar didn’t opt to radically change anything, it just felt like a more refined, but complex version of what people remember from the first game, and to a lesser extent Grand Theft Auto V.
The biggest thing is to be conscious about whether or not you have your gun holstered. Having your gun out puts you in an aggressive state, and people will react to you differently. So keep your gun holstered in town unless you’re trying to be a jerk.
With your gun unholstered, obviously, you can fire at people, enter combat and use deadeye mode. When you’re out hunting, perhaps to support the camp, you can carry a few weapons, and keep your full stash with your horse. It’s generally safe to keep your gun out during those times, unless of course you run into someone.
While we didn’t get the full hunting experience, it’s definitely a bigger part of the game now that your camp’s growth and prosperity is tied to you supporting it financially and through hunts.
Like I alluded to, combat is extremely familiar in past games. There’s a healthy amount of aim-assist, and the skill factors into whether or not you can land head shots. Deadeye is charged over time and through combat, and you can use that to clear out groups of enemies quickly.
As has been advertised repeatedly at this point, there’s a lot of micromanagement of factors like your health, gun cleanliness, your hair length, etc. I got a small taste of that during the demo. Cleaning a gun before a fight, as it would normally, would ensure that it’s operating at max efficiency.
My character was looking pretty scruffy, so I visited a barber shop and got a new look. The extra detail worth noting here is that you can’t add hair on by going to the barber. You can only cut it off. So if you want a scruffier look, you have to let it grow out first.
In short, there’s a lot more purpose to everything that you do in-game, even if the actual foundation, like traversal, combat, etc. isn’t much different.
I was only able to experience the tip of this iceberg and this preview is already running long. Red Dead Redemption 2 is going to be incredibly content rich. If you’re playing on PS4 Pro or an Xbox One X with 4K, you’re also going to be treated to one of the best looking games this generation so far. Those trailers that don’t look like they are real, are real. The gameplay actually looks and plays like it does in the trailers. There’s no window dressing here.
We still need to see how it all comes together, the story, the online features, and how all of the above holds up over 50-60 hours. However, if that all falls into place like many expect it to, based on Rockstar’s history, Red Dead Redemption 2 is going to be a serious GOTY contender, here, and in many other publications as well.