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Red Dead Redemption 2 - Dutch’s Gang Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

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Red Dead Redemption 2 gameplay footage is chock full of little details

Welcome to the Wild West in 1899

Red Dead Redemption 2 gameplay footage is finally here, with just under three months to go until the game’s debut. Publisher Rockstar Games released a lengthy video Thursday to provide an overview of what players will be doing in the game’s wide-open Wild West world when they step into the boots of outlaw Arthur Morgan.

Morgan is a senior member of a band of thieves led by Dutch van der Linde, and yes, Red Dead Redemption protagonist John Marston is also a member of the gang.

There’s a lot to examine in Rockstar’s six-minute video, which the publisher says it “captured entirely from in-game footage” on a PlayStation 4 Pro. Most of it focuses on Red Dead Redemption 2’s environment and game mechanics, but if you look hard enough, you can even catch a story detail or two. Let’s dive in and discuss it as we look ahead to Oct. 26, when Red Dead Redemption 2 will finally be released on PS4 and Xbox One.

Mortal combat or not, it’s up to you

Rockstar’s previous trailers for Red Dead Redemption 2 have hinted at this, and the gameplay video explicitly detailed it: Melee combat is a major part of this game. Morgan acts as an enforcer for Dutch’s Gang, so he occasionally needs to rough people up — without killing them.

“Your guns aren’t the only way to interact with the environment,” the narrator of the gameplay video notes, and indeed, Red Dead Redemption 2 gives players a lot of options in nonlethal hand-to-hand fights. In one sequence, Morgan chases down a man named O’Driscoll — he tackles the guy from behind, then flips him over and sits on top of him to rain down blows. In the next clips, Morgan grapples with a foe and shifts to a chokehold; kicks a man in the gut; and blocks an attacker’s punches.

The controls shown on the screen are “choke” (mapped to triangle on the PS4), “dismiss” (square) and “beat” (circle). Similar options are available in Morgan’s interactions with all kinds of non-player characters throughout Red Dead Redemption 2; it’s possible to start up a conversation with most people in the world. In encounters with other people, Morgan can choose to “greet” (square) or “antagonize” (circle) them, and if he’s passing by on horseback, he can press triangle to address them with a friendly “callout.”

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur taking down an O’Driscoll gang member Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games
Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur in melee combat Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

When the person in question is an officer of the law, Morgan can “defuse” tensions (square) or “antagonize.” And he can get what he wants by mere intimidation rather than violence, like by firing his gun into the air to threaten someone. According to the video’s narrator, it’s usually up to the player to decide whether to escalate or de-escalate any interaction. Sometimes, these options are more, shall we say, final — like the option to help or kill a man hanging onto a cliff in the mission “Man From Blackwater.”

If you were worried that Morgan will be much less likeable than Marston — who was trying to leave his life of crime behind — it’s true that Morgan seems to be a proud member of Dutch’s Gang. But there is an honor system in Red Dead Redemption 2, just like in the previous game; the player’s choices will affect the way that other characters deal with Morgan and the options that are available to him.

There’s a clip of Morgan freeing a man from a bear trap in the video. It remains to be seen how impactful these kinds of actions will be: Will they merely nudge an honor meter up or down a few points? Rockstar says that elements such as conversations with strangers won’t merely be one-off sequences; they’ll chain together, like real interactions with people. This sounds encouraging, and we’ll have to see how it all plays out.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - horse pen Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

A horse and his boy

Horses are another major component of Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar says that Morgan forms a real bond with his steeds. The more time you spend taking care of your horse (brushing its mane, feeding it and calming it down when it’s nervous), the better it will perform as a mount for transportation and even combat. For instance, a broken-in horse will be much less likely to toss Morgan off and flee when bullets start flying.

