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Will Red Dead Redemption 2 feature RPG mechanics and gear?

Rockstar may be taking notes from a decade of games

Red Dead Redemption 2 - man standing on the plains at sunset with a gun in his hand Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is just under five months away, and we still know very little about the game. That’s no surprise, considering that publisher Rockstar Games prefers to play things close to the vest. The company announced all the exclusive content that it’s packing into the game’s two special editions and offering as pre-order incentives, and the long list provides some clues as to how Red Dead Redemption 2 works. In particular, some of the items suggest that the game will feature deeper role-playing mechanics than we’ve seen in the series to this point.

Before we begin, let’s just get this out of the way: This is all pretty much speculation at this point, although we’ve tried to make educated guesses. None, some or all of the following may turn out to be true when Red Dead Redemption 2 launches on Oct. 26.

Red Dead RPG

In Red Dead Redemption 2, players will step into the boots of Arthur Morgan. The outlaw serves as an enforcer and debt collector for Dutch’s Gang, a group of bank robbers led by the eponymous Dutch van der Linde at the tail end of the 19th century.

The original Red Dead Redemption featured another member of the gang, John Marston. As Marston, players completed missions and open-world activities to progress through the story, earning money that they could spend on weapons, horses, consumable items and more. Consumables included medicine, which would restore Marston’s health; apples, which replenished the stamina of Marston’s horse; and chewing tobacco, which would refill his Dead Eye gauge.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur Morgan hanging ducks on a fence
Arthur Morgan getting all his ducks in a row in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption didn’t really offer traditional RPG mechanics, like a tree of skills to learn or attributes to upgrade, although the player did unlock levels of Dead Eye upon completing certain landmark missions. It sounds like Red Dead Redemption 2 may expand on this system, with the developers at Rockstar Studios taking a page out of franchises like The Witcher to deliver a system akin to the one in 2018’s God of War.

The Special Edition of Red Dead Redemption 2 comes with items such as a “Core Stat boost,” which “benefits Arthur’s Stamina, Health and Dead Eye Cores,” according to Rockstar’s description. Perhaps those three elements are “core stats” for the character that players can upgrade through play, rather than just meters to refill. And if they’re core stats, then maybe there’s a system of skills or secondary stats to go along with them.

To wit, the Special Edition also includes two “gameplay bonuses,” the Eagle Talon Talisman and the Iguana Scale. Morgan carries the latter item in his satchel, where it allows him to “take less damage while riding on horseback.” The former is a charm that players can put on Morgan’s boots so that his “environmental awareness skill will last longer.” (Maybe that skill takes the form of a visual assist, like Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed or Geralt’s Witcher Senses?) Either way, the boot and satchel suggest that Red Dead Redemption 2 will feature a gear system in which players can equip certain items to receive gameplay benefits.

Speaking of gear, Rockstar’s descriptions of Morgan’s costumes break things down by components. For instance, the Special Edition comes with the Nuevo Paraíso Gunslinger Outfit, which consists of “a wide brimmed black cowboy hat, deep indigo coat, worn denim chaps, leather gloves and boots.”

Red Dead Redemption - John Marston in ‘Savvy Merchant’ outfit
Marston sporting the Savvy Merchant outfit, which gives him a half-price discount on all purchases from gunsmiths.
Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar Games

Outfits may work the way they did in the previous game, as a complete set of attire. But perhaps Red Dead Redemption 2 players will be able to swap out individual accessories and articles of clothing, like hats, shirts, pants and boots — of course, there’s precedent for that in the Grand Theft Auto series. And maybe each piece of an outfit will have an equipment slot of its own, like the way that armor in God of War features sockets for enchantments.

Then again, it may very well be the case that Rockstar is merely providing a detailed description of the outfits, and only Morgan’s boots will have a slot for talismans. It’s worth noting that in the original Red Dead Redemption, a number of costumes provided gameplay benefits: For instance, when Marston wore the Deadly Assassin Outfit, his Dead Eye meter regenerated at twice the normal rate.

