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Why Red Dead Redemption 2 will blow you away in 2018

Since the release of Red Dead Redemption in 2010, gamers the world over have been patiently waiting for Rockstar to release the successor to what is widely considered one of the best open-world games ever created. In typical Rockstar fashion, however, the developers have taken their time in crafting the next—or, in this case, previous—chapter of their highly-regarded western, and have kept their mouths shut regarding the juicy details of its characters and plot... leaving us only a pair of short trailers to pick apart like ravenous carrion buzzards.

Still, even with confirmed details in short supply, there's a lot to be excited about. So polish your spurs and saddle up, because we're about to mosey on through all the reasons why Red Dead Redemption 2 will blow you away in 2018.

Just look at it

Let's start out by stating the obvious: Red Dead Redemption 2 looks gorgeous.

We've known the latest entry into Rockstar's Red Dead series is stunningly beautiful since the developers launched the game's reveal trailer in October 2016—featuring picturesque views of untamed landscapes, dense forests penetrated by volumetric God rays, roaring campfires burning beneath the cosmos, the most realistic smoke you've ever seen billowing out from the top of a raging locomotive, and the most beautiful thing of all: feral dogs barking at buzzards as they rip apart the decaying flesh of a dead animal. With such unbridled beauty, it's safe to say that even The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's Geralt of Rivia would be jealous he wasn't born into Rockstar's rendition of the Wild West.

Adding the delicious icing to the already magnificent mud pie is the fact that Red Dead Redemption 2 will almost assuredly take full advantage of this console generation's most advanced hardware. It's safe to assume that both the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro will see the game rendered in either native or upscaled 4K resolution, meaning every blade of grass will look four times sharper than they appear in those already-stunning 1080p trailers. Add in the possible (and probable) implementation of High Dynamic Range—which makes for an even more lifelike and vibrant image—and the stagecoach is fully set for one of the most beautiful open-world games ever made.

It's the prequel we need (and want)

Since the first reveal trailer, we've rightly been able to assume that Red Dead Redemption 2 will be a prequel—despite the mildly confusing choice to name the latest entry, which is actually the third game in the series, as a numbered sequel.

The choice to have Red Dead Redemption 2's events take place before (or even partially concurrent to) the events of its predecessor is a logical one, since one of the previous game's dominant themes was that the wild days of the Old West were rapidly coming to an end. Heck, there's even an achievement for killing the last buffalo, and—to further put things in perspective—there are only a few decades between Red Dead Redemption and fellow Rockstar title L.A. Noire.

The second trailer has officially confirmed that Red Dead Redemption 2 will indeed be a prequel with some cold hard proof, in the form of a younger and more handsome looking Dutch van der Linde—the man we spent an entire game hunting in the first Red Dead Redemption, and who'd have a hard time showing up in anything other than a prequel, on account of the fact... well... he dead. The appearance of a dapper-looking van der Linde is great news for us, as that means we'll (probably) get to chart all that juicy drama that took place between Dutch, Bill Williamson, John and Abigail Marston, and the rest of the gang.

We get an entirely new protagonist

"You're a wanted man, Mr. Morgan." And just like that, we know exactly who we'll be playing as in Rockstar's upcoming Red Dead adventure.

The only things we definitively know about Arthur Morgan come from Rockstar's second trailer, and from the looks of it, Morgan ain't no John Marston. Morgan looks bigger than Marston. He looks stronger than Marston. And he looks a whole lot meaner than Marston.

We bear witness to Mr. Morgan threatening both a camper and the son of a grieving widow, robbing a bank at gunpoint, holding up a train, and regularly bullying people around. He also seems firmly focused on making that paper stack, leading us to make the reasonable assumption that you'll act as—at least in some capacity—Dutch van der Linde's badass debt collector. We know Morgan is (or was) an important member of Dutch's gang, as we see the infamous and clearly ballin' van der Linde ask Morgan: "Do you have my back?" To which the apparent protagonist replies: "Always, Dutch." But not before we see what appears to be Morgan, Bill Williamson, and another outlaw walking away from somebody's—potentially even Dutch's—burning mansion.

It certainly feels good to be bad, but we're perhaps most excited to find out whether or not Arthur Morgan has deeper layers underneath his threatening exterior. For the time being, however, he seems firmly positioned as one bad dude.

We'll (probably) play as multiple characters

As is the case with Rockstar's massively popular Grand Theft Auto Vwhose trailers sneakily revealed characters we didn't know would be playable—the second Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer may also provide clues as to who else's reins we'll be taking come springtime.