There are different breeds of horses in the game, and some are better suited for certain tasks than others, like workhorses versus racehorses. These beasts are more than mounts, too. Morgan doesn’t have an infinitely large inventory on his person; instead, he can store items such as supplies, weapons and animal carcasses by strapping them to his steed or stuffing them in its saddlebags.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - horse gets started on galloping Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games
Red Dead Redemption 2 - storing items in horse’s saddlebags Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

It’s also worth noting just how much work developer Rockstar Studios has done to create lifelike horses in Red Dead Redemption 2. A new mechanic is the ability to walk while you’re leading your steed by the reins. And in moments like the one above, where a horse turns and kicks off, they really seem like animals with a mind of their own.

Weapons, gunplay and hunting

After watching Red Dead Redemption 2’s third trailer, which was released in May, we speculated that the game would offer rare, unique weapons that players could customize. There’s no confirmation of that in Thursday’s gameplay video. But it does offer close-ups of the firing and reload animations on some lovingly crafted revolvers, rifles and shotguns.

We also noticed something about the way Morgan wields weapons. In Red Dead Redemption, John Marston could carry an entire arsenal with him at all times, and players would use a weapon wheel to select a gun. The gameplay footage doesn’t show off a weapon wheel, but it does contain a clip of Morgan switching between a revolver and a shotgun. He runs toward some enemies, firing the handgun out of his right hand while holding the shotgun at his side in his left hand. Then he quickly holsters the revolver and pulls up the shotgun.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - swapping from a revolver to a shotgun Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games
Red Dead Redemption 2 - interface for tracking a wounded animal Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

This weapon management system appears to resemble the setup in another Rockstar game, 2012’s Max Payne 3. In that game, Payne could carry no more than three firearms: two one-handed weapons and one long gun. If he decided to dual-wield the smaller guns, he would have to drop the larger one. Any weapons he was packing would show up on his person. Perhaps Morgan’s weaponry will work the same way.

One of the new weapons that Morgan can use is a bow, which is great for hunting animals silently. A new hunting mechanic that goes along with it is the ability to track wounded beasts — Morgan will see a trail on the ground leading toward the creature, which will be highlighted with a pulsating glow.

Gang activities

Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in 1899, when Dutch’s Gang was in its heyday. As such, the group of outlaws — and Morgan’s relationships with each member of the crew — drives much of the action in the game. Lawmen are tracking the gang, which forces the members to stay on the move and set up shop in new places every so often.

The nomadic gang’s camp is its home base, and it is a working camp — everyone contributes to keeping it running, taking care of chores and tasks like gathering supplies and securing food. As Morgan, you don’t have to participate in these menial jobs if you really don’t want to, but doing so will benefit you in the long run and the camp’s morale in the short term.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur fishing with two other men in a canoe Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

Life in Dutch’s Gang is the only existence that Morgan has ever known, and he considers the members his family, as the narrator says. Conversing with people in the gang will open up missions and leisure activities — note the clips of a game of Texas Hold ’em and a group fishing trip.

Speaking of the members of Dutch’s Gang, the gameplay video offers a good look at some notable and familiar figures. We’ve already met folks like Javier Escuella, Bill Williamson and Dutch van der Linde, as well as a prominent female member of the crew, a blonde named Sadie Adler who trusts Morgan. And we know from the third trailer that a young John Marston is imperiled at some point during this prequel.

But wait, who else is sitting around the campfire with Dutch’s Gang?

Red Dead Redemption 2 - highlighting the Marston family among Dutch’s Gang sitting around a campfire Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games via Polygon


Red Dead Redemption 2 - close-up of John Marston, Abigail Marston and Jack Marston
John Marston, along with his wife, Abigail, and their son, Jack.
Rockstar Games

Well, would you look at that! Jack Marston is a teenager in the original Red Dead Redemption, having been born in 1895. That means he would be about 4 years old at the time of Red Dead Redemption 2, spending his early childhood in what is perhaps not the best environment to grow up in. As we learned in the previous game, John and Abigail met because she was a prostitute who hung around Dutch’s Gang. And as for John, it’s hard to tell in this image, but it seems like this clip comes from a more carefree time — before someone cut up his face.

Update (Aug. 10): This article has been updated with additional observations.

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