By Laura Kate Dale and Rich Stanton
Eleven months after it was officially revealed with a teaser, today saw the first substantial trailer for Red Dead Redemption II. Slated for spring 2018, earlier than many expected when a 2018 release was first announced, the video’s only a few minutes but showed us a decent amount of the world and hinted at some of the game’s features.
One big piece of info has been long-rumoured since before even the game’s reveal; Red Dead Redemption II is a prequel to Red Dead Redemption. We know this thanks to some quick glimpses of young Dutch, who’s not only channelling Al Swearengen something rotten but appears bound-up with a nasty bunch of extortion-focused cowboys. At least we know he survives RDRII I guess, phew.
The timeline suggests we could get a glimpse of a younger John Marston, at the stage of his life where he’s doing all the things he’d later come to regret. Thanks to a press release, there’s also some official context for the plot of RDRII. Rockstar says the game is “the story of outlaw Arthur Morgan and the Van Der Linde gang as they rob, fight and steal their way across the vast and rugged heart of America in order to survive.”
Arthur Morgan is the player character and, watching the trailer, we see our protagonist seemingly taking a very active role in committing crime, going town to town shaking people down and apparently being chased by law enforcement across the west. It really does seem a shift in tone from the previous game; a little nastier, and a little grittier.
It’s worth mentioning that the superb TV show about the wild west, Deadwood, seems to be a real influence here. There’s a flavour of that show in how similar some of the characters look, in the gentlemanly language used for death threats, and it’s not hard to imagine that Rockstar is now making something inspired less by the film classics (which is the essence of the first game) than more contemporary reimaginings of the wild west myth (Deadwood used contemporary sources, and recreates several characters from history). It’s a tantalising prospect, anyway.
We may be reading too much into things at this point, but there’s also an increased focus on close-up encounters (the faces this time around are pretty amazing) and several shots of physical combat. This may all be just scene-setting but it’s worth remembering that Rockstar has always had RPG-lite leanings in its designs, and has a thing for interesting melee systems (The Warriors, Manhunt, GTAIV onwards). Open world games have moved on significantly in terms of quest design and NPCs since RDR, and it'll be fascinating to see what it takes from competition like The Witcher 3.
The animal ecosystem in RDRII also looks to have been greatly expanded from the original game. We see a crocodile attacking another animal, as well as a big ‘ol bear charging forwards. There’s a brief snatch of Morgan hunting a deer with a bow, and most excitingly a clip of him lassoing a horse — which is surely how you come across and capture your four-legged companions. Yeeha! It might be too optimistic to hope we can lasso the bear and be its friend too, but hope springs eternal.
What else? Oh, the big news: the ‘2’ in the title has now become a ‘II’. No but seriously, the real big news here is the absence of the magic letters 'PC' from any of the advertising. RDRII will be available for PS4 and Xbox One at launch, but Rockstar's seeming ambivalence about the most powerful platform around is enough to make even the most hard-bitten cowpoke weep.
As is always the case with Rockstar, we can speculate but it’s tough to take away too much from this trailer. The studio is now a master at showing exactly as much as they want people to see — because they know everyone’s frothing at the mouth. All will be forgiven if, in spring 2018, they make our day.