We also know from initial preview coverage that Red Dead Redemption 2 will involve some level of management for the Van der Linde Gang’s working camp, which is another new mechanic for the Red Dead series. As Morgan, the player will need to delegate upkeep responsibilities across the group — and help out themselves, by gathering resources and hunting game — to ensure that the camp has enough food and supplies to keep running.

The locations of Red Dead Redemption 2

The descriptions for the contents of Red Dead Redemption 2’s various editions also offer some hints at the places that players may visit in the game’s world. That’s especially true if we compare the latest information with one of the earliest Red Dead Redemption 2 leaks: an off-screen photo of what was supposedly the game’s world map. The more we learn about the game, the more it seems that the leaked map is real.

The map, which was leaked on NeoGAF in April 2016 and quickly corroborated by TechRadar, featured a location with a strangely coincidental name: a town called New Bordeaux, in the bayou by the Lannahechee River. The New Orleans-inspired setting for 2016’s Mafia 3 — an open-world title published by 2K Games, which shares a parent company with Rockstar — was also called New Bordeaux.

Red Dead Redemption 2 map leak
The purported Red Dead Redemption 2 world map that was leaked online in 2016.

Rockstar is producing a package of physical goods for the game, the Red Dead Redemption 2 Collector’s Box. One of the items in it is a 100-piece wooden jigsaw puzzle that, when assembled, features an image of “the bustling port of Saint Denis,” according to Rockstar.

New Bordeaux appears to fit the bill — the city and its environs take up what is by far the largest neon green area on the map, where that color indicates a “town.” Putting two and two together, it seems that New Bordeaux was a placeholder title, and that Rockstar has since renamed the town Saint Denis.

A Redditor by the name of IntegraleEvoII took the helpful step of manipulating the image of the puzzle that Rockstar released. In the puzzle’s aerial shot of the urban metropolis, it looks to have the same rounded shape that can be seen in the leaked map. If the jigsaw puzzle is an accurate representation of Saint Denis as it appears in Red Dead Redemption 2, and the leaked world map is true to the game world, the “town” would easily be the biggest, most developed corner of civilization in the game or its predecessor.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Saint Denis jigsaw puzzle
It appears to say “Lemoyne” beneath the name Saint Denis. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville is credited as the founder of New Orleans.
Rockstar Games via IntegraleEvoII/Reddit

There’s another description that appears to confirm something from the leaked map. Both the Special and Ultimate editions come with an exclusive bank robbery mission, in which Arthur and his cohorts plan a heist in “the southern town of Rhodes.” (Don’t feel like you’ll be missing out on anything major if you don’t pay extra for one of these packages: Rockstar says that neither the mission nor the exclusive Del Lobos Gang hideout are part of Red Dead Redemption 2’s story.)

Look due west of New Bordeaux on the leaked map, and you’ll see the town of Rhodes in the center of the Scarlett Meadows district — which indeed lies in the southern portion of the world map, about halfway between the Bayou NWA district and Flatiron Lake.

Rockstar’s item descriptions also point to the possible return of a location from Red Dead Redemption: Mexico. That game featured a northern province of the country named Nuevo Paraíso (“New Paradise”). In addition to the aforementioned Gunslinger Outfit, there’s an accessory that’s named for Mexico: the Nuevo Paraíso Saddle, which is attached to the horse known as the Dappled Black Thoroughbred.

Since multiple items in Red Dead Redemption 2 mention Nuevo Paraíso, it seems reasonable to expect that the game will bring you there at some point — even if a major segment of the story isn’t set there this time around. Nuevo Paraíso doesn’t appear on the border of the playable U.S. region on the leaked map; instead, there is an inset map that appears to show a Mexican island or perhaps peninsula, with Spanish place names including El Hueco and Cinco Torres.

But hey, who knows? The possibilities are as wide open as the American frontier.