It’s that time again: another open world Rockstar sandbox is upon us, this time in the shape of the long awaited Red Dead Redemption 2. Besides a brief, one-minute teaser trailer that dropped on October 20th of last year, not much has been heard from Rockstar since.
At this point we can only imagine what the setting, story, and gameplay will be like. But thankfully there’s another giant Rockstar game we can look to for ideas.
Given the appeal of Grand Theft Auto V (it’s sitting pretty as the fourth best selling video game of all time), what lessons can Rockstar learn from its prior success and apply to Red Dead Redemption 2?
Sure, it’s an easy target given RDR2’s reveal poster and GTA V’s groundbreaking 3 protagonist system, but chances seem pretty high that this will be a story told through multiple perspectives. Rather than simply repeating GTA V’s formula, however, Rockstar could throw a little twist into the mix. What if you could play as the protagonist and the antagonist?
Or Rockstar could lean more towards RPG elements and let you swap between members of your gang at anytime to utilize unique sets of skills. There's a lot of potential here.
There’s no doubt Rockstar can tell a good story, but the Rockstar of 2000 seems much different than the powerhouse studio of today. GTA III came out in the age of South Park and America in the midst of 9/11. At its core, the Grand Theft Auto series is fundamentally a gangster spoof, a satirical critique of American society, and a rags-to-riches story. It’s a series that never takes itself too seriously.
With Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar offered up a dose of maturity. There were no Ammu-Nations to be found in the Wild West, though Rockstar’s penchant satire was still sprinkled throughout. RDR2 seems to be very much in-line with its predecessor, if not more so. Given that RDR2 is likely a prequel, the potential for scrutinizing America’s dark, destructive past is abundant.
Take a look at the Red Dead Redemption launch trailer. It’s an okay attempt at depicting a Western movie slash videogame hybrid. Guys get shot, guns go off, horses gallop, and Marston’s manly voice describes the stark situation he starts out in. We know it’s a Western because Rockstar riffs pretty hard on the entire genre.
Now look at GTA V’s trailer. Set to the brilliant track “Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake” by Small Faces, Michael begins his narration with, “Why did I move here? I guess it was the weather. Or the, uh, I dunno, that thing, that magic.” The narration is top notch for setting up our expectations of Los Santos, but Rockstar wisely lets the city do the bulk of the work. For a game that’s more than three-years old, it still holds up—the editing is highly cinematic, and nearly every quest unfolds with a well-crafted intro.
RDR2 makes a nod at GTA V here, letting the landscape speak for itself. There’s only one line of dialogue(!) in the teaser trailer, too. But what’s notable is Rockstar’s direction. In just a handful of scenes we see a collection of stunning vistas, frontier settlements, and people going about their business. The West looks alive, and not a single bullet is fired. For a game about shooting bandits, this trailer is a good sign we’re going to get some quality storytelling.
Places To Go, People To See, Things To Do
Now, all that land isn’t good if there’s nothing to do within it. On that note, GTA V is filled with details in almost every nook and cranny. Rockstar took advantage of all that space, populating it with hidden secrets and screwball sidequests that could be overlooked if the player didn’t slow down.
On top of that, the customization in GTA V was bonkers. Players could buy unique properties and businesses for each character, which sometimes came with their own mini quests. Clothing stores, barbershops and tattoo parlors offered different items depending on who you played as.
With RDR2, Rockstar will likely further this trend, adding a variety of ambient quests, unique settlements, and customizations for your character. There’ll probably be more of everything: guns and melee weapons to be fine-tuned, horses to be trained and improved, and yes, cool clothing to be worn. What better to do with a 300+ member development team?
Robust Online Multiplayer
Grand Theft Auto Online is a cash cow. Naturally, Rockstar will want to reap what it sows once again, starting with some sort of Red Dead Online offering. This could be the Westworld simulator we’re all craving for, with merchants, bandits, sheriffs and cowboys all vying for a playing field. Could you become a lucrative oil or gold prospector, or wreak havoc on small frontier towns? Either way, the success of GTA Online surely implies Rockstar will be keeping RDR2’s multiplayer alive and well for years to come.
We just hope that the servers are actually ready to handle millions of players trying to jump online at the same time. If not, at least we'll have single-player to keep us occupied.
Every Rockstar game is a successor to the last. Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, and Max Payne 3 paved the way for the mature characters, technical challenges, and ambitious storytelling that was GTA V. Quests grew to be more alive and varied, characters were more believable, and cities felt lived-in.
If there’s any hope that Red Dead Redemption 2 will be as good as, if not better, then GTA V, it’s that Rockstar continues to pursue improvement in many forms. There's no reason to think this time around will be any different.