In the second trailer, we see Arthur Morgan interact with a buff-looking Native American, who also appears on the game's promotional cover art. Whether playable or not, he'll almost certainly be an important character in the game's story. Even more likely, however, is the prospect that we'll take control of the trailer's blonde cowgirl with the braided ponytail, whom we see stick a knife in some poor fool's hand and tell somebody that he or she is "the only one of these fools" she trusts.

Though we don't have any concrete information on any of these characters—and it's highly unlikely Rockstar will tell us anything about them pre-release—it's worth speculating that this cowgirl might just be one Abigail Marston, already known to us as John Marston's future wife and fellow former member of Dutch's gang. Given that both she and John left Dutch's gang after Abigail became pregnant with Jack Marston, she may have even changed her appearance for the sake of protection... which would explain the obvious difference of hair color.

We'll (probably) get to know the bad side of John Marston

We haven't officially been given any concrete proof that everyone's favorite outlaw turned redeemer John Marston will be making an appearance in Red Dead Redemption 2, but—unless Rockstar wants to sadistically toy with our emotions—you can safely assume he's in the game, at least in some form.

In addition to seemingly appearing as one of the seven gang members on official promotional cover art, supposedly leaked information on Reddit claims John Marston will not only be present in the game but be playable after the main storyline has concluded. Allegedly, John Marston will feature in a New Game Plus-style mode, where we'll reportedly get to build up our homestead at Beecher's Hope and have free rein of the game's open world. However—despite the leak's other claims lining up well with the second trailer—the information may still be entirely unreliable, given that, at the very least, it's old news, and games change throughout their development.

There's also a lot of speculation circulating that the grieving widow's son we see Arthur Morgan threaten is actually a young Marston being coerced into joining Dutch's gang. The character in question's age would certainly line up, but his story of how his mother died in childbirth in Red Dead Redemption wouldn't. (Though there's a whole slew of ways for Rockstar to work around that.)

Regardless of when and how he shows up, you can bet we haven't seen the last of Mr. Marston.

Location, location, location

While the first Red Dead Redemption's open world gifted us with the most beautifully realized video game version of the 'Wild West' to date, its geographical variation was somewhat confined. Aside from some plains, prairies, and a small, slightly frozen patch of what appears to be the Ponderosa Pines, the game primarily takes place in a desert inspired by the Rio Grande Basin of Texas and Mexico—albeit the most beautiful desert we've ever seen.

Eight years later, the game's sequel (in the form of a prequel) looks to present gamers with a much more varied set of geographical locations. We know from Red Dead Redemption 2's second trailer that the gang was "chased out of the west," implying they fled east out of Texas. In the real world, the first state east of Texas is, of course, Louisiana, which has certainly inspired much of what we see in the trailer—including the burning plantation house, bayou swamplands, and pig-eating alligators.

The gang was also chased "over the mountains," which—if 2016's leaked map is to be believed—are likely "The Grizzlies," inspired by the Rocky Mountains and presumably relocated for the sake of variety. (It is, after all, a fictional world.) With rugged mountain peaks comes deep snow... something sorely lacking from the first Red Dead Redemption experience. Industrialized towns also make an appearance, as do hints of a possible dynamic weather system, making for a significantly more varied trek through "America's unforgiving heartland."

Six in one, half dozen in the other

We can fawn over the beauty of Red Dead Redemption 2's open world all we like, but the game wouldn't be anything if it wasn't fun to play. Indeed, one of the best parts about its predecessor was the satisfying gunplay—something which will surely make a triumphant return in the story of Arthur Morgan and crew.

Thanks to John Marston's ability to slow down time, the first Red Dead Redemption allowed players the ability to dead-eye hats (or worse) off a half-dozen lawmen with your trusty six-shooter in epic fashion. In Red Dead Redemption 2, however, you can take that number and double it—as we've been graced by a trusty glimpse of our presumed protagonist dual-wielding a pair of six-shooters in grim, one-eyed fashion. We pity the poor saps on the receiving ends of those Colt 45s.

It may not be the most realistic part of every wannabe cowboy's Western fantasy, but if there's one thing we wish we could've done in the first Red Dead Redemption, it's dual-wield like Wild Bill Hickock. Now, it looks like we'll be able to cause double the trouble while we terrorize towns and commit dastardly deeds.

A more realistic and dynamic natural environment

Underneath the hood—or saddle, in this case—you can expect Rockstar to have made some vast improvements to Red Dead Redemption 2's in-game systems compared to its now eight-year-old predecessor.

Camping has been prominently displayed in both of the game's trailers, so you can be sure that the addition of an advanced camping mechanic will play a big part in Red Dead Redemption 2. Aside from likely acting as a mobile base from which you can rest and save your game, the importance of camping hints at a possible bounty system, in which you might not be unable to rent a room in towns where your notoriety is too high.

Furthermore, from the images of wild game being roasted over an open fire, you can certainly expect that hunting will also play a big part. In fact, we actually catch a glimpse of Arthur Morgan using a bow and arrow to hunt a deer, all but cementing the importance of hunting wild animals for food and crafting material. Predatory animals like alligators also appear to prey on weaker animals, making for a more realistic food chain in the untamed wilds.

Finally, the second trailer also hints at a dynamic weather system, which—aside from adding visual variation to locales' appearances—may affect things like horse handling, hunting, and camping. All things considered, it looks like Red Dead Redemption's vision of America's heartland will more wild than ever.

Heists galore

Given the popularity of Grand Theft Auto V's heists, it's unsurprising that Rockstar's latest addition to the Red Dead series would feature train heists as a prominent story and gameplay element.

Fittingly, but also interestingly, we see Arthur Morgan and crew sporting outlaw bandanas over their faces while committing large-scale train robberies—perhaps hinting at a gameplay mechanic allowing the player to don the disguise at will if the urge to commit some smaller scale crimes randomly strikes your fancy while waltzing through a town. We also see multiple gang members participating in train heists, which may point to some sort of crew recruitment system modeled after GTA V, or even similar to the party-selecting mechanic found in BioWare games like the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. If we're really lucky, heists may even be playable in co-op.

Trains aren't our only targets, however. Your standard bank robbery is also prominently on display in Red Dead Redemption 2's second trailer, again indicating a GTA V-like heist system in which robberies will likely gain in complexity as the story progresses. Indeed, there must be a reason Arthur Morgan's got "lawmen in three different states" after him, so it's safe to assume much of the game's primary plot will revolve around liberating storehouses and trains of their valuables.

John Marston may have claimed in the first Red Dead Redemption that Dutch's gang robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, but that benevolence remains to be seen.

More stealth sections

As a game from 2010, Red Dead Redemption's combat system—while satisfying—feels slightly dated by today's standards. Red Dead Redemption 2, however, looks to improve on its predecessor's mechanics by providing more ample opportunity for stealth, potentially lending a more dynamic element to how players can choose to approach a mission.

Throughout Red Dead Redemption 2's second trailer, we see repeatedly see that Arthur Morgan comes strapped with both a gun and a knife holstered on his right side, the latter of which he's certainly not afraid to use. Instead of riding up with guns blazing on a camp of enemies, you'll probably be able to take the sneakier approach, silently eliminating bad guys (or maybe, in this case, good guys) one by one with a trusty knife to the neck—something we actually see happen. We also witness Morgan and two followers wading through a bayou, which suggests sneaking and stealth will play their parts. (Beware of 'gators!)

In addition to the strong possibility that Red Dead Redemption 2 will allow us to take out enemies silently with a knife, Morgan will also be able to use a bow and arrow—which, as anyone who's played Rise of the Tomb Raider knows, is useful in situations requiring a more measured, stealthy approach. Still, even with the addition of stealth, this is a Red Dead game, and there will no doubt be ample opportunity to test your aim in some classic shootouts.

Keep calm — it's Rockstar

With Red Dead Redemption 2 being delayed from late 2017 to Spring 2018, and with Rockstar North and Grand Theft Auto head Leslie Benzies leaving the company, some are worried that Rockstar's newest Red Dead isn't going to live up to the hype. Making matters worse, leaked information—some of which has already proven to be correct—from someone supposedly in the know about the notoriously tight-lipped publishing studio claims Rockstar higher-ups have repeatedly been unimpressed by the game's development, on the grounds that it lacks innovation. Nevertheless, if there's one game we shouldn't be worried about, it's Red Dead Redemption 2.

Rockstar doesn't release bad games. It's as simple as that. In addition to their lineage of Grand Theft Auto titles—one of the most successful video game series in the history of the medium—the publisher has repeatedly chosen quality over quantity with their Max Payne and Manhunt series, as well as Bully and L.A. Noire. Heck, even Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis is one of the better sports game of that generation, and certainly the best ping-pong game ever created.

While they may not be perfect, Rockstar Games rarely misses the target. And with Red Dead Redemption widely considered to be the best Western-inspired game very created, there's little reason to expect the next chapter won't dead-eye the bullseye. We're all in on the Red Dead Redemption 2 hype train.